This year, our Lenten Wednesdays Services @ 6:30 pm focus on the saints. This means some of us will have to reach back further than the likes of our Baptist saints like Adoniram Judson or Roger Williams.
Last Wednesday, for example, we reached back to the 12 the century and got to know a little bit more about Francis of Assisi. The son of a prosperous Italian cloth merchant, Francis let go of his privileged status in favor of a life dedicated to God and the embodiment of the Good News. His was not a “rags to riches” story but a “riches to rags” story.
Francis’ reading of the Gospels convinced him that Jesus could be found in the lives of the poor, in the suffering of others, in the creatures of earth and sky and in the work of peacemaking. You might think this would make Francis a rather moody and somber disciple. Yet, Francis did not disparage life. Francis embraced life and treasured the ordinary gifts of life. In other words, Francis was filled with joy.
Meditating in a small, run-down chapel, Francis heard God ask “Francis do you not see that my house is falling down?” In fact, the church was in a state of ruin. Then, he heard God say, “Repair it!”
Nine centuries later, the Franciscan spirit of simple, peace-filled and joyful living in harmony with God, nature and one another continues to bring new life into the church and our world.
Here’s one of the more famous prayers attributed to Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.
Reflections on Services for Amelia Old Crow and
First Baptist’s Twenty-Three Year Mission with the
First Crow Indian Baptist Church, Lodge Grass, Montana
February 14, 2016
“You did pretty good for a white boy.” That’s what Amelia Old Crow’s daughter, Jodi, said to me after I apologized for mispronouncing some names while narrating a slide presentation of her mother’s early life. I had been asked to read Amelia’s obituary and narrate the slide presentation at her funeral service.
Think of it! How comfortable are you joking with your friends about their race? How far we have come in our relationship with our Crow friends!
When Janice and I learned of Amelia’s death we knew that we had to attend her funeral, not only for ourselves but also as ambassadors of First Baptist Church. Amelia and her husband, Newton, had become special friends of not only Janice and me, but everyone from First Baptist who knew them.
Visitation was an all day affair. There was a Northern Cheyenne ceremony releasing Amelia’s spirit to go to the other side. Food and water were placed in the casket for her journey.
The funeral was a blend of Crow, Northern Cheyenne and “White Man’s” traditions. Crow and Northern Cheyenne songs were sung in native tongues. We sang traditional church hymns. We even had country-western songs. Remembrances were given, obituary read and eulogy delivered. Harvey Stewart, American Baptist missionary to the Lodge Grass church the first years we were there, delivered the sermon. Janice and I were honored to be listed among the Honorary Pallbearers.
It was cold at the hillside Lodge Grass cemetery; low 20’s and ten to fifteen miles per hour wind. We huddled together for warmth. Newton Old Crow, Jr. and Harvey Stewart gave blessings. Unlike burial services here where we usually leave following the final blessing, we remained as the casket was lowered, the vault top installed and the grave refilled. As the casket was lowered, from further up the hill came the shrill, but eerie, sound of a woman “trilling”. A fitting goodbye to a kind, loving and honorable lady.
In the twenty-three years of First Baptist’s ministry with the Crow People a special bond has been forged. We have moved far beyond going to Lodge Grass simply to meet people and repair things. We have always looked at this ministry as a way for us to show God’s love for all. But, as the years have passed we have come to see this ministry as much a time for building relationships as for repairing.
There were happy times while working: Ruth Alden whose bathroom had been ruined by the hard water. We not only replaced the tub, toilet and sink but decided to replace the wallboard also. She was so happy she called her friends to come and see it. Ferrell Pease who paid in advance to have her roof replaced and the contractor reneged. She called us “Angels” when we replaced the roof. Eugene and Lydia Bird in Ground who laughed with us as Henry Meier and Jeff Mathews argued about which way a doorway platform should be turned.
There were times not so happy: Ruth passed away before we returned the next year. Ferrell and husband Bill now require full time nursing care. Kalsie Bird in Ground, the young, single mother for whom Henry and Jeff built the doorway platform tragically died in an automobile accident a year later. She was studying to be a health care professional like her mother.
We have been taken places that we would never have seen on our own: A high meadow near the Wyoming border to where we traveled for over an hour, fording creeks, following ruts and seeing the road finally disappear to nothingness. Leland Walking Bear and Newton pastured their horses there. The horses were so glad to see us they ran right up to the vehicles and nudged them. The pitch black night when we drove an hour to a canyon, waited quietly, and then heard the elk trumpeting. Cheryl’s buffalo herd where we drove right into the midst of them.
We have been places reserved for tribal members only: Prayer Wheels, and Sun Dance and Vision Quest sites.
We have shared sweat lodges and helped erect tepees. We have celebrated births, baby dedications, confessions of faith, and baptisms: And mourned at funerals. We have known four generations of some families.
Many of us have been given Crow names. I was made an uncle in the Old Bear family. Newton and Amelia traveled to Indianapolis to bless Amy’s and Kevin’s wedding.
“The Indiana Group”, that’s how we’re known. As Janice and I were introduced to people at Amelia’s viewing and funeral we were introduced as friends from The Indiana Group. Eyes lit and smiles appeared. In nearby towns of Wyola, Crow Agency and even Hardin, the Big Horn County seat thirty miles north, people know of The Indiana Group. Once, in Billings, ninety miles northwest, a cashier at Home Depot asked what we were doing in Montana. We told her we were with the Indiana Group working in Lodge Grass. She said, “Oh, I’ve heard of you and what you do. That’s great.”
Twenty-three years, that’s one fourth a lifetime for many.
We will never know how many lives we have touched through First Baptist’s ministry in the Crow Nation. But, those of us who have made the journey to Lodge Grass know that our lives have been touched profoundly by the wonderful friends we have made through the years. And we hope that you, the congregation of First Baptist Church, have felt, through us, that you have been a part of this experience. Without your generous support, first through Miracle Sunday, and now through the Witness to Faith Ministry Team budget and Second Mile giving this ministry would never have been possible.
To paraphrase Ann LaFontaine as she said during our goodbyes, “We never know who we are going to nourish and who will nourish us, but you have nourished all of us, especially me.”
by Larry Page
So where did the nativity scenes or crèche displays, so prevalent now populating our church and neighborhood lawns first appear?
Tradition has it, that the year before his death, St. Francis of Assisi staged the first nativity scene in 1223. That year, he was visiting the small Italian town of Grecio to celebrate Christmas, when he realized the local Franciscan hermitage (chapel) would be too small to hold the congregation for Midnight Mass. So, he found a special niche near the town square and set up a manger scene: a straw crib, oxen, sheep, donkeys and an image of the infant Jesus. Bearing torches, the townspeople and the friars sang hymns and music resounded throughout the village. Francis was so overcome with emotion, he was unable to utter the name of Jesus, he simply referred to the infant as the Babe of Bethlehem.
Francis did not to allow the “good news of great joy” to be confined to a church building, but was wise to find a creative and instructive way to allow the love of God to be taken into the midst of neighboring homes and streets and shops. He understood both the humanity of Christ who was born into very humble and human circumstances and the magnificence of God who is not aloof or manifest in overwhelming power, but a God made small and vulnerable, inviting us to love as God loves.
That very year, Crusaders were in combat with Muslim armies, vying for control of holy places-including Bethlehem of Judea. And there are still many places on God’s good earth where there is conflict, tension and war.
Yet, St. Francis knew that if we can prepare a place for the Babe of Bethlehem in a chapel, we can also prepare a place for him in the market square and in the places where peace on earth is still but a tenuous hope. Anyplace may be the place where Jesus is born.
And then, most importantly, one more place.
May Christ be born anew in us.
Every Wednesday morning, the pastoral and music staff meet together to review worship plans for the next Sunday and beyond. The expectation at First Baptist Church is worship that honors God is heartfelt, thoughtful and accomplished with joy and excellence.
Not too many weeks ago, the Expression of Faith through Worship Ministry Team responsible for the implementation and management of our worship met with Matthew Boulton, President of Christian Theological Seminary. We wanted to spend some time exploring how we might embrace the growing opportunity we have of becoming an increasingly multi-cultural congregation.
The excitement, enthusiasm and energy in the room was palpable.
We asked ourselves, “What is our vision (written in the form of a newspaper headline) for worship in three to five years?”
Responses suggested becoming …
- a one of a kind congregation reflecting the growing cultural and ethnic diversity reflected among our neighbors
- a place where Good News is embodied and expressed in different languages and worship experiences
- a laughing, serving and dancing congregation
- a place of hospitality and a sanctuary of peace
We also reflected on some of the gifts or assets our congregation has in capturing this vision.
- vibrant music and talented people
- openness to theological diversity
- open to growth and challenge
- thoughtful creative pastors
- lots of adult mentors and saints
- a great facility and location
- connection with our neighbors
- warm and friendly people
- caring for young people
- a deep love for God
When we discussed obstacles to this vision becoming a reality, we focused on the need for our congregation to get to know one another better in worship and beyond worship. We focused on learning how to better appreciate our cultural and ethnic diversity as we worship and on spending more quality time getting to know guest and member and friend alike. And we recognized that time to do so is always at a premium in people’s fast paced and hectic lives.
I would love to know what you think about these three questions. Send me an email. Give me a call. Catch me when you see me and let me know your thoughts. I look forward to hearing more from you.
The statistics are staggering.
Well over half of clergy do not survive the first five years of ministry.
Despite the investment of years of college and seminary training, many thousands of dollars; the prayers and best wishes of congregations; and more often than not, the personal sacrifice of spouses, partners and children; the first five years of church life is a killer.
Some of this has to do with the nature of most applied disciplines: there is learning to negotiate idealism vs. reality; theory vs. practice. It’s not easy taking all that “head stuff” and “heart stuff” and “spirit stuff” and testing it out in the everyday life of organizational reality. You can quickly become disillusioned and depressed.
And surely, some of it has to do with the nature of church life itself. How can I say this kindly? The church has its share of obstinate, sharp edged, recalcitrant and mean-spirited individuals. So, you have to learn to deal with these friends. They, too, are God’s people.
I wonder how I made it through those first five years.
And I think of Janice. She was twenty years my senior and an adult volunteer youth ministry leader. She was a God-send. She took me under her wise and grace-filled wings. She provided a “heads up” and told me who and what to watch out for. She sang my praise to parents and church leaders and especially, the senior minister (my boss.) She allowed me to make mistakes and quickly forgave my sins of commission and omission. Most of all, she encouraged and respected me. I knew she held me in her prayers and asked God to surround me and guide me.
Almost forty years later now, I still give God thanks for her.
I am not suggesting that clergy should not be responsible for their own self-care. I am not suggesting that clergy should not be held accountable. I am not suggesting that clergy should not have to learn how to adapt and learn to work with others.
Yet, most folks will benefit from a Janice or two in their lives. It can make all the difference. I know it did for me.
So, I would love to know who was a “Janice” for you.
Check out our Facebook page for even more pics! FBC (First Baptist Church) Indy
From Larry Page:
We are leaving for MT Wed morn, 9/2.
I’ve just finished placing my signature on the inside name plate of the eight Bibles we will present in worship on Sunday, September 13 to children entering 3rd grade. What a joy!
It’s a joy to know these children and support their parents in the Christian nurture of those entrusted into our care. We made that pledge to God and their parents when these children were dedicated a while back in worship.
And it’s a special joy to imagine how the scriptures will shape and form the faith of these children!
The scriptures share wonderful stories about God and Jesus and all God’s people. The stories point to a creative God, a loving Savior and the power of God’s spirit to create a people and make all things new. Its pages contain lessons of prodigal sons and daughters, lost sheep, lost coins and the One who cares for not only the birds of the air, but knows intimately the number of hairs on our head. In time, they will learn ( I think the pedagogical term is inculcate) the long arc of God’s story from creation to redemption and more.
Of course, Sunday School teachers and helpers will have immediate opportunity to help teach the Bible to these children. Yet, more than we realize, it is the congregation as both individuals and a body that will teach. We teach in the way we model and embody the kind of faith community God desires for us to be.
Children pick this up as they …
- are included in acts of worship
- hear their names spoken by caring adults
- see gifts of money placed in an offering plate
- are embraced when they are hurting or are confused
- see how those they know to be different are treated
- get to sing songs of faith with fully grown adults
- have a towel placed around them after baptism
- participate in a youth ministry supported by those whose children are all grown up
- witness those doing the hundreds of small things every church requires
When these eight children receive their Bibles on Sunday, September 13, we will know why “Your word is a lamp my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119: 105) And one other thing. We will experience joy!
Over the summer, FBC has been reading (and for many re-reading) Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize- winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird. The story focuses on a courageous lawyer, Atticus Finch and a sleepy Southern town’s engagement with innocence, strength, conviction and racism. We choose this beloved classic because of its timely and poignant portrait of our common humanity.
Questions emerge such as:
- How can children and adults be encouraged to live worthy lives in a difficult world?
- What possibilities exist when conflicts and agreements are brought to light?
- How do we address matters of injustice in light of the long arc of racism?
I hope you might join us on Sunday, August 16 @ 5 pm, to view the 1962 Academy award winning performance of Gregory Peck in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” On Sunday, August 23 @ 8: 50 am 4 panelists will be reflecting on the themes and understandings of the novel in light of their own experience. We will wrap things up in worship on Sunday, August 30 @ 10 with a thoughtful and engaging sermon.
At one point in the novel, Atticus Finch tells his daughter, Scout, “You never truly know another person until you walk around with them in their own skin.” Jesus said, “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.” I hope you will join us as we reflect on our faith in the light of the challenges of the world in which we live.
Last summer around this same time, I had the opportunity to participate in a mission project that has helped hundreds of Washington Township school children and their families for the past several years. It’s called Clothes and Crayons and it is an exciting event to be a part of!
A welcome table at the front doors of the church checked in arriving families. The families served are invited to come on a need basis, most recommended by the Washington township school system that is aware of the families’ needs, so this really does reach many that otherwise could not afford new school year items. To avoid lines outside and in, each family has an assigned time that they should come. One room in the church building is set up for children to pick up all new school supplies and their own new (or gently used) backpack. Another large room (I believe the sanctuary ~ how wonderful!) has many tables carefully organized by clothing sizes so that families may select free, gently used clothing. There is even a room to hold all newly acquired items for families while children go outside to play or get a hot dog or popcorn. Each family member has a specific number and letter that is unique to them and has a corresponding marked bag to put all items in. Translators were busy with any questions and the girls and I stayed busy passing out lettered and numbered shopping bags to the different families.
The children’s smiling faces said it all when families were done. These children knew they could begin the school year with shiny, new items just like everyone else. They would ‘fit in’ with their new backpacks, new clothes, brand new folders and pencils and many other items. It was an exciting event for parents and children alike!