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Central Baptist Church: Getting the Vision Across

Central Baptist Church: Getting the Vision Across

From the moment a visitor walks in the church, Central Baptist Church's outreach-minded mission focus is unmistakable. The hallways are lined with bulletin boards with information about ministry opportunities in the church and community. The fellowship hall is hung with colorful banners, each representing a mission group. In the area outside the sanctuary, stained glass windows symbolically portray the world in the embrace of the Spirit, and swords being beat into plow shares.

Outside the Sunday School classroom area is a prominent display labeled "Telling Our Story at Central Baptist Church." The display shares the stories of several persons in the Baptist tradition who exemplify the church's mission. One of these heroes is Jitsuo Morikowa, a formerly interred Japanese American who became Director of Evangelism for American Baptist Home Mission Societies. "His stress on both the personal and social content of the Gospel of Jesus Christ dominated all that he preached and planned. ... The gospel addresses the whole person in that person's total setting and it calls us to radical response." Another model is Maria Cristina Gomez, union activist in San Salvador, whose "senseless murder ... is a reminder of why this church expresses its active solidarity with the poor, oppressed, and forgotten in Central America and throughout the Third World." Each Sunday School classroom bears the name of one of these leaders in the faith, a reminder that the purpose of discipleship is to follow Christ into mission.

Everything the church distributes calls attention to the church's vision. The bulletin proclaims the church to be "A Caring and Risking Community of Faith." On the back of the bulletin is a description of the church's mission: "Central Baptist Church is a caring, concerned and questioning congregation which supports each one's search for a personal relationship with God, a communal relationship with each other, and a mission outreach to the broader community. ..." Other literature available to visitors declares the church's "enthusiastic mission support for justice, witness and healing in our metropolitan area and throughout our nation and world." Each newsletter contains reports from the various mission groups. The covenant affirmed annually by members concludes with a dedication to mission: "We reach out as a welcoming community of faith. We covenant as individuals and as a congregation to work with others toward peace, justice and the wholeness of God's creation."

The church's vision is prominent throughout the church service, as well. Outreach comes before the congregation's attention each week in the announcements and in the Concerns and Celebration sharing time. For example, one week the prayer requests included Endangered Species Act legislation, and a father in a formerly homeless family (served through the church's Interfaith Hospitality Network ministry) who had been shot while in Philadelphia getting drugs. The two pastors also consistently reinforce the mission through their worship leading and preaching. Sermons often touch on themes of seeking justice, empowering those who are marginalized, and supporting people's journeys toward faith. "We are like a stained glass window," Rev. Marcia Bailey told the kids gathered up front for the Children's Conversation in one service. "We can't always see what the window will look like while it is taking shape. But we know the Creator has a vision and we are a part of making that vision come true." Then she prayed, "May we be, God, a reflection of your vision for ourselves and for our world."

Central Baptist Church also draws on a history of "pushing the envelope," in the words of Rev. Marcus Pomeroy. The church often looks to past ministry endeavors to sustain its commitment to the mission. "One of the things that's exciting to me about Central Baptist Church is that we're not normal!" he remarked in a sermon. Having an identity and heritage as a risk-taking church encourages the congregation to embrace new ministry ventures as they arise.

As a suburban church, Central Baptist Church sometimes struggles to reconcile its passion for seeking justice with the comfortable lives of most of its members. And evangelism could play a more prominent role in the church's outreach. But with over sixty percent of the congregation involved in a mission group (compared with the national average of ten percent of church members in ministry, according to a Gallup poll), there is no question that Central Baptist Church has succeeded in communicating a compelling, unifying vision for mission.

[chap. 13, pp. 278-280]