Welcome to the historic First Baptist Church of Memphis, serving Memphis & the Mid-South since 1839. You will find exciting ministries, mission opportunities, and vibrant worship.

Sunday Mornings:

9:30am Sunday School
11:00am Worship

Wednesday Evenings:

5:00pm Dinner
6:00pm Bible Study

200 East Parkway North, Memphis, TN 38112 ⋅ Office: 901.454.1131



Where Do We Go From Here?

Lent is a season of repentance, a season of confession, a season of getting honest to God honest with God about those ways that our failings still lead to the Cross, with the trust that now as always there is hope for ones such as us in God’s grace, not just to be forgiven but to be redeemed and to do better.

And this year, we, especially here in Memphis, have the opportunity for a unique Lenten experience. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, February 14, and runs up to Easter, April 1. Three days later, April 4, we will observe the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. King; so the preparation for both major events will be running concurrently. I can think of little more fitting. 

The parallels between the stories of Christ and Dr. King are quite striking. One marched to Jerusalem and to a cross. The other marched to Birmingham and in Washington, DC, and elsewhere, and last here in Memphis. One seemingly knew that death was coming. One sensed that it might be coming, though undoubtedly did not see it coming as soon, and in the way it did. I think Dr. King would be the first to say not to draw direct comparisons between himself and Jesus. Christ was his Savior as well. It was because of the call of Christ on his life and in service to the cause of Christ that Dr. King did and said and lived and ultimately died as he did.  Dr. King was no peer of Christ.  He was a servant of Christ. But precisely because of that, there are unmistakable parallels too, namely, for whom they marched.  They marched for those that God loved, especially the least of these and the equality and inclusion and justice and salvation that God sought to bring to them and everyone. Their stories also share, of course, a tragic ending.  Both found out that there is a high cost to pay for prophetically calling out those who refuse to stand by and with those that God stands by and with.
So this Lent with the examples of Christ and his disciple Dr. King before us, we have the opportunity to truly look at ourselves and ask, “How faithful have we been to take up our cross and follow Christ on behalf of the least of these?” How far have we come in these centuries since Christ called us to build the Kingdom of God? How far have we come in these decades since Dr. King called us to build the Beloved Community? What do we need to confess, past and present? To what do we need to re-commit? What is left to do?  Where Do We Go From Here?  How do we find the Strength to Love everyone better than we ever have before?

You could say there’s actually nothing really special about church seasons and anniversaries. They’re just days and we can take time on any day to reflect on such questions. And that is true. But seasons of reflection and worship are not just personal disciplines, they are corporate engagements as well. We do them better together, as we lean in and listen not just to what God is teaching us, but what God is teaching others as well.  Remember, as our sign says, “We Will Get There Together Or We Won’t Get There At All.” So this Lent, as we prepare for Holy Week and MLK50, let’s be present to each other and our community. Let’s not miss this opportunity to participate in the redemption that God is seeking to bring not just to us and ours, but to everyone, especially those here in our own city.  
Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the February edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Friday, February 2, 2018
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One Good year

  Several years ago a recording artist by the name of Slaid Cleaves  had a song whose catchphrase was, “Just give me one good year.” In the song, the protagonist pleads for a good year to God, to the powers that be, to fate, etc. It is something that will or will not be “given” to him. As we think about 2018, there’s some truth to that. There are factors that will help determine if 2018 is a good year that we simply do not have control over—friends and family move away or closer, illness, recovery, death, promotions, layoffs, politics, etc. But, on the other hand, we have some control over our own destiny. To a large degree, we will make 2018 a good year, or we will let it be less than that.  There is a balance here. Some factors are out of our control; even so, we cannot abdicate our responsibility for those factors that remain in our control.

  To that end, we make New Year’s resolutions. We often think of such in terms of recommitting ourselves to some positive lifestyle habit that we should have been doing all along. But how about we think about these resolutions more broadly? Let’s consider what we need to happen in 2018 for it to be a good year. We all have our personal lists, but here’s my list for our church in 2018. If we can move these balls forward in meaningful ways, I’m betting we will say, “2018 was a good year.”

  1. Resolve our building conundrum. We have too much building for our needs and finances. We have a creative Property Task Force that is studying multiple options and will bring forward its initial report by March. We need to thoughtfully come to a course of action by the end of 2018.

  2. Make the most of our new logo and brand. Both are powerful tools which can help us focus our energies and communicate our message to the community.  

  3. Have every member personally engaged in outreach.  Facts are facts, and the facts are that 2/3 of new members in churches like ours attend the first time because a member invited them. Brand, advertising, creative programming help, but they tend to merely augment the effort that each of us is willing to put forth individually. What might that look like for you?

  4. Make our pastoral staff transition a smooth and constructive experience for all. This will be a different place without Ray Hatton on staff. (Please note our special worship service and reception on January 7.) We have a temporary plan in place and a more formal one on the way.

  5. Develop a cohesive mission/service philosophy. We do so much as a church and as individuals “around the world, and across the street.” We want to do even more. But our time and resources are limited. How do we make the best use of such resources to create the greatest impact for the Kingdom of God?  It’s a complicated question. We are of diverse opinions here as elsewhere. But we’ve needed greater clarity and focus on this since before I came. It’s time.

  6. Live even more into our ideal of Family. We love to use that word when we describe ourselves, and it is quite accurate in many respects. But I see areas of growth, too. We have numerous “silos” that operate almost oblivious to others. And this becomes a problem when one group really needs the help of another—children need teachers, seniors need a visit, singles need community, etc. Little connection leads to little empathy and to little willingness to share the burdens of others. We can do better. Let’s be more of who we say we are.

  These are just a few goals, and, granted, goals that are off the top of my head and heart.  You may have others. I’d love to hear them. But the point remains. If we make significant progress in these areas, we will look back, despite what negatives may come our way, and we’ll say that 2018, by God’s grace and with God’s help, was a good year. How will you be a part of a good 2018?

  Courage, David


This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the January edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Monday, January 1, 2018
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Advent Snapshots

I’ve taken up photography.  Some time ago, Leigh Ann bought a beginner Nikon, mainly for the purpose of photographing our children at play and in sports, and when that camera broke, she bought me/us a nicer Nikon and lens for our 30th anniversary this past August. Truth be told, I really still don’t know much of what I’m doing. I’m learning, though. But even now, I can tell you what I like. I like photographs that tell you more than what they literally show. One of my favorites is a guitar player at Levitt Shell. He is in focus and is, like most musicians, very much into his performance at the moment. But in the foreground, out of focus, is the back of this little girl on her daddy’s shoulders. The guitarist is, more or less, playing to her. To me, it represents the passing on the gift of music, one generation to the next.

Another favorite has Seth holding a tiny bass that he has just caught. You catch those occasionally.  Bass are nuts and will try to eat lures bigger than they are. I took the picture very close to the bass, so it seems much larger than it is. The bass is in focus, but out of focus, in the distance, is the large, looming, smiling face of Seth, wearing shades and his favorite Bill Dance gifted orange and white UT hat. That photo says so much to me of the sheer joy my gentle giant takes in fishing and all fish, no matter what the size.  

You may look at those same photos, though, and not see much.  Indeed you may scan through an album of mine and like other photos much better. Or you might like the subject matter but think I should have shot it differently. You might have included more or less, used a flash when I didn’t or vice versa.  You might have the girl in focus and the guitarist out of focus, Seth in focus and the fish out of focus.  But all of our perspectives could and would reveal a great deal, not just about the original subject, but about us, and those we had in mind as an audience.

Our Gospels are such a gallery of perspectives. Four unique presentations of the life of Christ, each revealing a great deal about Christ, about the gospel writers, about their original audience, and, as we interpret them, about us.  We call the first snapshots in those albums the birth narratives, and they are the highlight of this season of Advent as we prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth.  And like all the other snapshots in the gospels, they each have much to teach us. Indeed, we would be much the less without any of them, even Mark who leaves those pages blank. Why was that, do you suppose? And why does Matthew, but not Luke, include the wise men?  And why does Luke, but not Matthew, include the shepherds? And why does John leave all of those out and use only a macro, cosmic, panoramic lens to talk about the coming of Jesus?

All of these snapshots have something to teach us, f we will slow down and look and listen closely. That’s what Advent is about, in part. As countercultural and counter-intuitive as it may seem in the hustle and bustle of this season, Advent is about slowing down to make sure we don’t miss any of the richness, the “grace and truth,” as John would put it, that this season has to offer to us and, through us, to this world. So what do you say? This Advent, let’s flip through the initial snapshots in these four wonderful galleries that Scripture gives us. And as we do so, may it change our perspective, our focus—how we see ourselves, each other, and our world. 

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the December edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Friday, December 1, 2017
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Light in the Darkness

Ah, fall is upon us, is it not? Not so much in the temperature (I write this in the middle of October), but you can tell we are past the autumnal equinox as darkness is in ascendency.  The sun is rising later and setting sooner.    

Amy Butler, Pastor of Riverside Church in NYC, is fast becoming one of my favorite devotional writers. She writes so honestly, out of her own experience, and she pulls few punches.   Recently in an article for Baptist News Global, entitled “Naming Darkness, Claiming Hope” she reflects on a season when her congregation was experiencing a great deal of darkness and fear and anxiety about the present and the future (sound familiar?), and her understanding of her own pastoral duty in such a moment to offer them some hope and light…and how hard that was then and is still.  

“The darkness seems so inky black these days proclaiming a message of hope sometimes seems like a Pollyanna-ish denial of the evil swirling around us: policies that hurt our neighbors, corrupt government schemes, natural disasters, torch burnings and hate rising to the surface everywhere you look—there are too many to name.”  

In the end, though, she says living with both, seeing the darkness while holding the hope is the task of the faithful. We can even hold the question, “What if it is not true (that light wins) in the end?, While we proclaim the answer: I don’t care. I have to hang on to the light in order to face the darkness.”

See what I mean about her writing and her honesty. That being said, from my own experience, I think I would add…And the longer I hang on to the light I have, the more light I see. At least that’s how it’s worked in my life. What light I have leads me to more light, if I can persevere, if I can hang in there. Scripture seems to speak of this. “Weeping lasts but for a night, Joy comes in the morning,” Psalm 30:5. “Do not grow weary in well doing, for at the proper season, we will reap a harvest, if we do not give up,” Galatians 6:9.

I don’t know what darkness you are facing. But as you are human, I trust you are facing some. As Amy suggests…don’t deny the darkness. That doesn’t do you or anyone else any good, and to do so is to live in a world that is not real. But…don’t get lost in the darkness either. Hold on to the light as well. Hold on to the glimpses of light—goodness and beauty and friendship and hope—that you find even in the darkness.  And let those glimpses lead you to more glimpses, and those glimpses lead you to more glimpses, etc.  And help others, facing their own darkness, to do the same. Such is the honest journey of all who profess, “The Light has shined into the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” 

Grace and Peace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the November edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Wednesday, November 1, 2017
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Cheering For You

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s football season. Of course, every season has its sports, and fans always cheer their team whenever they play. This time of year, however, you just can’t avoid the fandom.  There is one street I know, filled with rather modest homes built close together, where a good percentage of the folk fly the flags of teams: Memphis, Tennessee, Alabama, Titans, Notre Dame, Auburn, Ole Miss, Dallas Cowboys, etc. It’s like a united nations of football.  It’s fun to cheer for your team. It’s necessary to have folks cheering for you.

My Aunt Phyllis died about a month ago. My Aunt Phyllis loved life. She was enthusiastic. She was engaged. And seldom was she ever more engaged than when playing or watching sports.  Aunt Phyllis was a fan. You didn’t have to wonder if Aunt Phyllis was “in the house.” You and everyone else would know that she was present and for whom she was cheering.  And if you were one of hers—her friend or teammate or child or relative, or you played for her favorite team—she was going to be cheering for you. Now, this did not mean, of course, that she would like everything you did, on or off the field. She could and would disagree with you and your decisions. She would not hesitate to offer advice. But she would never let you confuse her critique with her steadfast loyalty to you and love for you. She was for you to the end, no matter what. I knew that. We all knew that.

My aunt was an east Tennessee girl, and as I drove to Oak Ridge for the funeral thinking about how admirably she had lived her life, I couldn’t help but remember another east Tennessee story.   Dana X. Bible was a native of Jefferson City, TN. He played football for Carson Newman and went on to coach football, most notably at the University of Texas from 1937-46.  In 1945, he was on the pastor search committee of First Baptist Austin, and they were impressed with the resume of a minister serving in Padukah, KY, by the name of Carlyle Marney. He saw on the resume that Marney was a Carson Newman graduate and had played football there. He contacted his former pupil, Frosty Holt, the football coach at Carson Newman, and asked him would it be worth his while to go all the way to Kentucky to hear Marney preach. Frosty wrote back, “I don’t know. He wasn’t much of a preacher when I knew him. But you go and hear him preach, and if you determine it was not worth your while, I’ll pay for the round trip...because I’m on his side when he’s dead wrong.”

We all need those kinds of folk in our lives. Folk who may not always agree with us, but will always be for us. Folks who will love us and stick with us and cheer for us, even…if we’re not all we can be or should be all the time.  (And who is?) Marney said such is the epitome of what it means to be a “balcony person,” one of the “cloud of witnesses,” whether present or in heaven, whose voices we need to hear more than any other (Hebrews 12). My aunt was such a person. I hope we are such people for each other at FBC.  

So as you cheer this fall, consider who has cheered for you. Consider who has been on your side when you were dead wrong. Consider the impact that kind of loyal love has made in your life. Consider as well the opportunity you have to be that sort of person in the lives of others. Who needs to hear you cheering for them? Who needs to know that you are for them, even if you do not always agree with them? Can you share such support with someone new? How will you do that? And, if you’re really hard up for pointers…I bet I can find you some video of Aunt Phyllis.

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the October edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Sunday, October 1, 2017
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For Such A Time As This

You’ve heard that phrase before.  Right? For such a time as this? It comes from Esther 4:14.  Esther is a hard book, filled with a lot of violence and revenge that, correctly so, turns our stomachs and moral sensibilities. But couched within that narrative is this phrase in which we continue to find meaning. Mordecai tells his cousin Esther, the queen, in light of a crisis, “Perhaps you have come to this royal dignity for just such a time as this.”

It’s a phrase that has been, I think, rather correctly utilized, for the most part. It suggests that whoever we are, with whatever gifts and talents and power we have been given, that we most certainly have a responsibility to use those resources for good, in the whenever and wherever we find ourselves. It calls us, as most of scripture does, to focus on the moment. Scripture certainly values the past and tells us we must learn from it. It also calls us to realize that our actions have implications for the future. But more than anything, it calls us to focus on the moment at hand and not miss the opportunity that is in front of us now, to make a difference as we usher in the Kingdom of God today, to trust that we have been created, redeemed, sustained, gifted, and called…for such a time as this.   

So what does that mean for us today when, collectively, we find ourselves in a season of civil unrest centered, for the moment, around race. Indeed, the events in Charlottesville and elsewhere have called the question on our country, our state, our cities, and our churches, as to who are and where we stand, and with whom and for whom. I trust that on the larger questions of where we stand—justice vs. injustice, equality vs. inequality, love vs. hate—we know where we stand. We stand with the God of the prophets and with Jesus who always sides with the disenfranchised and for inclusion. But knowing that, and thinking that, is not enough. We have to utilize the talents, the gifts, the voice, the presence, the arms, the power, etc., that we have to help do sacred good and further the cause of justice and peace in…such a time as this.

What does that look like?  Again, much is relative. We all have different gifts, power, opportunities. We can speak up and let our voices be known. We can show up and let our presence say even more—at peaceful protests, at multi-racial events, etc. MLK50 is upon us and the opportunities will be numerous throughout our city. We can teach our children with our words and actions. This, among all else, is probably most important. But to get a bit specific, let me suggest engaging in three ongoing conversations.

First, have an honest conversation with yourself. Do a race audit. Look at your ideas and attitudes. Where did they come from? Look at your lifestyle. How integrated is your life, are your friendships? How could you improve that? Look at how your privilege has contributed to the problem. How can you address that and help change those dynamics? Second, engage in conversation with like-minded folk of goodwill of all races seeking to make a difference. These can be official groups. There are so many across our city. These can be Sunday School classes. These can be just a group of friends. But societal change requires movements, and movements require meetings and conversations that persevere. Last, and most importantly, engage in at least one conversation with a person of a different race. Ask them to share their experience, what they know and feel. And for the most part…just listen. Just listen and learn. I suggested earlier that we need to focus on the moment. And that is true. We can’t change the past, nor can we determine the future.  But…we certainly can affect the future, and, we do need to realize that in the future, history will look back on what we have said and what we have not said, what we have done and what we have not done, and it (our children and grandchildren, etc.) will judge us.  What will they write about us? As they consider these difficult days, will they find us at our best, or at our worst? May they write of us then, “Those were challenging days, but the folk of FBC rose to the challenge of being the people of God for the living of their day.  May we do likewise for such a time as this.”  

Grace, David  

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the September edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Friday, September 1, 2017
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Priming the Pump for MLK50

If you are not aware, next April 4 will be the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. here in our beloved community. It is amazing to think it has been that long ago, and still…that it happened here. The National Civil Rights Museum is both a remembrance of that tragic event and the entire movement, and a call to keep Dr. King’s Dream for justice and equality alive in us, our city, our nation, our world. And next April 4 the eyes of the world will be on Memphis once again to see how we have remembered, how we will observe, what progress we have made, and what commitments we will yet make to be a part of our own healing and that of our world.

Toward that end, we, as a part of our community, will remember and commit ourselves to even greater work along the lines of what Dr. King would call us to do.  We will continue to build our relationships with Greater Lewis Street Missionary Baptist Church and Friends for Life. We will participate in a CBF sponsored Together For Hope Civil Ride, a long-distance bicycle ride from Memphis to New Orleans which will kick off the official ceremonies at the National Civil Rights Museum on April 4. The monies raised will go to support the CBF Together For Hope Poverty Initiative to address the poorest areas of our country. (You will remember that in addition to the sanitation worker’s strike, one of Dr. King’s last initiatives in our area was a Poor People’s Campaign/March which began in Marks, MS, and ended in Washington DC. It went on despite his death in May/June of 1968). On August 9, I will be attending a luncheon which will outline other ways for local congregations to be involved. Stay tuned for more.

But as I think about all of this ceremony, as great as it is, what is far more important is that we are doing the work that Dr. King would be doing, were he still alive. So, are we? Are we standing up for justice and equality in our world? Are we standing up for those who have no voice, or far too little a voice in the world today? Are we listening to them so that they know their voice matters? Are we doing more than just talking? Are we making our thoughts known?  Are we changing our lives based upon our convictions? Do we think of the “least of these?” Do they matter to us?  If so, how are we showing this?  Are we speaking up and challenging abusive speech and actions, or do we just turn the other way?  Hard questions that demand a lot of us, and yet no more than Jesus did, which is sort of the point being as Dr. King was, after all, a Christian and a Baptist minister.

Not all of us can be Dr. King, just as not all of us can be Dr. William Barber, who seems to be carrying on Dr. King’s legacy as closely as any these days.   But all of us can do something, all of us must do something as disciples of Christ to bring God’s kingdom on earth, and for all, as it is in heaven.  I’ve taken a pledge to utilize this year to do better along these lines than I ever have before.  You can too.  http://mlk50.civilrightsmuseum.org/  Let’s do our part to make this year, a year of redemption, for us, for our city, for our world.
Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the August edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Tuesday, August 1, 2017
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Being Patient with the Process

I think most of us have come to grips with the truth revealed in the familiar statement, “It’s the journey, not the destination.”   The great truth in that for most of us is the realization that while goals are important and necessary, we can become so fixed on our ultimate goals that we miss a lot along the way—joy, beauty, people, memories.   That, and the fact that even getting to our path to our destination is composed of a million day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute disciplines that must happen now, along the way.  I think such is exactly what Jesus is addressing in Matthew 6:25-34, where he encourages us not to be anxious but rather to trust and live faithfully in the moment.

But the journey itself can be frustrating.   We understand that we can’t get there tomorrow and that there is a purpose and a reason for even the chores of the day, but….those setbacks, those failures, those delays and detours we had not planned to take can be so frustrating.  We can become angry at ourselves and others.  “Why can’t I get this?”  “Why won’t they get out of the way?”  “Why is this not going as planned?”   Such feelings can derail our journey altogether.

Unless…we develop some patience with the process.  Those are the words of Carrie Newcomer, a Quaker singer songwriter who writes some of the most deeply spiritual songs around today.   A piece of such patience, she suggests, involves focusing not just on our failings or stumblings, but also on how far we have come and being grateful for that.  “But today I can choose to view this life-long and life-giving journey with a sense of gratitude and accomplishment. I have actually come this far. I have braved what seemed unbearable. I have walked through the valley of the shadow and found not only light and beauty on the other side, but that I was never alone” (MT 28:20b). Seth Oppenheimer, a Rabbi friend of a friend, recently said, “We focus on all the miracles that don’t happen.”  In saying such, he was implying, of course, that we neglect the miracles that do happen, those miracles that happen in and around us every day that enable us to be who we are, or, considering our present metaphor, where we are on the journey. 

The other part of being patient, Newcomer writes, is a simple appreciation for the inherent cyclical nature of journey and the fact that sometimes our failures actually facilitate our progress.   “The sacred journey means falling down and getting up, getting it right, getting it wrong, circling around, forgiving, forgetting to forgive, then forgiving again. It means if I keep on walking, all these experiences contribute to my ability to bring greater compassion to my every interaction. I am more able to help, love, parent, create, give the best of who I am with greater depth and compassion, because I’ve had to struggle, and struggle mightily at times. It means that because I am a work in process because I am not ‘done’ I can humbly open myself to new ideas, other ways of seeing an issue, be vulnerable and in that vulnerably connect to others. It means that because I am not finished with this journey, I live in hope.”

As we continue on our individual and corporate journeys, let us live with patience, and in hope.

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the July edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Saturday, July 1, 2017
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Keys Are So Important

Keys are so important. They let you in. They let you out. They gain you access to what you need. They keep out what you don’t. They protect what is valuable. Those who hold keys are trusted and depended upon. Key ideas are central and vital. They unlock the full potential of a person, a book, a group, an institution. Key people are necessary.  They are your leaders, your followers, your catalytic personalities, those folk who make things better, your glue folk that hold everything, and everyone, together.

On Thursday evening, June 8, George Teil, a faithful member of our maintenance crew for more than 30 years, suddenly succumbed to a reappearance of cancer and died early Friday morning. George was never a member of First Baptist, but he certainly was a key part of our community of faith.  His kind, gentle, warm, servant spirit permeated this building and our gatherings. He met his beloved Earnestine here, while she too was on staff, and together they would bring their children and grandchildren and great grandchildren to many FBC events. He was universally beloved, hugged by as many children as seniors. He was never in a hurry, yet never late. He never panicked. In a crisis, you wanted George. And he never lost that positive attitude and smile, which meant, even if you weren’t in a crisis, you wanted George.  We still want George. We miss our friend, even as we celebrate his life. Our prayers remain with Earnestine and his family.

The massive set of keys shown here were his church keys. They are larger, truly, than any other set. There are keys on that ring that no one else has, and now, we may never know what they go to. But George did. He knew them, just like he knew us.  They were a burden that George proudly, gladly, and humbly carried for us, and a symbol of the key role he played among us for more than 30 years.

May the Lord bless him and keep him. May the Lord make his face to shine upon him and be gracious to him. May the Lord lift up his countenance upon him and grant him peace.


This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the July edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Friday, June 16, 2017
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A Culture of Invitation

I wrote this article while at the Festival of Homiletics in San Antonio.  San Antonio is a beautiful city that is steeped in culture, a rich Mexican American culture, that is most evident everywhere you go. Culture is who you are. It is what you value.  It is what you celebrate and how you celebrate. It is ceremony and ritual. It is food and music. It is how you deal with problems. It is how you deal with life. It is what you prioritize. It is what you do. You don’t try to do culture. It is a part of who you are. You just do it.

Now, this isn’t to say that cultures can’t be changed. My goodness, racism was a larger part of our culture at one time, and we still have miles to go. Indeed culture can be changed, and whole cultures can be nurtured within society as a whole or in part—cities, companies, families, even churches. No doubt many of you have been in companies or schools or organizations that decided to develop a culture of excellence or trust or dependability, etc. In those instances, specific policies, plans, education, and events were put into place to lift the profile of this dynamic within the institution. 

We have a culture at FBC. It’s a culture of caring and family. It’s a culture of acceptance and welcome. It’s a culture of connection with our community. It’s a culture of intentional worship and thoughtful theology. It is a culture of openness and diversity, where all voices are valued. It is a culture of courage and a willingness to do Baptist a different way. We have so much to be proud of and to celebrate.

But I believe at this time in our history we need to add another dynamic to who we are. We need to develop/nurture a culture of invitation. For a great part of our history, we didn’t have to worry about such.  We were the First Baptist Church in a major metropolitan city in the Bible Belt, in a time when church was very much the center of community life. Those days are gone.   Furthermore, our type of church has done everything it can to distance itself from Fundamentalism, and some of the abuses that form of faith has exhibited, including an over-zealous, judgmental  approach to evangelism.  

But Invitation is not that. Invitation, properly understood, is just the natural extension of hospitality. It is knowing how meaningful something has been to you and trusting that such may be the case for others too, that we are not totally weird and unique folk. It’s sharing the good news. It’s being faithful disciples. It’s about the love of this church and its mission and the reality that to accomplish our mission we will always need others to come alongside us and add their energies to ours, as we will always be losing members due to death, job transition, life transition, all sorts of reasons.  

What will such look like? Here are few ideas. A culture of invitation looks like a church program that is offering creative options in programming and missions to which you will invite someone. It looks like members who are eagerly helping to design and to staff such programs. It looks like members who are planning and hosting gatherings off site to which they are inviting prospects while also inviting staff and members so that some constructive mingling can occur. It looks like members who really have taken the time to do a prayerful accounting of their relationships and connections, considering who might actually be a prospect for FBC. It looks like members developing a consciousness that is ever on the alert for such folk in our day to day life. It may have a type of positive accountability built into it—one where we share, in a variety of forums, about our efforts/struggles to invite others, no matter how they turn out. It looks like members helping each other with ideas and support in their invitation efforts. It looks like members being present to welcome those that others have invited. It looks like the completion of our branding process, which will be a valuable tool in all such efforts. It means an “all hands on deck” approach to invitation, where we all take responsibility for the future health of this congregation we love so much.

These are a few ideas/snapshots of what it might mean for us to nurture a culture of invitation at FBC. Let me know what you think. You will be hearing more in the days ahead.

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the June edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Thursday, June 1, 2017
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When You're Not Feeling It

Recently, after seeing a Facebook post by a particular church member, it occurred to me that I had not seen that member in church recently. I have a good relationship with this member, and so, after “liking” the post, I sent them a personal message, “Dude, where have you been?” The member answered back, “I know.  I’ve been busy, really busy. Plus, I’ve just not been feeling it. But don’t worry. I’ll be there the next two Sundays. I look forward to seeing you then.” And the member was back the next two Sundays.  

But that phrase, “I’ve not been feeling it,” has stuck with me. In thinking about that, it has occurred to me that our liturgical calendar does structure our worship in certain ways that tend to match a “feeling.”  So what happens if you’re personally celebrating, but the church is in the longing of Advent or in the sobering reflection of Lent? More importantly, I think, what happens if you are struggling in the midst of the celebration of Christmastide or Easter? If your life is falling apart, it can affect how you sing Joy to the World or Christ the Lord is Risen Today…if you even want to sing at all.

A few reflections:

  1. For all of us­—store up what you need for when you need it. The themes of scripture, worship, the Christian calendar, etc., are rich and varied.  It’s important that we acknowledge them all because we need them all.  We need to know that Jesus both cries with us (Lent) and celebrates with us (Easter), even if our need at the moment does not match the emphasis of the season. So, store up the rich themes of our faith for when you need them most.
  2. For when you’re not “feeling it”—I know it’s not always easy, but I do think it is wise, most of the time, not to let our feelings determine our faithfulness, whether that is to study, worship, service, giving, etc. When things are really hard, maybe a break is warranted. Otherwise, I have found the healthy thing is to push ourselves a bit: to get up and come on and join in. More times than not, if we’re not “feeling it,” we won’t start “feeling it” on our own. We need the help of others to get there. Remember the four friends who tore a hole through the roof to get their friend to Jesus—that’s an image of the church, my friends.
  3. For those surrounding those not feeling it—Be sensitive to the fact that others may not be where you are, that others around you may not be “feeling it.” We try to structure worship with moments of reflection, confession, petition, even in the midst of celebratory services, and vice versa.  But we won’t hit everyone, every time. And even if we do, a personal touch may be what is really needed. So you be the conduit to the Holy Spirit on those Sundays. Hit where we miss.

Worship is not just an hour on Sunday. It is everything we are and everything we do to and for one another and this world in the name of Christ. So preach with a hug. Sing with a listening ear. Pray with a meal. Extend the Peace of Christ with a text or Facebook message…even if it’s “Dude, where have you been?”

Until we all feel it…

Grace and Peace,

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the May edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Monday, May 1, 2017
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Forged Relationships

I’m writing this article from the kitchen table of my cousin in Bradenton, Florida. This is the second year that Micah and I have made this pilgrimage here during his Spring Break. Last year everything seemingly went off without a hitch. Lots of fishing, baseball, a car race. This year…not exactly. Oh, there’s been plenty of everything that made last year great, just complications along the way, and a cast of characters that has made things interesting to say the least. And yet…I think Micah and I have survived amazingly well. We have persevered and have laughed heartily at our misfortunes.   And my guess is we’ll remember overcoming these obstacles long after we’ve forgotten what went off without a hitch. 

Well, we as FBC are engaged in another pilgrimage. A Lenten Journey toward the cross. It too is fraught with obstacles. Many of you are on personal journeys as well that are also fraught with difficulty that probably will not end with Easter. In the midst of such, companions, as Mary Kaylor’s sermon taught us, are absolutely essential to help us bear the pain and to give birth to something new.  But what came to mind for me this week was the sense in which true friendships really are, as the old saying goes, forged in the midst of adversity. To put this another way—real friendships are not only necessary to our journey, they can be found on our journey, revealed to us along the way and/or strengthened for years to come. To say this is not to minimize the difficulty of any journey. It is merely to point out that a silver lining to a difficult journey may be the friendships you make and strengthen along the way.  

Think of the relationships that matter the most to you. They may not have begun in adversity, but I bet they were forged there. Family members that saw you through a crisis. A friend who helped you get over a grief. A colleague who covered for you when you needed to take care of critical personal matters. President Ulysses S. Grant put it this way, “The friend of my adversity I shall always cherish most.  I can better trust those helped to relieve the gloom of my dark hours than those who are so ready to enjoy with me the sunshine of my prosperity.”  

With that in mind, some thoughts:

  1. We’re all going through some difficulties, some more than others. But everyone is on a pilgrimage that involves significant challenges, or soon will be. Be aware of that. Be sensitive to that. Allow such knowledge to temper how you engage everyone, even strangers.
  2. Dare to walk with someone else in their adversity. Will such result in a closer relationship with this person? Maybe. Maybe not. But regardless, as children of God, we don’t let our brothers and sisters walk hard paths alone.
  3. Take notice of those who are coming alongside you in your adversity.  Give thanks for how your relationships have been strengthened by even challenging circumstances.
  4. Remember that in Christ, this is exactly what God did for you, and me, and all. He came alongside us in our adversity. He bore our griefs and sorrows. He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities. And by his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53) 

Yes, Lent is the call to walk with our Lord unto Jerusalem, even unto the cross. But never forget that our ability to do that is predicated upon the fact that in Christ, God has, does, and will walk with us when we need Him, especially when we need Him the most, in the midst of adversity. Ours is a God who will never leave us or forsake us even to the end of the age. Ours is a God who is not only present in the good times, but in the tough times, too. Indeed ours is a God who, as is revealed on the cross, knows that the best, the strongest relationships, the ones that matter, are the ones forged in adversity.

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the April edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Saturday, April 1, 2017
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On January 18 we explored together a couple short proverbial parables that have to do with value.  The kingdom of God is like a treasure hidden in a field. A man, who does not own it, stumbles across it, and then goes and sells all that he has and buys it.   Again, the kingdom of God is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who finds one pearl of exceptional value, and he too, goes and sells all that he has and buys it.

What do you have that has value? Actual things. A house? A car? Jewelry? Tools? Collectibles?  That’s one question, and it can be insightful. How we use our money does say a lot about us. But consider this question alongside it. What do you value? What things, even, do you value? Are they the same as the list above? Chances are, not. Chances are you now begin to think of photographs (or your computer on which all your photographs are stored), family Bibles and heirlooms, books signed by heroes and mentors, etc., those things you would be tempted to grab if the house was on fire.

What does this difference reveal? It reveals that we really do know, down deep inside, that life is about more than just stuff and money, that the true source of value in our life is to be found in family and relationships and community and faith.

And of all such matters, Jesus says the Kingdom of God (or Heaven to use Matthew’s term) is the most valuable. Living the way of Christ and being a part of God’s work in this world, helping to bring about a state of true justice and peace and hope and grace is, says the text, worth everything. Note the refrain in both parables…they sold all that they had and bought it.  

I think that’s one important thing to remember when it comes to all matters of true value. They do cost.  Scripture is clear about that. All the disciples left something when they came to follow Jesus—nets, tax collectors tables, etc.  And the same is true today. There is always a leaving, a letting go of lesser things, to be a part of something far better, the Kingdom of God.

These past few weeks I have been moved to hear you speak in worship and in our in home discussions of what you value about our church, and why your investment here at FBC, as part of your overall investment in the Kingdom of God, is worth it. Stories of people being there for one another when the chips were down. Stories of people who cherished their children and/or maybe “got through” to their children when they as parents could not.  Stories of pride in being a part of a church that will accept all and take a stand when necessary. Stories of worship that moved, study that challenged, service that fulfilled, etc. Stories of Kingdom stuff, that is indeed worth our time, our energy, our talents, our support.  

Yes, who God is calling us to be and what God is calling us to do as FBC, is challenging. It will demand our very best, all that we have, but it’s worth it. Oh, how it’s worth it.  For us, for our families, for our community, and so many more.   The honor of being a part of the redemptive work of the One who considers us worth it all…is worth it all. Thanks for proving that to me over and over again, FBC.  It’s a privilege to be your pastor.
Onward, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the February edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Wednesday, March 1, 2017
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Our Lenten Journey

I’ve always struggled with the Temptation narrative beginning the Lenten Journey. Oh, I get the connection of the 40 days, but the Temptation happens right at the start of Jesus’ ministry, not in the middle, and it’s nowhere close to the point when “he set his jaw toward Jerusalem.” But the idea of a journey into the wilderness, one that cannot be avoided, a sort of testing necessary to rest of the journey…which is what the temptation was for Jesus…well, if that doesn’t sound like Lent, I don’t know what does.  If we’re to get to Easter, to new life, we “must needs go home by way of the cross.”

Two years ago, I saw the film Wild based on the autobiographical book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail. In it, Reese Witherspoon plays the author, Cheryl Strayed, whose determination to hike the Pacific Coast Trail enables her to find her way out of addiction and the pain of a divorce.  It was a truly unorthodox idea; not only because there is no necessary connection between hiking and sobriety, but because Strayed had never done a lick of hiking before. And hiking the PCT alone is not for novices. She does some preparation, but not nearly enough.  She’s not a day or two in when she realizes that she has packed not nearly enough of what she truly needs, and far too much of what she doesn’t need. Indeed a repeated scene through the entire movie has her throwing away unneeded items while taking on more of what she really needs. And all such is done, mostly, at the advice of more experienced hikers she meets along the way, something else she had unwisely tried to leave behind.  Traveling in the wilderness or to a cross requires having the right essentials, and little else.

This Lent we’re inviting you on a journey that may seem like a bit of a wilderness trek. At the very least the road to the cross doesn’t generally feel like a well-paved road. And truth be told, some of us are already on some hard journeys now, ones that will not get any easier even after Easter. So, it’s worth giving some time and effort to the task of ridding ourselves of unneeded baggage—regret, grief, guilt, a grudge, fear, low self-assessment, toxic thoughts and relationships, a bad habit we picked up along the way. At the same time, there are some essentials that we absolutely need, that we just can’t do without —grace, God, friends, and mentors, a sense of call, hope, courage. Lent gives us the opportunity to let go of some nonessentials, so that we can take better hold of essentials which will, in turn, uphold us.

This Lent we will focus on some of the essentials we will need on our journey. The Temptation will point us to the Bread of Life. A Samaritan woman will share the source of living water. Egyptian midwives will offer us companionship through the pain. A blind man will show us how mud can clear our vision. Grieving sisters and their best friend will remind us of the healing power of tears. And along the way, we’ll clear out some space to make sure we have room for all of these.

Yes, Lent like the wilderness journeys of Christ and Cheryl Strayed, you and me, are not always journeys we desire or want, but many times they are ones we need, necessary periods of focusing and testing and healing that are required if we’re ever to get to Easter, to the new life beyond. But never forget, along the way, the way of the cross does indeed lead home.

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the March edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Wednesday, February 1, 2017
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A New Year

One of the things that happens to many of us when the calendar turns is that it takes a while to get in the swing of things and quit saying/writing/typing the number for the last year (2016) and state correctly which year we are in (2017). Check writing used to be the worst in respect to this dynamic. Now with digitized everything, and computers making the switch for us, it doesn’t happen as often. But I guarantee you there are more scratch outs on forms, at doctor’s offices and elsewhere, the first week of January than any other week. After you’ve been used to saying a certain year for 350+ days, it’s just hard to make the switch.
This challenge reminds us that change itself is hard. We get used to a certain way of thinking, of doing things, and whether we like it all that much or not, it is at least familiar and comfortable. Thus, we resist the new, the novel, the creative, even if it’s the very thing we need. That being said, to be fair, most new ideas and concepts don’t tend to arrive all shiny and bright, either. They are new, after all. There are rough edges that must be smoothed out, modifications that must be made. So leaving the familiar and polished for something new and unfinished…well, that’s doubly hard.

And when it comes to faith, tradition and familiarity are not all bad. Not at all. I like tradition. I find it rich with meaning. Ours is an eternal God with an eternal Love.  Some things really do not change.  And yet, one of those unchanging things is the fact that our God is ever on the move, ever adjusting, ever changing, ever seeking to do a new thing. Thus the question for  a disciple is never “Is God doing a new thing?” But “Where is God doing a new thing? And how can I get involved?”

So as we consider this for 2017, let’s ask ourselves some questions:  What is God up to? Where and how is God calling us to become involved? We have a new president and a new political climate. What challenges/opportunities for ministry/justice will that bring our way?  How will we respond? Memphis has its challenges. Our church has its challenges. How can I be a part of how God is meeting those challenges? What will it take for me to become more involved/engaged in what God is up to than I was last year? Are there pieces of my past to which I am hanging on that keep me from embracing what God is doing now? Most importantly, to what do I need to commit myself, right now, so that this time next year I look back and say…that was a year well spent.

Faithful people dare to ask and face such questions, because we believe that God is not only in our past and present, but in our future, too, out ahead of us, doing a new thing, beckoning us to join in. Let us now, as always, be open and attentive to the God who has come in Christ, and the new ways of thinking, being, acting, giving, serving to which God is calling us…now…in 2017.  

Happy New Year, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the January edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Sunday, January 1, 2017
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All In

I’m not much of a card player.  There are a few card games that I enjoy, but just in groups and just for fun.  No gambling. But several years ago, I did find poker tournaments on TV to be rather interesting. I watched a few just out of curiosity. When something new hits the scene and is gaining in popularity, I’ll almost always check it out to see what all the fuss is about. Well, if you’ve ever watched these tournaments, they seemingly go on forever. But every so often, a player will decide that they have a hand that is so unbeatable that they will call, “all in,” and by that they mean they are betting everything they have on this hand. Either they will at least double the amount of money they have, or they walk away with absolutely nothing.  It’s an incredibly gutsy and risky move.

Well, this Advent we celebrate that in Christ, God was “all in” for you and for me.  In Christ, God held nothing back and came fully into the total experience of humanity for humanity. And in Christ, God did such in typical God fashion—forcing nothing, imposing nothing, merely welcoming and inviting and calling any and all who would follow. In addition, in Christ, God made Godself vulnerable to the worst we could do Him—rejection, ridicule, even death.  And God did this all to show us the depth of God’s love for us.

It was, and is, an incredibly risky move to come with such vulnerability, to leave the outcome up to us. For if we say “no,” if we won’t respond in like fashion, if we choose to look to lesser gods to guide us, to build our lives around, then…in a real way…it’s over. God can do no more, nothing greater.  If we won’t respond to Christ, we’re just not going to respond, and the whole God movement is pretty much dead in the water.

It’s this rather stark realization that drives home the preparation part of Advent. It’s why John the Baptist inevitably pops up in Advent, for he reminds us that what we celebrate is more than beautified manger scenes and Silent Night, that the Christ event is also serious business. Yes, John the Baptist reminds us that while in Christ, God is saying, “I’m all in for you,” God is also asking the reciprocal question, “Are you all in for me?”

Well, are we? Do we allow God’s supreme definition of love to impact us, change us? Do we allow it to reach down deep to heal the most troubled parts of our soul? Do we allow it to then call us to far greater love for God, others, and self? If in Christ coming to earth, God is saying, “I’m betting on you,” how have we responded?  Far more importantly, how will we respond? If the ball is in our court now, if the state of the God movement is now dependent on your response and my response and our response, what is the state of the God movement today? What are God’s chances now that God is betting “all in” on us?  

So this Advent/Christmas season, enter into all the joy, wonder and beauty it represents, but please don’t get lost in it. Take time to reflect on the depth of the love of a God who is “All In” for us, and how that can and should impact our lives.
Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the December edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Thursday, December 1, 2016
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Royal Changes

On the evening of October 18, I went to a concert of Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen, two of my favorite singer-songwriters.   Robert Earl Keen sang his song, “If I Were King There’d Be Some Changes Made.” Keen’s song is more or less a love song, stating what he’d change for a certain woman if he could. But it’s an interesting question. If you were king (or queen), what changes would you make? It’s especially interesting given this political season where, by and large, deservedly or not, our presidential candidates are the focus of our ire. “So Ok, Mr./Mrs. Smartypants, if you were king/president, what would you change?”

When I consider that question there is much that comes to mind.  I’d change some economic policies to benefit the poor.  I’d be engaged in seeking answers to the Syrian refugee crisis. I’d be engaged in questions affecting the environment. But the issue that has had my heart since this summer is race.  
We all know there is a problem. There’s a problem because we don’t know.  There’s a problem because we don’t know the view of the world through eyes other than our own. And we won’t know because most of us know, truly know, precious few people of other races. Acquaintances, business associates, fellow parents whose children play on the same sports team…maybe. But have over to dinner, go out socializing, take dinner when times are tough?

So if I were king, I’d make some changes designed to bring folk together, across all sorts of racial/cultural divides. Of course I’m not king, so I guess no one has to worry. But then again, as Christians we profess that someone is King. And my guess is that if Jesus were to walk into Memphis, the issue he would address without delay is race. Indeed, it would be my guess that he would set a record for crashing the most segregated scenes in our city in the shortest amount of time. It’s because of that, that I believe we have no option but to be engaged in the question of race, especially now, especially here, especially after this past summer. It’s the job of everyone, but the church, those who are called by His name, to lead the way. We just have to.  We’ll all be held accountable one day for what we have done and left undone. And we won’t have an answer for everything. But when I’m asked as to how I helped move the needle on the question of race as a pastor in Memphis, TN, I want to have at least a bit of a credible response.

To that end, since this summer, Mary, Brittany, and I have been meeting with a coalition of Memphis pastors and clergy, over 300 total, that have met repeatedly and have drawn up a series of serious initiatives to address not only the issues of race, but of education and poverty and violence that lie at the root of so much of our racial discord. I’ve contacted numerous African American pastors seeking to build alliances.  I’ve worked with our sister Easter Sunrise churches on several efforts. I will continue working on these efforts. But what has yielded the most fruit thus far has been leaning into the relationships that First Baptist already has with Greater Lewis Street Missionary Baptist Church, across the street, and Lifeline To a Dying World Ministries, one of our missional partners. Rev. Myron Donald and Rev. DeAndre Brown share my burden and vision for cooperation that goes beyond periodic events to more substantive dialogues and service that is birthed in meaningful relationships. At the time this article is published we will have already laid some of the groundwork for this in our cookout at the Overton Park pavilion held October 23. But stay tuned. There will be meaningful follow up with these churches and ministries and maybe others.  And anyone who wants to be involved...come see me. Because Christ is King. And some changes are going to be made.
Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the November edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Tuesday, November 1, 2016
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To Whom Much is Given, Much is Required

My friend Mark Wingfield recently ended an excellent article with that verse (Luke 12:48b). The article, written in the aftermath of the tragic shooting of Terrence Crutcher by a Tulsa Police officer, addresses the issue of privilege. In this context, of course, the focus is on white privilege, but, as Mark notes in his article, privilege is alive and well in our society in many forms: male privilege, educational privilege, urban privilege, socioeconomic privilege, neighborhood privilege, adult privilege, and on and on. Indeed, each and every one of us has benefitted, far more than we realize, from our privileged statuses.  

Now, as Mark notes, too many of us deny our privilege, which is a problem in and of itself. But for those of us who have acknowledged our privilege, there’s another pressing question: What will we do with that privilege? The natural tendency, of course, is to use it to our personal benefit.

Mark then offers up a brilliant example.  Mark lives in Dallas and often flies Southwest Airlines. If you’ve ever flown Southwest, you know that there are no assigned seats, but for a small fee, you can get “boarding privileges” which allow you to go on first and, more or less, pick out your seat: aisle, window, close to the front. whatever you prefer. And that’s exactly what we do with such privilege.  We use it to get what we prefer.  No one pays the $30 and says, “I’ll sit by the bathroom so I can take the brunt of the smell for everyone else.”  Nope. In Southwest Airline seating, privilege means my needs get met, even at the expense of your needs not being met.

The same is true elsewhere in life too. Whatever privilege or edge we have we use to our benefit. Why, we would be stupid not to. Right?  If you’re struggling to answer, that’s OK.  I’m having trouble writing these lines, because, well…because privilege and how we use it tends to reveal our selfishness.   Maybe, suggests Mark, that’s why we struggle to admit we are privileged, because to do so reveals our inherent self-interest.
But Jesus suggests we do something else with our privilege.  He suggests we use it to benefit others.  He suggests we use our health to go the extra mile and bring healing to others, our inclusion to bring in the excluded, our wealth to benefit the poor, our freedom to benefit the imprisoned and exiled, our voice to speak up for those who have no voice. 

What if we voted for what would be in the best interest of others and all, and not ourselves and our tribe? What if when we invested our money, we cared not just about our return, but how those investments affected the most vulnerable around us? What if we used our education not just to further our careers, but to help others learn basic skills?

And in our most pressing present context…What if those of us who are white chose not to get defensive of our privilege, but instead to get honest about it; and then listen and learn; and then join all of those of color, especially our black brothers and sisters, in speaking for and working for racial equality and justice for all?
Oh, we can use our privilege for other purposes. We can use it to build our kingdom. But when we use our privilege for the sake of others, Jesus says, we are capable of joining Him in building something far bigger and far better, the Kingdom of God.  And so, it is precisely to ones such as us, that Jesus now and forever says, “To whom much is given, much is required.”

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the October edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Saturday, October 1, 2016
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The Gist

Gist. It’s an old word that you don’t hear that much anymore. But I really like it.  Give me the gist of the story, the gist of a situation, the gist of what that person is about. When I visit with families to plan a funeral, I spend a good deal of time with them talking through the person’s life. We speak of birth, school, church, graduation, marriage, jobs, parenting, friendship, retirement, etc. But after all of that has been shared, my question is always the same. What is the essence, the gist of this person? When you strip everything else away, what remains?   Sometimes, it may be something they do. Sometimes it may be some role that they played. But most of the time it is a quality, a personality characteristic, an attitude…that which pervaded every aspect of the loved one’s life.

What is your essence? What characterizes you more than anything else? When you strip away all that can be stripped away...what remains? What is the gist of you?  For that matter, what is our essence at First Baptist Church? What characterizes us more than anything else? When you strip away all that can be stripped away, what remains? What is the gist of FBC?

This month we will begin a branding process. It was an objective named by our Building the Church Family pillar of our Vision Process. One can look at the branding process through several lenses.  You can seek to brand yourself by what you wish for yourself, what you would like to be or become.   You can brand yourself in light of what you think will sell or work.  But the best branding processes find succinct ways for a congregation to communicate who it is, so that those who are looking for that type of fellowship know where to look. The process will involve a new logo. It will involve mottos and slogans. It will involve a complete assessment and redesign of our publications and website. It will help us develop our “elevator speech,” a way of succinctly sharing with others what is special about FBC. There will be many components, but in the end, the objective of branding is…to let the gist shine.

Guiding us in this process will be David Cassady and his wonderful team at Faithlab.  We chose Faithlab because they have significant experience with churches like us.  On our end, much of the ongoing work will fall to a team comprised of Teresa Bullock (chair), Laura Locke, Lora Jobe, Sally Smith, James Aycock (chair of PR), and myself; and then, in time, to the staff and the Public Relations Committee.  

Your input and ideas, though, are very much needed, throughout the process, but especially at the beginning. To gather this input, David Cassady will meet with us in three meetings open to all members.  The first will be held on Saturday, September 17, 10:30 a.m. in the Family Life Center. The second will be before worship on Sunday, September 18, at 8:30 a.m. in the Chapel.  The there will be another meeting immediately following worship on Sept. 18 in the Parlor. We hope that everyone will be able to make one of these meetings and offer their valuable input.

Please be in prayer for this process and make plans now to be at one of the meetings on September 17 or 18.

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the September edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Thursday, September 1, 2016
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Fence Movers

My/Our friend Brent Beasley, formerly pastor at Second Baptist here in Memphis, was speaking one year at a an MLK day service at Annesdale-Cherokee Missionary Baptist Church. He was the only white minister on the podium among many eloquent and powerful African American pastors. He felt rather intimidated. Nonetheless, he dared to start his sermon with a story about Quakers in Poland after WWII.  It worked then.  It still works.

After the devastation of WWII, Quakers brought relief to the impoverished people of Poland. They distributed food and clothing, along with other relief measures. One of the Quaker relief workers contracted Typhus and died. There were only Roman Catholic cemeteries in this little Polish village, and church law forbade anyone not of that faith to be buried in that ground. So the Quakers buried their friend in a grave just outside the Catholic cemetery. The next morning, however, there was a surprise. During the night the villagers had moved the fence so that the cemetery now included the grave of the Quaker relief worker.

As you might imagine, Brent went on to suggest that Dr. King was a “fence mover,” not a “fence sitter” and certainly not a “fence builder.” And he wondered aloud “Wouldn’t it be something if we got to the point in Memphis where the fence movers outnumbered the fence builders and fence sitters— and outworked and out hoped them too?”

We’ve all heard similar analogies made before. Bridge builders vs. wall builders. But I think I like Brent’s image better, because it calls into question who is included and who has not been included. It’s an image about redrawing the boundaries of who belongs.

Well, the issues of racial justice that Dr. King brought to our mind nearly 60 years ago, are, obviously, still with us. The killings in Baton Rouge and St. Paul and Dallas, as well as the marches in our own city, have reminded us in very stark ways that we may have made some progress, but we still have a long way to go.
I hope you agree with me that this is not just a civic problem, but a moral imperative, one that the Church should be attending to, even leading the way. The columnist, Leonard Pitts, challenged ministers at the Festival of Homiletics this year with the following statement: “Who wants to be a part of a faith that is late to the great battles for human dignity? People of faith should be ahead of the pack. We should be the lonely voices crying forth in the wilderness until the rest of the world catches up to us.”

To that end, I, along with Brittany and Mary, have been meeting with over 250 local ministers every Monday evening for dialogue and prayer. I have been in conversation with our neighbor Rev. Myron Donald at Greater Lewis Street Missionary Baptist, about what we can do together as congregations. I have made similar calls to several other pastors of African American congregations, as well. Our Easter Sunrise congregations here in midtown delivered flowers to local police precincts after Dallas and are seeking ways to work together for racial justice. As opportunities come to fruition, we will let you know.

But the most powerful thing any of us can do right now is to pray and to listen and to learn and to commit ourselves to be fence movers and bridge builders in the course of our everyday lives. To reach out and to get to know all of our fellow children, especially those whose skin color or background might be different than our own. Don’t wait for them to reach out to you.  You/we need to reach out to them. In so doing, we will be following the example of the One who extended himself and in the process moved a lot of fences, built a lot of bridges, and tore down a lot of walls. Let us be faithful to follow Christ in such manner, especially now. As our new sign says, “We will get there together, or we won’t get there at all.”  

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the August edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Monday, August 1, 2016
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Which Tune Do We Trust?

For my sermon on June 12 I recounted how on some days in New Orleans you can hear competing tunes echoing down the streets near the cemeteries.  You can hear one band playing slow sweet dirges as one casket is carried to the cemetery while at the same time you can hear another band playing celebratory notes after the graveside ceremony.   Just a Closer Walk With Thee competing with When the Saints Go Marching In.  Dirges of death competing with melodies of life.  And in the sermon I asked, “Which tunes do you think are the most powerful?  Which are the most real, the most enduring?  Which tunes will win the day in your own heart and soul and mind, today and tomorrow?  In which tunes do you place your trust?”
The point of reference when I preached that sermon was the death of Officer Verdell Smith and the homicide number in Memphis overall, which on June 11 reached 100 for the year.  Poignant, important questions in the face of such tragedies, but questions that became even more important as we returned home to news of the shooting in Orlando.
But the circumstances and size of the tragedy are relative.  For that widow in Nain (Luke 7), the text for that Sunday, the death of her one son was enough.  For all of us, the death or sickness or suffering of just one person close to us is enough.  Indeed in the face of all tragedy and pain, life asks us this question: Which tune do we trust, the dirge of death or the melody of life?  And how we answer that question will determine just about everything.
The dirge of death says that death is the definitive.  It says that life is limited, that resources are limited, that the goal of life is to live as long as you can, get as much as you can, and then protect it any way you can.  In such a tune, chances are few, judgment is quick, and exclusion is assumed.  It requires little—no imagination, no faith, no hope.  It calls forth nothing, except maybe fear and a survival instinct.  It obliges one to nothing, because why bother?   Life’s hard, then you die.   This song has much to commend it.  It fits the harsh realities of Officer Smith’s death and the Orlando massacre and the tragedies of your life and mine.
The melody of life does not debate this.  Indeed the melody of life begins in dirge-like fashion.  It acknowledges and laments the pain, the sorrow, the struggle of death, but…it does not remain there.  It perseveres, pushes through and ends on a chorus of life.  This way is more hopeful, and yet harder too.  Because hope and faith don’t come easy.  And what’s more, believing such has implications and obligations.  To believe in hope and grace and life is to be in its employ.  It is to choose to include and to serve and to share, even when such causes us to be vulnerable.  
So, in the face of death in Memphis and Orlando and everywhere…Which tune do we trust?  Which tune will win the day in us, and then through us win the day for those around us…Memphis, the LGBTQ community, faithful Muslim brothers and sisters, etc?   Moses exhorted the children of Israel, “Choose life that you may live.”  I think the same holds today.  So let us keep praying comfort, keep proclaiming grace, keep living hope, keep offering love, keep fighting for justice.  Let us keep singing the tune of life, for ourselves and this world.
Courage, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the July edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Friday, July 1, 2016
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Beyond This

“Whatever THIS you are going through, the good news of the gospel is…There is more to life than THIS.”  This was the summary statement of a sermon recently preached by Dr. Claudio Carvalhaes at the Festival of Homiletics.  He speaks of that which he knows.  Raised in Sao Paulo, Brazil, having worked with some of the poorest of the poor, his work there is based upon many people believing this truth for the poor of Brazil.  Donors, governmental officials, the poor themselves, Claudio, and countless others have to believe this or nothing will/can change.  But Claudio speaks not just in hope, but in testimony.  While so much still needs to be done, he has seen this change happen.  He has seen transformation.  He knows there is more to life than THIS.

It’s a message applied throughout the week.  It was applied in other pastoral situations. I heard stories of grief, of victims of abuse, of the mentally ill, of the chronically ill, of ministers and churches in crisis, of those struggling with shame and guilt, of countless others (maybe you?) who need to know in the most profound way that no matter their THIS, that God is in it with them, and that there really is more to life than THIS.

I heard this message applied to our awareness.  Julie Pennington-Russell told the story of a social experiment undertaken by the Washington Post.  They asked Joshua Bell, the world famous violinist, to don a sweatshirt, jeans, and baseball cap and play several pieces in the entry area to a DC metro station, to see if anyone would stop to take advantage of this glorious music.  In 45 minutes only 7 of 1,097 people stopped to listen for even a moment.  “Be open to THIS moment, and the One who holds it,” Julie pleaded.   Be open to beauty.  Be open to compassion.  Be open to opportunities to make a difference.  Walk with your head up and your eyes open. There is more to life than THIS.

And I heard it applied to those longing for and working toward justice.  There’s a good bit of this in Claudio’s situation.  It’s not just about the hope for change, but the courage to keep working for change.  And the same goes for all those working to change policies and cultures around issues of race, gender, environment, age, sexuality, disabilities, health care, economics, etc.  “Do not grow weary in well doing” encouraged Raphael Warnock, Walter Bruggemann, and Heidi Neumark, among others.  Because God is working with you, THIS is not all there is.

I don’t know where you are, what your THIS consists of.  But no matter how good or bad or average it may be, because God is in it, your life is about more than THIS.  By God’s grace, there is always more. Thanks be to God.  May we have eyes to see, ears to hear, hearts and minds ready to receive, and legs and arms ready to join in.  

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the June edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Wednesday, June 1, 2016
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FBC Signs of Life: Dreams of the Future

I am Carol Richardson and I have been a member of this church most of my life, so I have the advantage of AGE  as I share with you A SIGN OF LIFE from the perspective of a PAST, A PRESENT AND A FUTURE, which is before us. 

 Daring CHANGE is never easy.  It has never been easy for this church or any church.  Yet for the sake of a HOPEFUL FUTURE we will continue to struggle together to determine GOD’S PLEASURE in the midst of change. 

As I look first into our PAST as a church I remember several significant cataclysmic changes, which, in the end, all brought forth LIFE-GIVING AND UNANTICIPATED GIFTS

  • The first major change in my memory occurred with our move from the Linden/Lauderdale location to our present location here on the corner of Poplar and Parkway. There was SINCERE opposition…”we’re going too far east, abandoning the city,” some said.  “We don’t have the funds.  We’ll lose members”…all honest and heart-felt concerns. This was, for us as a church, the TRANSITION OF PLACE.  It required change and change is so often disquieting. Yet, this released a LIFE-GIVING ENERGY.

  • During the Civil Rights years, our doors were opened to all who would worship here.  There was opposition and even threats.  Again, we sensed a Divine call to CHANGE and change is never easy.  However, it was a LIFE-giving and COURAGEOUS DECISION.

  • During the 80’s we ordained our first WOMEN DEACONS and in 2001, we ordained our first FEMALE MINISTER…”Incompatible with sound Baptist doctrine and Scripture,” some said. However, we prayerfully studied and interpreted the scriptures, depending on the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Change came but it was not easy, though it was again LIFE-GIVING and Right.  This is our PAST. 


During these Sunday’s of Spring/Eastertide, we have been called to open our eyes to SIGNS OF LIFE all around us. LOOK! We have…  

  • New Members/FAMILIES who have joined recently because they saw in us SIGNS OF LIFE even as we struggle to continue to CHANGE, seeking and wrestling with the Divine call of God’s Spirit.

LOOK! We have… 

  • NEW MINISTRY OPPORTUNITIES both within these walls as well as beyond, to effect a CITY that is also ever evolving and changing.                     

LOOK! We are experiencing… 

  • NEW WAYS OF CREATIVE WORSiHP, discovering and utilizing the unique GIFTS OF ALL OF US. This too herald’s our ability to CHANGE, to STRETCH BEYOND OUR COMFORT ZONES. 

Change is never easy but it is ALWAYS NECESSARY FOR THE SAKE OF A NEW AND FRUITFUL FUTURE, to effect the bringing of heaven to earth.  We are called, all of us, each of us, to continue our TRANSFORMATIVE INNER CHANGE both as individuals and as a CHURCH UNDER THE LIFE-GIVING guidance of the HOLY SPIRIT… 

 a call to WALK with one another,  

SPEAK PEACE to one another ,  

SUPPORT and ENCOURAGE each other in LOVE, 

 to SERVE one another and so many others out of our GIFTEDNESS, 

and to be part of the DIVINE SOLUTION.  

First Baptist, we are POISED TO MOVE INTO GOD’S FUTURE ripe with possibilities. BUT IT WILL TAKE ALL OF US, having NEW EYES and ENLIGHTENED HEARTS, while continuing to SEE life’s possibilities all around us.  It will take our collective and individual COMMITMENT TO PRAYER as well as our collective and individual WISDOM. It will certainly require a GENEROSITY OF SPIRIT toward one another and our undaunted willingness to SHARE UNSELFISHLY OF OUR RESOURCES to assure that A BRIGHT and PROMISING FUTURE CAN AND WILL BE OURS! 

God IS doing a new thing,   It is springing up all around us.  Don’t you perceive it?

These observations came from Rev. Dr. Carol McCall Richardson, a church member, as part of our Signs of Life Sermon Series.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Friday, May 6, 2016
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Recognizing Christ

One of my favorite Eastertide texts is the Road To Emmaus, (Luke 24:13-35).  It’s the ultimate story not of hidden identity, but incompetent recognition.   The resurrected Christ meets two disciples while they are walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, only for some reason, they don’t know it’s him.   Even though he’s teaching them about the meaning of the crucifixion and the resurrection all along the way, he appears to them to be nothing more than a random stranger.  It’s only when they arrive and the “stranger” joins them for dinner, and he takes the bread and breaks it, that the disciples recognize Jesus for who he is, and realize he’s been there with them all along.  So, what happened? Why didn’t they recognize Christ back there on the road?  Somebody call Sherlock Holmes, NCIS, an ophthalmologist.  

This past Eastertide we’ve been engaged in a unique spiritual discipline.  Many of us have been engaged in an exercise of spotting “Signs of Life,” (our theme for Eastertide worship) such as “Praise,” “Generosity,” “Hope,” etc.    We then take a picture and post it on a social media app called Cluster, so that we can share our God-sighting with everyone.  It’s been rather amazing, and much fun.  But I think many of us have found it harder than you would think. Of course sometimes the problem is when you see such moments, you don’t have time to get your camera out and take a picture.   But to be honest, the biggest struggle is…we’re just not trained to look for such, at least outside that which is sanctioned by the church.  We believe God is with us at all times, bringing about “Signs of Life,” and yet we don’t recognize them.  Far too often we’re disciples stumbling toward Emmaus, when what/who we need is right there all along.

So what’s the answer?  How do we wake up to the “Signs of Life” all around us?  How do we more readily recognize the Christ who walks with us?   How do we gain “eyes that see?”    Well, a part of it would seem to involve intentionality—just slowing down, opening our eyes, being more aware, etc.  But our text may have yet another, rather paradoxical, suggestion.  It was once the disciples recognized Christ at the table that they then were able to see Christ elsewhere, to realize Christ had been with them all along.  So could it be that our ability to recognize Christ in the world is actually tied to our experience of Christ in worship and devotion; that our ability to recognize “Signs of Life” is fine-tuned when we familiarize ourselves with such in regular moments of personal and corporate communion and service?  

So when it comes to recognizing Christ in worship/devotion and in “the real world,” maybe it’s not an either/or but a both/and.  If we do worship and devotion right, then it becomes a process whereby we attune our hearts and minds and eyes to God, where we familiarize ourselves with Christ and His ways, so that when we encounter Christ elsewhere we won’t miss out, and won’t miss out on joining God in God’s work beyond our walls.  So, let us be faithful to gather with glad and generous hearts so that when we scatter, we may have eyes to see, and join in what God is doing in our world, in amplifying and celebrating the “Signs of Life” that are popping up all around us.  

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the May edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Sunday, May 1, 2016
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Signs of Life in Church-wide Fellowships

My class at the Day School sing a song about "Looking for Signs of Spring." One sign of Spring is a nest of baby birds being fed by their mama.    

If I could name one thing that your Church-wide Fellowships Committee does well, it would be that; just like the mama bird, we feed you. 

An example of this was our Spring potluck on April 3. Talk about signs of life! It was wonderful to see my church family enjoying each other, filling up the Fellowship Hall. And as we fed each other literally, we also fed each other intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally as we conversed over plates of fried chicken, hugged and loved on each other, and as we welcomed visitors to our table. 

As Rebecca Courtney put it so beautifully, it was "sustaining."   If you missed the potluck -never fear- there will be more opportunities to fellowship throughout the year. Coming up this Summer we will have a good old-fashioned Ice Cream Social in June and a Back To School Cookout in August.

These events are not just for families in our church; they are church-wide events. So, please come, because this is how we feed each other and where you can be a part of the LIFE of our church.

These observations came from Holly Hatton, a church member, as part of our Signs of Life Sermon Series.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Monday, April 11, 2016
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Signs of Life: Lent, Holy Week & Easter

Life is messy. I've known that my whole life, but I always manage to forget it. So when Brittany asked me to talk about “Signs of Life” my family and I observed during Lent and Holy Week, my first thought was panic. What could I possibly have to share with all of you who almost certainly “did” Lent better than I did?   

You see, I began this Lenten journey as I do every year: with the best intentions of going to the Calvary Preaching Series, something I enjoy so much. But this year? Well, this year, I didn't make it to a single session.   

I also intended to give up something or maybe even pick something up – to start some kind of discipline to better myself. I thought briefly about giving up Facebook and even deactivated my account for a while one afternoon. But that didn't last long. As a work-at-home mom, those adult connections are a real lifesaver. I thought about giving up the bad habit of losing my temper, because I don't always manage to keep my cool when a plate or two that I'm spinning doesn't remain on its axis – or when other people don't behave just like I want them to do.   

I fully intended – and succeeded for about a week – to go to bed at a decent hour, to get up every morning to have quiet time and devotion, to exercise, meditate, take power naps when needed, and be more intentional in reaching out to people like my Grandma whom I don't see every week.    

But in the end, I failed miserably. I did manage to give up both clutter and crazy overeating, or to at least forego the guiltless pleasure of either of those things for 40 days. I weigh a little less, have been a little more physically active, and the baseline dirty of my house isn't quite as bad as it used to be. But you certainly couldn’t say that I hit it out of the park of true religious discipline.    

That's why I could hardly wait for Holy Week to come. Maundy Thursday is one of my favorite services all year, and I love gathering for Good Friday. This year, however, I signed one of my girls up for a track meet Thursday night, not realizing it was Holy Week. Even our runner was upset she was having to miss church. But we take team commitments pretty seriously at our house, and it was her first track meet. So, to the track meet we went. She ran her little legs off, and it was so fun watching her.   

And then as we headed home, we got a call from some of our FBC friends who were just leaving the service. Did we want to go grab a bite? The whole family did. So, we arrived to the restaurant to see that it was about halfway-filled with folks from our church. We ate, we drank, and we fellowshipped. It was not a Maundy Thursday worship experience, but it was not bad at all as consolations go.   

On Friday, I did manage to finally get with the program. We worshiped, sang at the Cross, ate lunch, and then stayed with the rest of the small group that has, for years, spent the afternoon stuffing eggs and decorating the church for the Easter egg hunt. It was so fun and so meaningful, as was the rest of the weekend.   

But as I have looked back at the failed 40 days of Lent leading up to this wonderful weekend, I realize that “Signs of Life” – both large and small – have permeated the experience, even though many of them might have been buried in the chaos.      

  • Just from our pew back there, for example, we bore witness to people who were sick and seriously injured, who underwent operations and who generally scared the living daylights out of their families – but who have come out the other side, seemingly unscathed. 
  • Others, including our sweet Mary, we watched having to say goodbye to their loved ones.  
  • We heard a small group of youth members, including our Abigail, sing beautiful music on Palm Sunday. 
  • We watched the older children, including our Catherine, teach the younger children how to walk down the aisle, waving their little arms in jubilant celebration.
  • We watched our littlest, Elizabeth, run into the arms of Ann George, as she and her friends start what we all hope will be a lifelong love of church.  
  • We saw entire rows of new visitors darken the doors of this church because rumor had it they’d be entering a place where everyone is welcomed and loved, no exceptions.  
  • We witnessed little girls working hard to memorize bible verses, only to be told by the powers-that-be that, because of our recent church vote, they would no longer be able to participate in Bible Drill. And we watched Glenn Everton work to find a way for them to compete anyway – which they will do this afternoon!  
  • We watched children from all over our community be shown the love of Christ at our Easter Egg hunt and worship experience. 
  • I saw my children spend Good Friday with their good friends, making themselves at home within the walls of this building and within the family of Christ.  
  • We watched our friends carry on for DeeDee Rader to make sure the cross out front was beautifully adorned for Easter morning. They brought and affixed flowers. They climbed ladders and steadied them for others. They passed around needed tools. And they loved on each other.
  • Sunday morning we spent with all of you, proclaiming that Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed, and ringing bells to celebrate that fact, each of us a true “Sign of Life” – of Christ’s Life that he gave for us.    

So this Sunday morning, this first Sunday of Eastertide, I praise God for all of you, for this place, and for all of the Signs of Life I see as a member of this congregation – far more than I was able to list in this very short time. I like our messy life.

These observations came from Jennifer Kellett, a church member, as part of our Signs of Life Sermon Series.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Monday, April 4, 2016
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Can Anything Bring Us Together?

I stole the title of this article from a fellow minister, Jim Somerville, pastor of FBC Richmond, VA.   It’s the title of a sermon he preached on January 31 and a subsequent article published online.  In it he addresses the polarization of our political climate and the subsequent loss of civility that appears to have accompanied it.  I’d like to say that Jim’s sermon made a great impact, that we’ve seen a downturn in uncivil behavior in our political scene since then, but I’m afraid that’s not the case. 

But then again, Jim’s article was not primarily addressed to a public audience.  As is the case with this article.  Oh, it called out the unnecessary rancor and response we seem to see on a nightly basis going on in the world around us, but to remind his church and the churches that we are called to something better, a higher standard.  As Christians Jim reminds us, in as much as it is possible, we are to live peacefully with everyone.  (Romans 12:18) 

Jim could have chosen that verse or countless others on which to base his sermon.  For instance, Ephesians 4:32-33.  “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:  And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”  Or Philippians 2:1-3.  “If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.  Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.”  Now true, these verses are directed at how Christians are to treat other Christians, but it certainly would seem that scripture’s point here is for us to practice inside the church what is our hope for the entire world.  

But in the end, I like the verse Jim chose, and I like even better what he did with it.  Jim suggests that Paul’s word at the end of 1 Corinthians 13 is what we need to hear if we are to rise to the higher standard that Christ has set for us.  “And these three remain: Faith, Hope and Love…”  Faith: We need to have a little faith, not in politics, but in the God who has seen countless presidents, parties, and regimes, come and go, and will see us through as well.  Hope: We have to have hope, not in the future, necessarily, but for the future. Things don’t have to continue to get worse.  They can get better, and we can help them get that way.  And last, Love: We have to love, not just those who are like us or who agree with us, but those who are different and disagree.  The prior verses in this chapter makes it clear that this love must be exhibited beyond just those whom we find easy to love. 

Now such thoughts are not to negate the needed word of the prophetic protest.  We need that voice too.  Indeed we, as people of faith, need to raise that voice, especially on behalf of those who have little or no voice.   But we can do this, I believe (faith) and hope in a way that is loving.   One that is respectful and kind, and does not belittle or negate the voice of others.

We’re engaging this Eastertide, the season of resurrection, in a worship series called Signs of Life.  In that series we will listen to the signs of life that scripture says should be among us as children of the resurrection.  We will also hear about signs of life that are happening even now in our own church.  But an additional sign of the life that we need to exhibit is a genuine respect for those with whom we disagree, both within and outside the church, a respect that grows and bears the fruit of hospitality, community, dialogue, and service.  We need that. The Kingdom needs that.  Our country and our world need people of faith that exhibit and insist on such ideals.    

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the April edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Friday, April 1, 2016
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A Way Through the Pain

Our theme this Lent has been “A Way Through...”  And just last week I stumbled once again upon a marvelous video clip along these lines that is an interview with noted researcher/speaker Brené Brown, in which she explores why we come to church and the purpose of faith from her own experience of coming back to the church in the middle of a mid-life crisis.  A self-confessed workaholic academic, she had for years deadened the pain and grief of life by burying herself in research which, down deep inside, she thought would ultimately provide all the answers to all the questions, even those in her own life.  But now she was running upon issues in her work and life that she could not research away, and she found herself in therapy and going back to church; though, as she was to find out, for all the wrong reasons. 

“I really went because this is hard and this hurts and in all the midlife unraveling books, they say go back to church, so I went back to church thinking that it would be like an epidural, that it would take the pain away, that I would just replace research with church and church would make the pain go away.  But what I discovered was that faith was not an epidural for me at all, it was like a midwife who just stood next to me and said ‘Push’.”    

This is a truth we see throughout scripture, from the laments of the Psalmists and Jeremiah, to the travails of Job.  But in Lent and especially Holy Week it stares us straight in the eyes.  For here, in Christ, we see God most present and raw and vulnerable.  “We like to think of Love,” Brown says, “as unicorns and rainbows, but then you see Jesus and you think, ‘Oh my God, love is hard.  Love is sacrifice.  Love is eating with the sick.  Love is trouble. Love is rebellious.’”   Here we see a love that does not take the pain away, necessarily, but one who refuses to abandon us in the midst of our pain, one who cries for us and with us until we make it through to whatever life there is to be found with it and on the other side.

It’s when we make God/faith/love out to be something more than that, that we run into trouble, suggests Brown.  She recounts a story of attending a funeral when she was an older elementary age child.  The funeral was for a toddler who had died in a tragic accident at home.   At the funeral the minister said this was not a time to grieve, that to grieve would be selfish, that we should be celebrating that this child is now with God.  Brown states that she left the funeral confused and fuming, but that her mom set her straight in the car ride home saying, “I just want to be really clear with you that this is not a time to celebrate, that if you are sad, its ok, because God is grieving today too.  God is crying today also.”  And Brown thought to herself, “Well that changes everything.”   God weeps.   Love weeps.   We may not think it’s enough, but once we experience it, states Brown, we come to understand that it’s real, it’s true, and it’s enough to see us through. 

As we come to the final weeks of Lent, as we dare to turn our eyes upon Jesus on the cross, let us see a God who is willing to die for us, one whose example calls us to repentance and sacrifice.  Yes, let us see all of that and more.  But let us also see a God who now and forever more will not abandon us in our pain, but one who will come along side us, not necessarily to take the pain away….but to see us through.

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the March edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Tuesday, March 1, 2016
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Reflections on Being Kind

Be ye kind, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as Christ has forgiven you.I don’t know about you, but I tend to carry around a prevailing sense of grief with me these days.  There are so many issues and problems in our world today, or at least we are all the more aware of them, and that certainly plays a part.  But what troubles me more, I think, is the sheer lack of kindness or gentleness that I see expressed in so many ways.   Indeed, some of those closest to me say I’ve started to wince involuntarily when I think such has happened.   I’ll have to work on my poker face.

Social communication has facilitated this.  It’s so easy to be judgmental and snarky when you’re not communicating face to face.  And I think such tendencies have spilled over into our verbal interactions as well.  We practice online and soon enough we bring that verbage and attitude to the game, so to speak.  It’s hard not to. 

I think the key is remembering exactly whom one is addressing, regardless of the medium.  If one views the person being addressed as a fellow child of God…imperfect albeit, possibly even considerably, but nonetheless a child of God…it would seem that kindness is the only proper standard.   If however, you view the person as something less, a demagogue, a mere conglomeration of ideas with whom you disagree…then it probably is not that hard to fall short of kindness.

Several years ago I read an article that theorized that our Congress, contentious as it may be, would be considerably even more so were our representatives not required to address one another with terms of respect…”the honorable”….”my esteemed colleague”….etc.   The social scientist writing the article believed that those words of introduction, voiced no matter how mindlessly, had an effect on what comes after; for in saying those words one is reminded of the humanity and dignity of the one you are addressing, no matter the level of differences.

And part of being a child of God, and not God, is that none of us are perfect, that all of us are in process.  You’ve no doubt heard the old sermon illustration about a guy that is in line to get coffee.  He’s in a hurry and is frustrated that the line is not moving quicker.  He’s all prepared to file an official complaint with the manager, but when he gets up to the front he sees that the person working the register and taking orders is wearing this button that says, “Please be patient, I’m in training.” 

Now, I’m not suggesting that we be less than honest with another.  It’s more than OK to challenge one another with ideas and suggestions, even file a complaint.  But we can, if we try, do it with kindness and gentleness.  We will do this so long as we remember the one we are addressing is, like us, a child of God in training.

The big picture truth of the matter is that we are all children of God in training.  None of us have it down.  We’ve all been wrong before and we will all be wrong again.  We’ve all been shown grace upon grace.  Thus we are to forgive as Christ has forgiven us, and treat one another with the tender heart Christ gave us.  And when we do…the result may be a kindness that might just change everything.  A Lenten vow…Maybe?

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the February edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Monday, February 1, 2016
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Motion Approved by FBC's Congregation

After congregational dialogues in October, and upon diaconate approval in November, the following motion was approved in a called church conference of First Baptist Church on Sunday morning January 10.  

 As Christ's church, First Baptist Memphis is called to minister equally to all persons, extending to them the privileges afforded to any follower of Christ, including, but not limited to, baptism, membership, leadership, ordination, and marriage and will not discriminate based on race, gender, age, marital status, or sexual orientation.    

Our church has a long history of being a progressive congregation where matters of social equality and justice are concerned.  In the 1970s, our church welcomed African American members into our congregation.  In the 1990s, we recognized the spiritual gifts of women, and ordained our first women deacons and ministers and have continued to call women as ministers to us.  Although LGBT people have always been part of our church, in 2001, we baptized our first openly gay man.  In 2013, we voted overwhelmingly to ordain our first gay deacon. This motion continues the tradition at FBC Memphis of applying our theology and faith to the issues and needs of our times as a church where all are welcome.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Sunday, January 10, 2016
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When the Light Comes On

You’ve seen it happen.  If you’ve ever taught, you’ve seen that moment when the person you are trying to teach finally gets it.  The capability, the potential, even all the data and resources are there, but then the neurons finally connect all of that in a meaningful way, and the light comes on.  Epiphany is that moment when the light comes on, or more specifically when the Light comes on.

Epiphany is an odd date in the church year.   Traditionally it is celebrated on January 6, at the end of the 12 days of Christmas, and, for most, marks the moment when the adoring Magi of the East arrived with their gifts for the Christ child.  But other traditions associate other events in the life of Jesus on or around this date, such as Jesus’ Baptism or His first miracle, the turning of water into wine.   And truth be told, while we tend to go with the wise men idea, if Epiphany is to be Jesus’ debut, Jesus’ coming out party, the other traditions are probably more appropriate.   Indeed, even if Jesus was a toddler by the time the wise men arrived, as some scholars think, it’s hard to imagine him ready for prime time at that point.  

But regardless of the date or dates we choose, or the names we place on them, the idea represented by Epiphany remains.  At some point in time, Jesus stepped out of the shadows of the carpenter’s shop in Nazareth to begin, in earnest, his ministry as the Son of God.  At some point, the Light of the World came out from under its bushel to shine brightly for all to see.  All that He was, was there all along.  But “in the fullness of time” all the pieces came together, and the connections were made, and the Light came on, and the darkness has still not overcome it.

It’s an important lesson I think in the purpose of potential.  Potential is always preliminary.  It’s a dependent state which can only be validated when that potential becomes realized.  Unrealized potential is not only sad, but ultimately irrelevant.  Eventually every nice idea has to come to fruition and make its mark, if it’s ever to get credit for the nice idea that it was.  As such, Christmas, the incarnation, God-with-us is an amazing idea, transformative to a degree in its mere utterance.  But words, and the ideas they contain, are cheap.   The real power of the Incarnation was how it was lived out in the life of Christ, and this began with Epiphany, when the Light came on.

“We are all meant to be mothers of God,” wrote Meister Eckart, a medieval mystic and theologian.  “What good is it to me,” he continued, “if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take within me?  And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace?  What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture?  This, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of God is begotten in us.”Meister Eckhart was speaking in the language of Advent and Christmas, of course, but I think his point is all the more fitting now at Epiphany.  The whole point of Christ coming as a baby boy was not to stay a baby boy, but to grow up and shine and reveal the love of God to all.  And if Christ is once again being born in and through us, then that same light, must at some point, grow and shine within us, “in our time and culture.”What might that look like for you?  For us?   What darkness of misunderstanding, shame, guilt, despair, prejudice, injustice, enmity, suspicion, doubt, etc., needs to be dispelled in you, through you, in us, through us?  It’s Epiphany, my friends.  It’s time to shine!

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the January edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Monday, January 4, 2016
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Welcome Christmas Gets Real

One of my favorite traditions this time of year is watching Dr. Suess’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  I love everything about it, especially the song “Welcome Christmas” which figures prominently.  It’s such a joyful song.  And why not?  I mean, unless you’re a Grinch, what’s not to love about Christmas?  The music, candles, lights, presents, etc.   And this is true even when such welcome requires work, which it inevitably does.   Do you remember those Whos in “Who-ville?”  Boy they get with it.  Nobody sitting around.  Everyone up and decorating and cleaning and wrapping.   Welcoming Christmas is joy, but it’s hard work too.

Advent strikes a similar note as we seek to welcome not Christmas the holiday, but Christ the savior.  Advent enhances our anticipation of this child who really is our hope and salvation, but it also reminds us that preparing for Christ’s arrival requires work.  It requires us, as the prophets state, to make the “rough places plain,” and that there is much such work to be done in our hearts and in our world.  John spells this out even clearer in his challenge to “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near.”  Yes, that other theme of Advent, the one we don’t always lean into, is the one that reminds us that among Christ’s many words of grace are words about the opportunity to change and to become better, to become more of who we are as the children of god that we are intended to be.  And living up to that will not always be easy.

Jesus makes this clear later on when he says what we call the “hard” words, because they are.    “You have heard it said..,” he said.  And when we hear him say that, we wince, because we know what’s coming next.  “Turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, etc.”

These are hard words, especially now, especially when enemies and persecutors seem so easily defined.  I will let you wrestle with how we should apply such words to those doing so much destruction today.  But I will dare to say one thing.  There is simply no gospel grounding for transferring whatever fear and anger we have toward our enemies onto those who are running from the same enemies or ones like them.  Some have said that Jesus never mentions refugees specifically.  He didn’t have to.  He mentions the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger.  Last time I checked refugees qualify as all of the above.  And then he goes on to say, As you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me.

And this season reminds us that undoubtedly at least one such person or family knew what that was like in very literal terms.  Who were they, do you imagine?   A Bedouin shepherd?  A north Egyptian delta farmer and his family?  Maybe both.  What was it like for them to welcome a young Palestinian refugee couple and their baby boy, who were fleeing terror?  Was there tension being that Jews and Egyptians were historical enemies?  Were there worries that there would not be enough to go around?  Were there suspicions that these newcomers might be up to no good, might even be dangerous? Whatever the valid reasons to turn away this family might have been, and I’m sure there were many, whoever welcomed Mary and Joseph and Jesus to Egypt, and gave them sanctuary, fought through those objections and in so doing hosted even more than angels unaware. They welcomed Christ. 

The Who’s in Who-ville remind us to Welcome Christmas.  Advent reminds us to Welcome Christ.  And this year…that’s become real.   Issues are hard.  We control so little.  But we control ourselves.  This Advent, as best we can, let us welcome the least of these whoever they may be.  Let us welcome Christ.

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the December edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Tuesday, December 1, 2015
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On Accidental Saints Over 50 Years

As most of you know, this past month I turned 50.  Half a Century.  I’ve told several of you that while we speak of 40 being the “over the hill” moment, this seems to be more like it.   My college friend, in for a weekend to help me celebrate said, “So where are you and Leigh Ann looking to retire?”  First person ever to ask me that question.  Don’t remember that happening at my 40th.  He then went on to talk about a dinner he had attended with several of our college classmates.  He said that early in the meal they were all congratulating one another on how young they looked, but then when the checks came, they all pulled out reading glasses, and as he put it…”Busted!”  Again, don’t remember hearing/telling that story at 40, let alone relating to it.

So, I’m here, at 50, whatever that means, if anything.  But it does seem like a more than adequate time to reflect on who I am and where I’ve been and those who have helped me along the way….my champions, my saints you might call them.  November 1 is All Saints Day.  We will observe it in two distinct yet significant worship services, both in our traditional worship at 11:00 and in Modern Vespers at 6:00.  I hope that you will make plans to be at both.  The theme of the Modern Vespers service is “Accidental Saints,” the idea being that many such folk did not set out to be saints, but nonetheless were saints for us, despite being flawed, not perfect, very much human.  

In thinking about that I began to think of my “accidental” saints over this half a century I’ve been given. There are other more likely saints, of course, but these accidental saints have played a most necessary role as well. They may not be on the front row of my balcony crowd, but they are there, and their contribution has not been forgotten.  

I think of my Dixie Youth baseball coach, J.W. Shanks.  Coach Shanks was a chain smoking telephone repairman.  He supposedly was a member of my church, but I never saw him there.  His religion was coaching baseball.  But he taught me about hard work and discipline.  He taught me about fairness.   And he taught me about compassion and justice.  In addition to a few of us from good homes, he would intentionally draft and support players nobody else wanted.   And with the likes of us, he won championships.

I think of Dr. Ed Akin.  To many Ed was a likely saint.  He was a history professor who was a beloved mentor.  But Ed was merely my sophomore honors professor, and that only for two months.  And when in a crisis, I came to drop out, he simply said, “Don’t worry about this.  You do what you need to do.  You’re going to make it.  You’re going to make a difference in this world, David.”  I’ve never forgotten that blessing and the lesson he taught me about the power of even a few words.

I think of Teresa, the manager of the music store where I worked during seminary.  Teresa drank too much and was endlessly chasing after the wrong guy.  But she was a good boss, and she loved me and Leigh Ann, and especially Hannah when she was a baby.  She would take Hannah in her arms and dance her around the store singing “The Name Game.” (Hannah, Hannah bo banana…)   That store became a place of refuge for several us who were in Seminary at a very difficult time.

These are a few of my “saints.”  Make a list of your own.  Bring it to worship on November 1.  Carry it with you.  Write, contact some of them this month.  Make sure to include the likely ones, but include the “accidental” ones as well, those on the second and third rows of your balcony.  They too have been used of God to enable you to be who you are.  May it also be an encouragement to the difference you can make in the lives of others.

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the November edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Sunday, November 1, 2015
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Remember You Too Were Aliens

Recently I’ve been reading the book The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.  Those of you who are avid readers know that I’m a bit late on this one.   It was released in 2003 and was on the NY Times best seller list for two years.  I try to read as much as possible, but can’t always keep up.  It’s a powerful book and not for the faint of heart.  Set in Afghanistan, it spans the time from just before the Russian take over to the rise of the Taliban regime.  It is filled with images of prejudice, violence, war, and what it means to be a refugee.   It is has been a powerful backdrop to the stories of refugees currently coming out of Syria, the ongoing issues of immigration in our own country, not to mention the refugees to which we are connected via Piece of Thread Memphis, Ekata Designs, and First International Baptist Church.

Scripture is abundantly clear as to how we are to treat refugees, aliens, and strangers.   God loves, protects and provides for refugees  (Ps. 149:6; Is. 25:4)  In like fashion, God expects us to welcome them and treat them with hospitality and compassion, (Zech. 7:9-10; Matt. 25:31-46; Is. 16:3-5).  God expects us to express this hospitality in every way, including giving of our resources to their welfare,  (Deut. 14:28-29, 24:19-21, 26:12; Lev. 19:10, 23:22)  God commands it.  We are to be obedient.   God acts this way toward them.  We are to treat them the same way.  It seems pretty clear.

But God knows us.  God knows that sometimes “Because I said so…” is not enough motivation for us.  And so God provides additional motivation.  God commands the Israelites to be kind, generous, fair, and just to the refugee or alien among them because “you too were once aliens in Egypt’s land”  (Ex. 22:21; Lev. 19:33-4; Deut. 10:16-19)  It seems that God knows our willingness to be compassionate toward others is often times linked to our ability to identify with their situation, and the strongest identification we can have is memory.  

“But unlike the Israelites, we have not been aliens before,” you say.  Well, keep in mind that somewhere back down the line some part of your family was an alien, of course; and that somehow all of us have, at one time, “been on the outside looking in.”  But even conceding the point that many of us have not known what it is to be an “alien” in a foreign land, scripture still has a word for us.  Indeed, scripture goes to some length to remind us that in terms of our salvation we were all excluded, yet nevertheless “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,”  (Romans 5, Eph. 2).  So even if some of us have never known the exclusion of being an alien or refugee, out of our experience of salvation alone, we should have enough gratitude for the grace shown to us that we should willingly extend such grace to those that still feel alienated from God, from peace, justice, health, shelter and all that God wants for all God’s children.

If this were not enough, scripture provides even more motivation.   In earlier paragraphs, if my reference to the refugee in the objective (them, they) seemed a bit much…good.   For in addition to memory and identification, scripture reminds us that when it comes to thinking about  refugees/aliens/foreigners/strangers…there really is no “them” and “us.”   It’s just “us.”   Ruth, Jonah, the Good Samaritan, the Ethiopian Eunuch, Pentecost, Peter and Cornelius….all remind us that there is no “them,” no “us,” no “natives,” no “aliens.”   We are, all of us, beloved children of God.

I realize none of this provides easy answers to the questions posed by the present immigration and refugee crises.  But I do think it calls those of us who carry the name of Christ and proclaim the Kingdom of God to do everything possible to find answers that result in compassion, welcome, peace and justice, not just for some, but for all.   

On October 18 at 6 p.m., we will have our first Modern Vespers of the fall.  It will be a service of prayer for the World’s Refugees.  I encourage you to come.  Continue as well to keep yourself informed as to the situations at hand and what you can do to respond.  Here are some links to recent CBF articles: Article1: Immigration expert shares about ‘new face of the stranger’  and  Article 2: Syrian Refugees

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the October edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Thursday, October 1, 2015
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A Time For Dialogue

Of all our core values, dialogue may be the most unique.   You look at the core values of a lot of churches and you will see things that resemble hospitality, community, and service.  But dialogue?   It’s not that most churches do not value dialogue.  They might just say, “It goes without saying.”  And in a sense, they would be right. How can you truly have a church that values hospitality and community and service without also valuing dialogue, the voices and thoughts of your own and your community? But for our church, situated in an environment where Christian and Baptist sometimes means anything but freedom and dialogue, it was important to name this value.  We want you to know that this is a family of faith that truly believes that reflecting Christ for us entails being a community of dialogue.

Well, now is the time for such dialogue around the issue of marriage equality. While we as a church already have openly gay members, leaders, and deacons, this question is, for some, unique and requires consideration all its own.  Formally the conversation will begin in our diaconate, and then, should they choose to bring forward a recommendation to the church body, the conversation will continue among us all.  But the reality is most all of us will be engaged in this sensitive conversation in numerous settings—home, work, school, as well as church.  Thus it is incumbent upon us as responsible Christians to become as informed as possible and to practice the type of dialogue we preach.  To this end we are sponsoring a series of dialogues entitled Homosexuality, Marriage, and the Church.  These will be held on four consecutive Sundays: September 13, 20, 27, and October 4.  This is a very complex topic, and no series, no matter how long, would be complete and perfect.  But we believe these four will be helpful to some, maybe many, and will help forward the dialogue that is already going on in our hearts and minds, families, friendships, businesses, community and congregation.  There will be time at the end of each presentation for questions and discussion.  While we cannot control how news of this series may spread in our community and who will attend, we will not intentionally publicize this series to the community so as to preserve this series, as best we can, as a time as for our own members to dialogue openly and respectfully on this important topic.  Childcare will be available with reservations.  

  • September 13: How the Church Has Failed Gay Christians…So Far Dr. David Gushee     Dr. Gushee is Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University.  He is widely regarded as one of the leading Christian ethicists in our country.  He is the author or editor of 20 books and hundreds of articles in the field, including Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust, Kingdom Ethics, The Sacredness of Human Life, and, most recently, Changing Our Mind, a personal, theological and ethical perspective on the LGBTQ issue as it impacts the church.  Dr. Gushee will preach in morning worship.  We will then eat together in Fellowship Hall where Dr. Gushee will elaborate on some points and respond to questions.
  • September 20: Homosexuality and the New Testament Dr. Mitzi Minor                                Dr. Mitzi Minor is the Mary Magdalene Professor of New Testament at Memphis Theological Seminary.   Dr. Minor is a graduate of Auburn (B.A., 1980), and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div., 1985; Ph.D., 1989).  She has served as a pastor, college chaplain and professor, before joining the faculty at MTS in 1993.  She is a noted author, New Testament scholar and much sought after preacher, including the Calvary Lenten Series.  Dr. Minor’s lecture will offer an in depth analysis of New Testament texts that are often cited in the discussions concerning LGBTQ inclusion. 6-7:30 p.m., Fellowship Hall.
  • September 27: A Time to Hear Stories and Ask Questions Elaine Blanchard and Broderick Greer                                                                                                                                             In many conversations about LGBTQ acceptance in the church, one voice is sometimes ironically absent, that of LGBTQ Christians themselves.  Elaine Blanchard is a well-known local storyteller and preacher.  She is a lesbian.  Broderick is the Curate (associate priest) at Grace St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.  He is gay.   Both are very dedicated Christians who were raised in the church and thus understand the difficulty of this issue for the church.  Both come simply to tell their stories and answer questions that only those who are LGBTQ and Christian can answer.  6-7:30 p.m., Fellowship Hall.
  • October 4: LGBTQ and the Church: A Panel Discussion on Pastoral Responses           This session will utilize a video of a panel discussion that took place in a break out session at the CBF General Assembly this past June in Dallas.   In this discussion, pastors of two CBF partner congregations—Steve Wells of South Main Baptist in Houston and Joe Phelps of Highland Baptist in Louisville—model unity despite differing pastoral responses to same-sex relationships and marriage.   Also included in the panel is Rebecca Adrian, Pastoral Care Manager of Baylor University Medical Center, who shares how the Gospel shapes how she seeks to minister to members of the LGBTQ community and their families. 6-7:30 p.m. Fellowship Hall.

As we engage in these dialogues and all that are to follow, formal or otherwise, let us speak and listen as Christ would want us to—with respect and kindness, seeking unity even amidst diversity.  As Parker Palmer suggests, “Only when we are in right relationship can we hang in with one another long enough to come to a rough consensus of ‘what is’ and ‘what ought to be.’”

Grace ,David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the September edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Tuesday, September 1, 2015
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Getting the Basics

It’s the first of August.  School is starting.  To some of our children, there is nothing odd about that.  That’s all they have ever known.   But to many of us that still feels weird.  “August is supposed to be a part of summer, don’t they know!” we exclaim.  And yet that is true no longer.  And so it’s time to pull things back together from the hopefully restful, scattered sabbatical of summer and get focused once again, back into the routine, fully engaged in the educational and vocational tasks before us.

But even though school starts earlier, some things about it remain the same.  Even though students return nearly a month earlier than many of us used to, that first month will still be mostly organization, orientation, and review from the year before.  It will be a time of going over the basics and “getting them down pat,” so that the students can, hopefully, go well beyond the those basics in the year to come.

Well, I don’t know that we’ve ever approached the beginning of the school year in the same fashion at church.  But this August we’re going to engage in a similar exercise in getting of getting re-focused.

In past years we have had a stewardship campaign in January and February.  What that has meant has been a pledge card drive with considerable publicity and an accompanying sermon or two.  It’s been fine and has worked to a degree.   But statistics show, both ours and those from across the religious spectrum, that the power of such a campaign is not what it once was. What is having better results is a more consistent conversational, educational, and testimonial approach.  To that end, our Finance Committee has been offering consistent testimonies in worship.  And now they are leading us in an all church study during the latter half of this month, and the first half of September.  During that time all Sunday School classes—adult, youth, and children—will utilize a curriculum entitled “First Things,” based on the book, “shiny gods,” by Mike Slaughter.  It’s an excellent, challenging, yet encouraging literature that we think all will find interesting and helpful.

Now, to one way of thinking, stewardship might not seem like a “basic.”  Indeed some might see it not as one of the introductory disciplines of our faith, but one that happens as the result of having all the other basics down.   I get that train of thought. But I can certainly make the argument to the contrary.  What’s more basic than understanding that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those that dwell therein” (PS 24:1), than understanding that “every good and perfect gift comes from above” (James 1:17), than understanding that we have been entrusted with whatever comes our way to make the most of it and to utilize it not just for ourselves but for others as well.  Furthermore, what’s more basic to following Jesus, than to seek to give as he gave—as much, not as little, as we can.  

I think the truth of the matter is that when it comes to serving God and following Jesus, and the disciplines involved therein, there is no proper place to begin or end.  There will be times when you learn something and your heart will be moved, and you will give and serve more readily.   At other times, as scripture says, “wherever your treasure is, your heart will follow,” (MT 6:21, LK 12:34) your faithfulness to give and serve will lead you to your passion.  The important thing is to respond to the gospel that is set before us as best we know how, and to keep on doing that.

This study will set the gospel before us.  Let us enter it into with open hearts and minds, ready to respond.  Let us follow our children’s lead this August and make sure we know our basics.

Grace, David 

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the August edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Saturday, August 1, 2015
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Kids Passport Camp Day 4

9 kids, 3 adults, 4 daysafter a 5 hour drive we're in Crossville to start a 'Revolution'! 
Each day you'll get to read what our campers are experiencing. Enjoy!

Lila Morse

: Today was great! I didn't want to leave camp. Yes, I missed my parents but I loved dancing and singing. On the way home we went to the Adventure Science Center. I went on a moon simulator! That's all! 

Mikey Hoffman: My favorite part of the day was when we played soccer. One thing I learned was God's revolution.

I am writing from the comfort of my couch tonight - meaning we have made it home safely! I cannot believe our Passportkids! experience is over. The past four days flew by. But, boy, they were full of learning and laughs.On our last day the theme was ACT. 

During our morning worship the question of the day was "What does Jesus' revolution look like?" I couldn't help but tear up as I heard your kids and others speak about the way the world can be better. And it will be better because of them! I left Memphis with 9 pretty cool but regular kids and returned with 9 inspired revolutionaries. 

I am excited to see what amazing things they accomplish! We had a little more fun on the way home. We visited the Adventure Science Center in Nashville and then had the most delicious authentic Italian pizza complete with entertainment! :) 

When you see our campers in the days to come I encourage you to ask them about their camp experience. Ask them who their superhero alter ego is. Ask them how they have flipped their perspective and are looking at the world in new ways. Ask them who they will stand up for. Ask them how they will use their voice to speak out for others. Ask them how they will put their faith into action. 

On a personal note a big THANK YOU to David and Julie Richardson! They took time off work to chaperon your campers. They were the perfect people to help me in my first time as a group leader and even more so to help your children what this Jesus Revolution is all about.Thank you all for your love and prayers for us as we traveled and as we spent our days at camp. Your presence was felt by all of us. I hope you feel inspired to begin a Revolution as well!

 Love and Peace,


Posted by Bridget Ellis at Tuesday, July 21, 2015
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Kids Passport Camp Day 3

9 kids, 3 adults, 4 days after a 5 hour drive we're in Crossville to start a 'Revolution'! 
Each day you'll get to read what our campers are experiencing. Enjoy!

Karamia Quiriconi: Today was awesome! We went to a talent show. Abby was in it with Callie and Lila. They did really good. We had to pack up. We have to wake up early tomorrow!

Abby Kellett: Today we started out the day with the morning celebration, followed by morning devotion. This of course was after breakfast. We then moved on to Bible Study and morning recreation. In Bible Study we talked about speaking up for people. In rec, we played a lot of really fun games.

After that we went to have a delicious lunch. The senior campers went to Sixth Sense and had an ice cream party. Meanwhile other campers hung out in the cabins. We went to missions and camper's choice next. In missions we talked about El Salvador refugees. Camper's choice is where the camper chooses from a variety of activities (I chose drama). 

Before supper, we had free time. You can go to the camp store, hang out with friends, go to the pool, play gaga ball, which we also do in any extra time we find, etc. 

After worship and worship response we prepared the Variety Show. Everyone was able to show their talent (if they wanted to and/or made the auditions). I sang 'Titanium.' Everyone dressed up as the theme, Superheroes. We are now getting ready for bed and packing up. Today was awesome!!

I can't believe we head home tomorrow! These days have flown by. I have so enjoyed everyday here with your kids. They have proven over and over how selfless and kind-hearted they are.

Our theme word for today was SPEAK. I know you parents know your kids are good at this. :) In Bible study campers studied three stories of Jesus from the Gospel of Mark. Each story gave an account of Jesus speaking up for the oppressed. They also talked about ways they can speak out for people. 

Day 3In our worship response time tonight each camper talked about how they saw God this week (you should ask them this when they get home - you will be impressed with their answers) and they also said things they can stand up for and speak out for when they get home. 

Our fun activity for the evening was the Variety Show. Several of our campers were a part of this show. Wow! FBC has some talented kids and you should be so proud!

Please remember us as we travel home tomorrow! I will send the last update tomorrow night.

Love and Peace,Mary 

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Monday, July 20, 2015
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Kids Passport Camp Day 2

9 kids, 3 adults, 4 days after a 5 hour drive we're in Crossville to start a 'Revolution'! 
Each day you'll get to read what our campers are experiencing. Enjoy!

Callie Payson: OMG fun! Drama was so fun. And the night market was also fun. 

Bo Hoffman: Today we made new friends. We went to the night market. And we simulated travels to the U.S.Edens Richardson: Today we went boating and I was soaked, the second thing we did was do the auditions for the talent show. I was with Karamia and our chant was called THE BOOM. Finally the last thing we did was go to the night market. There we got a ticket and we got to get one thing at the night market for the parade, I chose a bright, red flower in the parade! IT WAS AWESOME!!

Today's theme word was STAND. Campers read about some of the people in the Bible who took a stand - the daughters of Zelophehad, Amos, and Jesus. They also did an exercise where their Bible study leaders asked them to stand up when something about them was described. When we talked about this experience in worship response tonight the kids all said it was eye opening. They were able to see that they are never alone. Other people have, are, and will experience the same things our kids are going through.

Also in our worship response time we talked those people in our church who take a stand for justice. You would be proud of the people they thought of! We then learned about ways that we can take a stand.

Tonight we attended the El Salvador Night Market. Here the campers learned about life in El Salvador.Cam Day 2 They tasted food, made crafts, and experienced some of the jobs available. They have been learning about refugees this week and the night market gave them an opportunity to see the kind of life people are leaving to come to the US. 

When you see our campers when we get home, ask them what their favorite thing about night market was. Also, ask them about ways they can take a stand for others.

Love and Peace,Mary

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Sunday, July 19, 2015
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Kids Passport Camp Day 1

9 kids, 3 adults, 4 days after a 5 hour drive we're in Crossville to start a 'Revolution'! 

Each day you'll get to read what our campers are experiencing. Enjoy!

Will Wright: I learned that Jesus dressed as a regular person and flipped tables and people still cared for him. My favorite part of the day was the rec party!

Catherine Kellett: Today was really fun. We got to ride in a big white van. First we played with walkie talkies then we told creepy campfire stories for the rest of the time. Then we got to play Gaga Ball! After that we went to celebration, Bible study, worship, worship response, dinner, and then we had an awesome rec party.

Today has been a great day! Everyone was happy and ready to head out this morning. I don't think there was a quirt moment on the van but I so enjoyed hearing your kids laugh and share stories. They are such smart kids that think about things in ways you wouldn't imagine!

Day 1 at CampOnce we arrived at Passport we dove right into this year's theme: Revolution. Today's theme word was FLIP. Our Bible story for the day was Jesus flipping the tables in the temple. In our small group we looked at some Old Testament passages and compared them to what Jesus said. As one camper said, "What? That's completely different!" I think they got the point!

After the Rev'd Up Rec Party this crowd is ready for bed. I am looking forward to seeing what amazing things happen in your kids' lives the rest of this week. Love and Peace,Mary 

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Saturday, July 18, 2015
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Passport Youth Camp--Home Sweet Home!

10 youth and 3 chaperones are at Passport Youth Camp in Danville, VA this week and we made it back all in one piece!!! Well, except for one seat belt... (Please pardon my typos--this was written at the end of a very long day of driving!) 

We pulled into the FBC parking lot at 11:30 tonight singing "I really, really, really, really, really, really like you!" (one of our favorite songs from camp) and were greeted by excited parents ready to hug their campers and tuck them into bed!

We had a long but good day of travel.  Your youth were champs and I think they may have actually enjoyed their time together in the vans!  And not a single person asked me, "are we there yet?!"  We even stopped at Lovers Leap Lookout in Virginia to enjoy the beautiful mountain scenery for a few minutes (see picture above).

I think our campers deserve some much needed rest in the morning and you probably won't see them at church tomorrow, but when you do see them next here are some questions you should ask them...

  1. So what happened to the seat belt?!
  2. What is the waka waka and will you teach me how to do it?
  3. On a scale of 1-10 how gross was Brittany's pinky and why am I asking this question?
  4. What is a little red wagon?
  5. Where did you see God moving during the week?
  6. How did you participate in the Revolution at camp?
  7. How do you plan to continue the Revolution at home?
  8. How has the youth group committed to participating the Revolution this next year?
  9. Tell me what you did on your mission site.
  10. What were words of the day and what do they mean to you?

Thanks again for your prayers and support and for journeying with us this week.  Your youth lived up to their FBC name this week!!!  You should be proud!



Posted by Bridget Ellis at Saturday, July 11, 2015
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Passport Youth Camp Night 5 Update!

10 youth and 3 chaperones are at Passport Youth Camp in Danville, VA this week.  Throughout the week you will hear from each youth.  They will tell you a little bit about what they have been up to.  I will also add my update.  Thanks for your prayers!  (Please pardon my typos--these are written at the end of a very long day!)  

Today we finished boxing up everything at our site.  Turns out we helped 5000 people get clothes and supplies.  We had a volley ball tournament today and we lost the first game.  :-(  haha, but it was really fun.-Cedar Dean

Today I had a great day.  We worked with the kids at the halfway house in Danville, VA.  We started the day out with eating with the kids.  They had burgers.  After, we played with them..  Anything from coloring, to playing on the playground.  I enjoyed myself a lot.  We had a blast learning about their backgrounds.  After, we came back and had free time.  All of the FBC youth hung out.  It was a very fun day!-Grace Ward

Today's theme word was ACT.  Campers and chaperones talked in their Bible Study groups about balancing our faith with our actions.  Passport Missions is a great example of this balance.  Campers spend time in Bible Study each morning studying and exploring their faith--a faith that then inspires their actions as they head out to missions sites.  Our time on the missions sites today wrapped up with finished projects, goodbye hugs, and even a few tears.  

Our worship and group devotions tonight gave us a chance to respond to God's movement in our lives this week.  As a youth group we gave $160 to refugee ministries in Miami, Texas, and Virginia.  We also decided in our group devotion time to continue Passport's mission theme at home this year.  We committed to a deeper relationship with Peace of Thread and Ekata--ministries at FBC who develop relationships with refugee women in Memphis.  We would love for you to join us and to help us figure out how to partner with and learn from these women.

Your campers have been so wonderful and it has been a privilege to be their youth minister.  You should also know that Mary and Kyle have been rockstar chaperones--taking good care of your youth, forming relationships with other campers, serving on mission sites, making sure everyone is showered and on time, laughing with your teens, and engaging them in deep and meaningful conversations.  I am so very, very grateful for their support and care of our youth.  I couldn't have brought 10 youth to camp without them.Tomorrow I will send a list of questions you can and should ask our campers when they return.  They are excited to share their trip with you so stay tuned...  Also a special thank you to David Edwards for his kind email to us while we were away--your words were encouraging and meaningful to us in our church group devotions tonight--thank you!  Thank you all for reading and praying and care about your youth.

Continue to pray for us as we travel the long journey home tomorrow.  Pray for safety, pray for patience and tolerance of each other, and pray that though we will travel a great physical distance away from camp, we will carry what we have learned and practiced and experienced this week with us back to Memphis and into our every day lives.-Brittany

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Friday, July 10, 2015
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Passport Youth Camp Night 4 Update!

10 youth and 3 chaperones are at Passport Youth Camp in Danville, VA this week.  Throughout the week you will hear from each youth.  They will tell you a little bit about what they have been up to.  I will also add my update.  Thanks for your prayers!  (Please pardon my typos--these are written at the end of a very long day!)

Today in missions I tore down walls, mowed the grass, and picked up trash out of the yard.  it will be a house for people who can't afford one so i felt special today for helping them.  Today was REALLY fun!-Zealand Silver

Today in missions we swept a house and painted it.  I felt special doing this because this will be a future house for women who are restarting their lives out of prison and their kids.  Toward the end we prayed over the house to God that our mission would serve and help the family in need.  This was crazy because in the process of it I was on a ladder and the whole wall fell out on me!-Micah Breckenridge 

Today while I was at my mission site I got to work and play with amazing, talented, wonderful kids.  I felt like all of us being there made their day, because I know that they don't come from the best households.  We played outside all day, except for when we went inside to play musical chairs while someone played the piano.  Today was also kind of sad because they want us to be with them all of the time and some of them even started to cry.  Other than that today was a great day and I feel like I am starting to make an impact on the kids' life and I have only been here for four days.-Lily Merryman

I'm not going to lie--by day 4 we were all getting on each others' nerves a little bit.  We were tired, easily annoyed, and a bit impatient with each other.  That's what happens when you spend lots of time together!But today's theme was SPEAK--and we were challenged to speak up for those who are being treated unfairly, unjustly, and unkindly.  We talked in our church group devotions about times that we were silent when we should have spoken up for someone.  We talked about times when we were brave enough to speak up for someone--even though it was risky, uncomfortable, and awkward.  We talked about times that we were the ones say unkind, unjust, or unfair things and how we needed and wished someone would have spoken up and stopped us.  We talked about how so often we chose negative, unkind, destructive words or no words when we could use positive, life-giving words. We stood in a line facing each other and in pairs offered the affirming, life-giving words we all need to hear and to say.  Each one of your youth had individual, semi-private time together to share the positive and special things they see in each other.And wow.  A day tired, impatient, and at times careless words was quickly transformed into a beautiful picture of God's kingdom as we each heard special, healing words spoken to each other and had the opportunity to speak special, healing words to our youth group family.We admitted that while it is sometimes awkward and uncomfortable to both share and receive these words--it felt good and restorative.  Pray for us as we try to continue to replace the negative, detrimental words with life-giving, healing ones.Also for your prayer list--tomorrow night your youth will have a chance to respond to what they have heard and experienced this week at camp.  This can be a variety of responses from a profession of faith to revolutionary practices, like speaking and standing, they will commit to throughout the days ahead.  Pray that they will be open to God's movement in their lives.  Pray that Kyle, Mary, and I are open to the Spirit's leading as we seek to minister to the youth.Thanks for your prayers thus far.  We have felt them!!-Brittany

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Thursday, July 9, 2015
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Passport Youth Camp Night 3 Update!

10 youth and 3 chaperones are at Passport Youth Camp in Danville, VA this week.  Throughout the week you will hear from each youth.  They will tell you a little bit about what they have been up to.  I will also add my update.  Thanks for your prayers!  (Please pardon my typos--these are written at the end of a very long day!)

Today we hung out in the dorm and did missions.  We also played football and used power washers.  We also had an 80's dance party.-Bo Hoffman 

Today we got lucky.  They were serving TATERTOTS for breakfast!  Yum!  Finally something edible! :-)  After breakfast we went to celebration worship, Bible Study, yada yada yada...  But then we went to our mission sites!  I am with Black Circles (yee yee) and we went to the Boys and Girls Club of Danville.  When we got there, I saw a girl sitting all alone so I walked over to talk to her. Turns out whenever she goes there she just sits and does nothing.  (Her name is Kayla).  So I introduced her to Foosball and that was all she wanted to do.  It made me really happy that I felt God's calling.  When we left we had free time.  We had to actually socialize, which was really hard, us being a generation of living zombies and all (uggh!).  Anyways, when free time was over, we had worship and I read scripture from the Old Testament.  :-)  Then we had the 80's dance part-ayy!  Don't get excited.  It was packed and hot and we were the only people who really tried to look from the 80's... It was cool though...hehe... We then had bible study and came to our suite.  I am now about to pass out.  Bye! -Olivia Hankins 

Day 3 has been another great day!  The theme of today was STAND.  Students examined a long list of people--both past and present--who have taken a stand to make world a better place.  Ask them about these people when they get home--they learned some really cool stuff.We talked about how we can take a stand in the world identifying issues like racism, gender inequality, harming our environment, illegal immigration, patterns of poverty, and more.  We shared with each other in group devotions issues that we were passionate about and talked about ways that we can take a stand.We also admitted to each other that there are times when have felt on the edges--lonely and excluded.  We shared ways that we can take a stand for each other and prayed for each other asking God to give us courage and promising to quote a camper: "to have your back when you stand up for something."Your youth are revolutionaries who are already making a difference in the world.  They are taking a stand for things that they believe and challenging us all to join them.  You should be proud!!!-Brittany

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Wednesday, July 8, 2015
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Passport Youth Camp Night 2 Update!

10 youth and 3 chaperones are at Passport Youth Camp in Danville, VA this week.  Throughout the week you will hear from each youth.  They will tell you a little bit about what they have been up to.  I will also add my update.  Thanks for your prayers!  (Please pardon my typos--these are written at the end of a very long day!)

Overall, I have enjoyed my time here.  The dorms are small and hot, but that is all that's bad.  I enjoyed helping at my work station.  I especially enjoyed trimming the trees and bushes.-Carson Wright 

So on Monday, I woke up about 4:00 am and was ecstatic.  I was very bouncy on the way, and when I got there I was probably the only fully awake one there at the FBC parking lot.  I was just too excited.  The car ride was a little crazy after everyone awoke, a lot of seat switching and TONS of eating.  12 hours later we got there.  Everything was fine and dandy, though breakfast was weird.  The hashbrown tasted like cardboard.  Anyways, 2 showers later, a wonderful hangout session with the girls, millions of sweet tarts later, I'm here, rushing to go to worship.  Well, that's all for now.-Natalie Austria 

It has been a great start to our week at camp.  You should be so proud of your youth.  12 hours in a van and I never wanted to kick one out!!  They were champs!  We arrived a little late due to the long drive and things were very chaotic getting into our rooms and still they were awesome.  My favorite part of the trip was when we all piled (except for Mary driving the mini-van of course) into the 15 passenger van for a brief Bible Study and a game of Would You Rather.  We were cramped, but it was nice to all be together.

Today has been fantastic.  I have loved watching the youth make new friends and jump to work on their mission sites.  They are all doing some variety of yard work/painting/manual labor combined with playing with kids at various day school type programs.  They work hard, they work with new friends, and they love on the kids they meet.  It has also been fun watching them get to know each other better.  They came to camp in pretty distinct friend groups but more and more those groups are breaking down and they are  beginning to mingle and enjoy each other.     

The theme for today was Flip.  We talked about Jesus overturning the tables in the temple and how when Jesus is at work in our lives, he flips things--our perspectives, our normal ways of doing things--and turns it into something better.  The flipping process can be scary but it is always good and very necessary. They sing and pray and learn about the revolution that is started in their lives when Jesus turns things upside down.  At our church group devotions tonight, we wrote down some things that we need to flip--we looked around the room and realized that we all have things we want/need to flip and that we need each other to do it.  Some of us got brave enough to share those things and when we did we realized that we all had similar goals--goals that we would help each other with throughout the week and in the days ahead.   

Your youth are amazing people (I know you already know this but it's fun to watch them!)!  They can and are changing the world!  Please continue to pray for them.  Camp requires you to be vulnerable with strangers and with some of your closest friends and this is uncomfortable and hard.  Continue to pray that God will create a safe place for them to be vulnerable with each other, with their own self, and with God.  Thank your for loving and supporting us!!-Brittany

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Tuesday, July 7, 2015
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The Gospel According to the Grizzlies

Well, unless you were living under a rock somewhere last month, you, along with most of this town, caught a significant case of Griz fever.   There are other events and forces that bring our fair city together, but for my money, in the last 7 years nothing has rivaled the Grizzlies in terms of unifying our residents.  And while the players themselves, and their success, are of course the main reason for this phenomenon, they have been greatly aided by a wonderful PR department that has built a campaign around three words--Believe, Grit, and Grind­—all of which have significant meaning far beyond basketball. 

Believe has rather obvious meaning for the context of faith.   We speak all the time about what it means to believe in God, to believe in Christ, and the power and hope that is found in such belief.  Furthermore, as Rob Bell likes to point out, this is a belief in a God who believes in us, who trusts us to take care of creation, who calls us to be disciples, who dares to believe that the likes of us really can change this world.

Grit has two connotations.  The first comes from its more literal meaning, which is of course, dirt.  People of faith are those who are willing to get dirty, to enter the hard, humbling situations of life because that is what God in Christ has done for us. Metaphorically speaking, the term refers to a sense of determination which enables one to persevere through those parts of the journey that are difficult and dirty.  It betrays the fact that one believes that there is a greater purpose or meaning to one’s effort, say the salvation or wholeness of oneself or others, or, beyond that, the Kingdom of God.  (For a discussion on Grit in the secular world see the excellent TED talk by Angela Lee Duckworth)

Grind for me speaks of sheer effort.   That whatever we do in life, work, or play, we should, in the words of the good King James, “do it heartily as unto the Lord.”   I’m not sure how we arrived so far off track on this issue in terms of church and matters of faith, but for many faith has become something that is supposed to be easy and/or make their life easy.   How did that happen when our faith is saturated with talk of sacrifice, and at its center is someone hanging on a cross?   Meaningful, purposeful, lasting?  Yes.   Easy?  No.   Faith requires effort and is a pilgrimage worthy of our utmost effort.

So to put all of this together … Because we believe in a God who believes in us, we dare to grit and grind, even when it calls us to the gritty places of life, because we believe that it is in such effort that we and others will be saved.   Maybe not a perfect gospel, but not a bad one either.   One that could serve a congregation seeking to Build the Future, to Build our Church Family, and to Build our Community, rather well.   Don’t you think?  And you thought you were just cheering a basketball team? 

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the June edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Monday, June 1, 2015
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Growing by Building

What do you think of when you hear the word “Growing?”  Are you involved in that activity or just observing?   I think for most of us, most of the time, we would say observing.   We see a plant grow, a child growing, hair growing, and we have little involvement.  Even when we see farms, and we know that someone had a hand in that growth, we tend to marvel at the change, the evolution, the growth as if it were rather miraculous, and beyond ours or anyone’s control.  And when it comes to living things, of course, that is largely true. 

Our new vision statement runs contrary to this idea.  Grow First Baptist Church and its influence by reflecting Christ through hospitality, community, dialogue, and service.   Here “Grow” is used as an active verb, and we are the subject of that verb.  We are the actors, the ones who take the initiative and responsibility to bring about growth. (And by growth we do mean numbers, but we mean more than that.   We mean depth, passion, mission, giving, prophetic witness, outreach, etc.  Indeed tending to the latter types of growth will no doubt aid us in the former.)  Now, like plants, I think we do acknowledge that there are forces involved that we do not control, but likewise we believe that if we will do our part, that the most powerful force of all, God, will work with us and the desired growth will come. 

But if there is any confusion, the three pillars of our vision plan remove any temptation to think that this vision is someone else’s job.   For those pillars all begin with the word, “Build,”---Build the Future, Build the Church Family, Build the Community.   “ Build.”  

Now, there’s an active verb that leaves little doubt that we all have work to do.   Building takes planning, design, resources, sweat, effort and time.   And things built to last, require even more of all of the above. Now, none of us has to build it all.  None of us can build it all.   That’s not only a logistical truth.  It’s the way God designed it, with different ones of us resourced with different abilities and gifts, but each of us certainly has our part to play. 

I think of those fund raising campaigns where a sidewalk, a wall, a monument is constructed with bricks, each of them bearing the name of some donor who was willing to support the cause.  The Orpheum has one such drive presently going on in which the bricks will be used to pave the atrium to the Orpheum plaza entrance.   It’s a powerful symbol.   It reveals what should be obvious, that those bricks, and the wall or sidewalk or building they constitute, didn’t get there by themselves.   Those bricks represent the collected gifts and efforts of untold numbers of people, all seeking to bring about a common vision. 

As we think about growing First Baptist Church and its influence, as we think of what it will take to Build the Future, Build the Church Family, Build the Community…Where will your brick(s) be?  What pillar(s) will they be supporting?  How will you offer your gifts to be used?   How will God use you to bring growth to the Kingdom through the influence of First Baptist Church? How will you embody our core values of Hospitality, Community, Dialogue, and Service? 

We have a vision before us.   We have a plan consistent with our values.  We have solid lay and staff leadership to help us enact it.   God is with us.  Christ is risen.  The Spirit is active.  We have exciting days ahead of us.   Grace, David  

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the May edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Friday, May 1, 2015
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You Got to Rise Up

Easter is upon us, and as I was thinking about Resurrection, a couple of pop images came to mind.  The first was a catch phrase used by the late great Stuart Scott on ESPN.   Whenever he would do the commentary for a highlight clip of a homerun in baseball or a spectacular leaping grab in football or a dunk in basketball, he would often time punctuate the moment with the phrase, “And the Lawd said, ‘You got to rise up!’”   It’s a phrase that he heard in church as a young boy.   It’s a popular phrase which can be used in sermons on numerous texts, from Ezekiel’s dry bones to Jesus (Mark 2) or the disciples (Acts 3) healing a paralytic or one otherwise disabled.  

The second was Bruce Springsteen’s song, The Rising.   It’s a song which was written as an anthem of hope after the 9/11 tragedy.   It uses the image of rising in so many ways—of a fireman rising out of bed that morning, to then rise up the tower to his/her death, to then his/her rising up to heaven, and then the chorus which beckons the rest of us to rise up out of the ashes: 

Come on up for the rising. Come on up, lay your hand in mine. Come on up for the rising. Come on up for the rising tonight.

What struck me about both of these is how those who “rise up” play an intentional role in their own rising.  At Easter, we tend to experience the idea of rising from a distance--something that happened to Jesus way back then or something that will happen to all at the end of time, when we are only passively involved.  But these modern uses of the idea of rising in pop culture, especially the sports catch phrase (since it is based in scripture) remind us that we are involved here and now in our own daily resurrections.   Jesus’ resurrection provides hope for all that we need to “rise up” from and out of, not just the grave, but all the places of despair and grief and guilt and hopelessness in which we find ourselves.    And in those resurrections that happen here and now, we certainly have a part to play.

Think of those healings previously mentioned.  In both instances, the recipients were both told to rise up and walk.   They were healed.  Unlike before, they now could actually do that which Jesus or the disciples asked them to do.  But they didn’t have to.  Rising and walking are volitional acts.  They would actually have to tell their arms and limbs to rise up, and then choose to walk.  As absurd as it may seem, they could have chosen otherwise.  Gravity will let you remain on your back all your life if you want to stay there.   

So even before our grave, resurrection opens up a possibility for us, a hope-filled possibility of that which lies beyond whatever binds us, hampers us, holds us back, keeps us entombed.  

What might such  hope mean for you?  How might you step into that resurrection? What might such hope mean for us? How might we “come on up” to our own rising as First Baptist Church?  In light of our Vision Plan, how can we grow First Baptist and its influence?  How can we better reflect Christ through hospitality, community, dialogue, and  service?  

How can we consistently build for the future, build the church family, and build the community?  How can we step into the resurrection that God has already made possible for us?  What is your part in that plan?This Eastertide, FBC, let us respond to the call of God.  Let us follow the lead of Christ.  Let us rise up!

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the April edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Wednesday, April 1, 2015
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All the Good News

We are in Lent.  Indeed the entire month of March is in Lent.   How does it feel to read those words, to consider that?   All of March is in Lent. How does the word “Lent” by itself strike you?   What feelings does it evoke? 

I think, many of us, have been preconditioned to hear the word “Lent” and feel heavy and sad and somber.   Lent can sort of weigh on you.    And, to some degree, for good reason.  At this time we reflect on the death of Christ, and it does not feel appropriate to express anything but sadness.  Furthermore we reflect on the fact that Christ died for our sins, that we are as responsible for Christ’s death as Pilate, the High Priest, the crowd, Barabbas, Peter in his denial, Judas in his betrayal, all of them.  They are us, and we are them.  So again, heaviness.   And I do think there is something to be said for sitting with this heaviness for a while.   Sometimes we need to feel the weight of our sin and shortcomings in order to be motivated to do something about them.   But if that’s it, if all Lent leaves us with is a heaviness and burden that leads to nowhere, I think most of us will just stop.   We just will.  We can’t and won’t lean into this season for very long if that’s all Lent is about.   And if that is all Lent is, then such abdication is appropriate, because how could heaviness alone be Good News?   It’s not.

No, it is my experience that those who enter fully into Lent and what it has to offer are actually those who have a deep understanding of grace and an abiding sense of hope.  They are those who believe in possibility, in the possibility that whatever sin they confess can be forgiven; that whatever fear they face, can be overcome; that whatever calling they have not followed, can be renewed; that whatever brokenness they have experienced can be healed; that whatever has died within them can rise again.  Yes, to fully enter into Lent is to dwell upon more than the fact that Christ died, it is to believe the reason he lived and died was to reveal the amazing grace of a God whose love for us is beyond all measure and for whom all things are possible.   And when you believe this, truly believe this, then you can risk confession, you can face a fear, you can acknowledge a grudge, you can admit being hurt, etc., because you trust that God can take you beyond these heavy places to something much better.   Of course, Lent doesn’t have a copyright on these deep truths.   These truths and the avenues of grace they offer are available to us throughout the year.  But with the cross ever before us in Lent, we are given the opportunity to lean into them together with special intention.

In many high liturgical churches their weekly worship services include a time of confession.  It begins with a unison prayer of confession, followed by silence for personal confession, ending with an assurance of pardon that is generally spoken by the minister, but can be unison as well.  I had a good minister friend in this tradition that said  regardless of what people do or say each Sunday, in their hearts they generally fall into two categories.  There are those that get stuck in confession and never get up off their knees to hear the assurance of pardon, and there are those that rush to the assurance of pardon, having never dared to truly confess.  If we do Lent well, we will lean into both experiences.  Hear the good news, my friends, all the good news, and dare to believe it’s true for you this Lent.  All have fallen short.   All is forgiven.    

Thanks be to God.  Amen

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the March edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Sunday, March 1, 2015
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Wearing a Tux to Church

Over the Christmas holidays, I had the privilege to hear my friend John Ballenger preach.  It had been awhile.  John and I were the lone Baptists in the DMin program at Brite Divinity School.   John is someone who makes me smile, and on this Sunday, he left me with an image that has kept me smiling.

He was preaching on Isaiah 61:10-62:3 and Luke 2:22-40—Christmastide texts of Joy.   He told the story of how some years before he had worn a tux to church.  The day before he had been a groomsman in the wedding of dear friend in that same church, and when he woke up that Sunday morning he was just compelled to wear it because “some parties should never end.”  I can see the whole thing happening.  John leaping out of his car, taking joy in all the others smiling at him, and John asking them, “What do you think?  Too much?”

Well…what do you think?  Too much?  Can we be “too joyful” as Christians?  I mean, we do, after all, have much to be joyful about.  Think of our church right now: Brittany and Mary joining our staff, a three year strategic plan on the horizon, stories of meaning and joy and purpose and service that come about in and through this community of faith, etc.  And then most of us were raised with this idea that faith should produce happiness within us.   “If you’re happy and you know it…”  Certain passages of scripture even command us to be joyful.  “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord….”  And faith aside, we do like being greeted with a smile, entering an environment of happiness.   I’m guessing few of us would return to a church if we stepped in the door and were greeted with sad and sour.  So why not a tux?  Too much?

And yet all of life is not happy.  And being a faithful human, let alone a faithful person of faith, demands that we attend to all of life.   And in life there is pain, loss, worry, fear—the hard stuff, the yuck of life, that which does not make us happy, that which does not make God happy.   So, in the face of such, can the joy we confess, the joy we seek to express be “too much?”

Well, such a judgment is, of course, personal, relative to where we are on that given day.  But my friend John did, I think, give an adequate defense to at least an informed, sensitive confession of joy.  In the Isaiah text, God is sowing the seeds of righteousness and praise which will spring up.  There is no denial of present difficulty, or even future hardship.  Nonetheless there is the confession of hope that God is even now up to something more and that that something does indeed include us.  And this hope is the basis for even our present joy.

Now, there is genuine joy for all the blessings of the present, too, just like there is a wedding day which celebrates the present reality of love found and consecrated.  As we have noted, we do have reason to be grateful.  We can count our blessings every day.  But our present joy is not just for what is, but for what will be.   Our joy at the wedding is not just for that moment but also for the years to come.  Our joy on Sunday is much the same.  It’s not just about that day, but for all the days to come.

Now this not to say that we need to always be on top of the word, or be less than honest when someone asks us how we are.  But in general, let us dare to be people of joy, not because we are oblivious to the pain of this world, but because we believe in one who will see us through this pain, and is, even now, sowing seeds of joy that will spring forth in days to come.  In other words, maybe not every Sunday, but occasionally…If you got a tux, wear it!

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the February edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Sunday, February 1, 2015
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