November 20, 2017

What God’s Family Looks Like

            The website describes the church as “a safe and caring place for you to experience God.”  I witnessed the truth of this statement as I attended the ordination of Cindy Albright Boyer last evening.  It was not your usual ordination, to be sure.  At Cindy’s request, it was a part of the monthly community meal, and appropriately it was a celebration of Thanksgiving.

            The Rev. Cindy Albright Boyer completed her Master of Divinity studies this past spring at Central.  She worked as an Occupational Therapist, active leader in her church, and committed family member while pursuing her degree.  Thankfully, the seminary schedules classes that working professionals can attend. Now serving as the Associate Pastor, she will offer well-honed gifts in the expanding ministry of the church.

            The gathering last evening was as varied as is the Body of Christ.  Members of the Turner church were there, as well as guests who are a part of the congregation’s outreach in the community.  Regional representatives, seminary friends and faculty, and others from area ABC churches filled the fellowship hall.  We were all colors, all classes, all struggling Christians.
            At one point during the service, the pastor opened the floor for anyone to offer affirmation to the one being ordained.  Many spoke, and their praise was profuse, tenderly personal.  Cindy had touched their lives, bringing welcome and healing to brokenness and isolation.  While there was not a formal laying on of hands, everyone who passed Cindy’s table patted her on the shoulder with warmth and affection.  The blessing in that—and the kindling of her gifts—was evident.

            She has found creative ways to connect with people who have little acquaintance with things of faith.  She invited one young man to play in a community orchestra with her; he then found his way to church.  He spoke about Pastor Cindy as always being there for him.  Clearly gifted, it appears he may be discerning Christian vocation through her ministry.

            Others spoke about how they had found a spiritual home at the church and planned never to leave.  The sense of belonging was palpable in the room, and I sensed something extraordinary going on in the congregation. It is a safe and caring place for people to experience God, and they are being transformed by the way they are being woven into the fabric of the people of God at First Baptist Turner.

            Molly T. Marshall

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

November 6, 2017

Saints Among Us

            As I was thinking over the many persons who have helped shape me, I remember the custodian of my elementary school.  Mr. Shanahan served Longfellow School for over 40 years, mopping floors and cleaning bathrooms with good cheer (mostly) as rowdy children created their daily mess.  I remember him for his kindness—and the fact that he gave me a job.  I would ring the bell just after lunch, calling all back into the building for afternoon classes.  He paid me a dollar a month in quarters.  I felt exceedingly important—and responsible.

Nine Ethiopian saints, ceiling fresco in Abuna Yamata Guh cave church, Tigray, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

            Saints are not unapproachable figures, but regular folks around us through whom goodness shines. (You don’t have to be dead to be a saint!) They are the ones who notice children, slow down for elderly to catch up, offer words of blessing to the discouraged, perceive unrealized potential in others, provide hospitality to strangers, and make themselves available to God for continuing usefulness.

Sheets, Millard, 1907-1989. Word of Life mural, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

            The Gospel Lesson for All Saints (Matthew 25:1-13) recounts how Jesus blesses these saints among us: those whose spirituality retains questions; those who grieve over the violence of this world; those who live by the values of the reign of God, with meekness; those who cannot get enough of God’s goodness; those who do not judge their neighbors; those who pursue peace; those who suffer for doing good; and those who endure false charges against their character for the sake of following Jesus.  These are saints, and they make the world bearable as they point to the patterns God imagines for human flourishing.
            Yesterday as many churches celebrated All Saints Day, we heard again of a massive shooting at a small Texas church. The regularity of such carnage tests any complacency about the evil in our world.  Access to assault rifles is a scourge, and we must call upon our legislators to enact stringent laws.  The violence inscribed in armed service for our nation also contributes to diminished regard for human life, and moral injury contributes to impaired mental health.

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            Saints swarmed the site, seeking ways to protect the parishioners, alleviate suffering, and provide emergency care.  Serving as the hands and feet of Christ, these will do the hard work of burying, comforting, healing, and rebuilding community in the days ahead.  We pray for their strength and courage.

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            Frederick Buechner writes: “in holy flirtation with the world, God sometimes drops a handkerchief.  These handkerchiefs are called saints.”  These handkerchiefs help dry the eyes of the grieving; they bind up wounds of the bleeding; and they remind us that God moves in our midst.

Molly T. Marshall