Debra and I spent most of the week out of town. We spent time in two cities attending two very different gatherings. Both were worth the trip.
On Monday we were at King College in Bristol, Tennessee, where we participated in the inauguration of the Frederick Buechner Institute. Buechner, who is now 82 years old, has for over fifty years been one of America's best writers. For most of those fifty years he has done his writing as a Christian and as an ordained Presbyterian minister. His fiction, his sermons, his essays, and especially his memoirs speak truth to me. What I like about Buechner's writing is the way that he views life as filled with grace even as he presents life in all of its facets, including its harshness and ugliness.
I did not conduct a poll of the attendees, but the crowd attending the inaugural celebration was quite diverse. There were old folks, middle-aged folks, and young folks. There were ministers and laypeople; I think the laity had us clergy outnumbered. There were folks from many different Christian traditions. I knew only one person there besides Debra--a former colleague from my years at Belmont University--but I felt like I was with people to whom I belonged and who belonged to me. Why? Because we were united in our love for good writing, in our love for Christ, in our love for life, and in our love for Buechner. We had many differences and were I to spend much time with those people with whom I spent only a day, I'm sure that we would find much about which we disagree. But that didn't matter. What bound us was our common love.
From Wednesday to Friday we were in Atlanta attending the Celebration of the New Baptist Covenant (NBC). I have previously written of my hopes and my fears regarding the meeting. I will have much more to say in days to come about my impressions of the event. For now, I just want to say a little bit about the crowd.
The only time I ever attended a Baptist meeting whose attendees reflected greater diversity thant his crowd was when I went to the Baptist World Alliance Centennial Congress in Birmingham, England in 2005. Baptists came from all over the world to attend that celebration. Those attending the NBC were from North America with the vast majority coming from the United States. Many Baptist conventions were represented. Folks were there from all over the United States and Canada.
But the real beauty of the thing was in this simple fact: white Baptists and black Baptists were joyfully, enthusiastically, and happily worshipping and learning together. And I believe that in days and years to come, we will be partnering more and more in missions and ministry.
It pains me to say that such a thing seemed so remarkable in 2008. It pains me to say that Baptist churches are, like the churches of most denominations, still pretty much segregated on Sunday morning. It pains me greatly to say that not all the Baptists I know will regard the racial diversity of the NBC as a good thing.
I want to say very clearly that I believe it to be a very good thing.
Not everyone at the meeting agreed on every point of doctrine or on worship style or on politics. If we spend much time together we will find much that would threaten to keep us apart.
What bound us together for those three days, though, was our common love: our love for Jesus Christ, our love for the Church, our love for Baptist ways, and our love for the world. I believe that our common love will cause us to persevere and to push forward into new ways of partnering in worship, in ministry, and in missions.
Why? Because before we are black and white, we are Christian. Before we are more conservative or less conservative, we are Christian. Before we are Democrat or Republican, we are Christian. Before we are Northern or Southern, we are Christian. Before we are wealthy or poor, we are Christian.
We are bound by our common love for Christ and his Kingdom. May we grow in that love!