February 3, 2014

Lighting the World

            I visited a most remarkable church over the weekend, First Baptist Church of Redlands, CA.  Thoughtful, open, welcoming, intellectually curious, and scholarly, it is shepherded by a meticulously intentional pastor, Joe DeRoulhac, who has served there faithfully for 25 years.  Nothing happens without clear theological rationale; not surprisingly, the church is flourishing.

            Ringed about by the San Bernardino Mountains and spattered with orange groves, this lovely city gives priority to education, health, and civic good.  The church is a vital part of this community and serves it in countless ways. Attracting a highly educated populace, persons brimming with talent, questions, and spiritual hunger, the congregation is lighting many dark places.
            Matthew’s Gospel articulates this kind of mission: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to God . . .” (5:16).  Among the aphorisms of Jesus, the symbol of light speaks of illuminating witness.  God’s people are to point the way to 

            Serving as guest theologian, I had opportunity to converse with the major constituencies of the church.  Our dialogue was fruitful, and we discussed wide-ranging issues of spiritual formation, interfaith relations, ecology, and Baptist identity.  Free flowing intellectual inquiry made for bracing exchanges.
            During one session on the Holy Spirit, a woman asked: “What are the sources for language about the Spirit?”  It was a perceptive question and opened up new interdisciplinary pathways of discourse.
            One person characterized the congregation as a safe place for “spiritual orphans.”  These are persons who have suffered under dictatorial or abusive pastoral leadership and doctrinal legalism.  Clearly, the church has a gift for healing.
            Intergenerational and multicultural leadership abounds in the congregation.  Old and young stood shoulder-to-shoulder serving communion, singing, reading Scripture, and praying.  Their joy in being together was palpable.  When the worship service concludes, the congregation moves outdoors to a patio for coffee and treats, visible to those passing by.  Moving the church closer to the street seems like a good metaphor for public engagement.
            While I certainly enjoyed the balmy 60 degree weather in Southern California, I enjoyed even more the warmth of this healthy congregation.  They are surely lighting their part of the world.

            Molly T. Marshall

            Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.

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