There are few things that I enjoy more than the warm hospitality of African American churches. The authenticity of welcome is deeply felt, and the visitor feels bathed in the congregation’s demonstrations of gracious inclusion. During the fellowship period, I was entrusted with a beautiful baby to carry about the sanctuary.
Yesterday the Reverend Debra Sermons, Francisco Litardo, and I attended First Baptist Church, the historic congregation in downtown Kansas City, Kansas. Nearly 155 years old, it has faced the challenges of its location, transitions in leadership, and the realities of poverty and crime in its neighborhood. We were there for a Central Day, which celebrated the partnership between seminary and church. Since the founding of the seminary in 1901, every pastor of this church has been a Central graduate.
I was impressed by the church’s affirmation of its young adults, youth, and children. The pastor identified honor roll students, promoted the youth and children in worship leadership, and called for prayer in the altar for a distressed young woman. Surely the gifts of healing were palpable, and the practice of encouragement is transformative for all. This verse came to mind: “Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
This coming Sunday commemorates the Transfiguration, that event that displays the revelation of Christ’s glory before his passion. As the Book of Common Prayer puts us: “Grant to us that we beholding by faith in the light of his countenance may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory . . . “ The focus on the Lenten season is renewed discipline that we might become like Jesus.
As I observed the interaction of the generations of the church, I perceived the church as an incubator of transfiguration, a “lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19b). By naming gifts and identifying wounds, both transfigured by the light of the Gospel, the congregation was crafting a different future for these individuals and the body as a whole.
Transfiguration Day is supremely about Jesus, but not to the exclusion of his followers. When the people of God gather for worship, we are met by the trinitarian presence of God who connects human lives and makes possible a transfigured future. This is holy work that God allows a church to perform. Thanks be to God!
Molly T. Marshall
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