Written by Julie Long, Interim Director of Staff and Congregational Life
I spent my first semester as a Mercer student visiting churches around town with friends. On the first Sunday of my second semester, I came alone to First Baptist. Gladys Giddens found me sneaking into the back pew and flagged me over to sit with them (I knew Gladys and Howard as distant cousins). When the service concluded, she invited me to lunch and told me “Well, you found us! Now you don’t have to go anywhere else.”
Those who remember Gladys know that it was hard to argue with her, and I kept showing up on Sundays for worship. Each week, our faithful usher Shirley Myers came over to my pew to discuss my hometown’s football outcome from Friday night or to hand me a newspaper clipping that he thought would be of interest to me. I ran into professors who were helping me ask big theological questions, and I realized that if this church was a place that grounded them in their faith, I might fit here, too. I volunteered in children’s ministry and discovered where I loved to serve. Soon First Baptist became a place I belonged – where I felt known and embraced for who I was and where I could grow in my faith through learning and service. This is how FBCX became MY church.
Since then, I left for seminary and came back on staff, then left the staff and came back again. A wedding, ordinations, baby dedications, funerals, and baptisms have all been a part of our family’s story in this beloved community. Through it all, it has been the people who have made this place home – those who have been our “village” in helping us raise our children, those who have cared for us through ordinary days and family crises, those who have challenged my thinking and nudged me to grow in ways that have sometimes been uncomfortable, those who shared common values and those with whom I often disagreed. People who are MY church.
This is MY church, and this is my story. What story would you tell about why this is YOUR church? I invite you to reflect on what makes this place home for you and to share your story with me or with others who are a part of this congregation. We need to hear one another’s stories! As Frederick Buechner reminds us, we need to stay in touch with what is going on in our own life’s story and pay close attention to what is going on the stories of others. If God is present anywhere, it is in our stories that God is present.
During the month of October, our church typically enters a season of conversation about stewardship – about how we join our individual stories and resources to collectively support the life and ministry of this congregation. Our stewardship theme for this year is “My Church, Our Church, God’s Church.” As we find ourselves in a period of change as a congregation, so many questions are in the air about what our church will look like in this next chapter of our lives together. Who will join us as staff members to help lead us? How will we use this old, beloved property in ways that serve us and serve our community in more viable ways? How will we best spend our resources, both financial and human, to live out who God is calling us to be?
These questions keep me up at night but also energize me. I am excited to be a part of this congregation at such a time as this, a season in which we have a tremendous opportunity to pay attention to our stories and to the story of the Spirit’s movement among us. I am so hopeful for all that is ahead, and this is a time that I want to invest deeply in MY church
I hope you are, too, because our best way forward will take the investment of each one of us who claims FBCX as MY church. During this season of stewardship as we plan for and commit to the ways that we will give of ourselves over this next year, I invite you to reflect on these things:
Remember back to how and why this place became YOUR church.
Dream about what God is calling us to do together and what God is calling you to do individually as it relates to this church.
Pray about what you can offer – your financial gifts, your time, your presence, your giftedness, your voice – and make a commitment to do that in the next year.
I am grateful every day that this is MY church, and I’m glad that it is YOUR church, too.