Why We Are So Excited About Covenant’s Life Is Calling Work

5 minute read

In January 2020, Covenant’s role in the Life is Calling Initiative will transition from research and project development to the implementation of the Ecosystem of Discernment. For each member of the Covenant Life is Calling Team, this work is deeply meaningful. Each of us hold personally compelling reasons to consistently gather for early morning meetings, offering time and energy to explore Christian calling here at Covenant. We want to communicate these reasons with you as an act of sharing why we are so excited, invigorated, and devoted to the Life is Calling Initiative and our own project: The Ecosystem of Discernment.

Please feel free to reach out to any of the team members if you have any questions.

Ann Carol Mann:

When I first read about the Life is Calling initiative, I immediately thought, “I want to be part of that.”  Since childhood I felt my life was important to God and I could find meaning and purpose in following God. Yes, this did lead to a sense of calling to ministry in the “churchy” sense, but in my years of not having a professional ministry position, I felt no less called and committed to using my gifts for ministry in the world.  What I hope will happen through the Ecosystem of Discernment, is anyone who finds their way to BCOC will find a path for discovering purpose, meaning, and for living their unique life in Christ through supportive community. How exciting it would be for someone such as a young adult living and working downtown seeking direction and fulfillment to find that BCOC is not asking them to just plug into what we’re already doing, but encouraging and empowering them to follow and serve God in their unique individuality. This discovery is not for maintaining the institution called BCOC, but for allowing us all to participate in God’s restoration agenda of making all things new in Christ.

Caroline Jansen:

A decade or so ago I caught up with an old teacher. I was feeling directionless when it came to discovering my calling in life. What I felt was failure, my inability to pick one path into some illusive vocation, my professor simply deemed made me a well-rounded person. I still remember that supportive hand on my shoulder, calling out something in my wrestling to be beautiful. It was a release and permission to live into the tension of both/and that has carried me through many seasons of discernment. The Life is Calling ecosystem carves out the essential space for soul nurturing exploration, play and creativity. It is the field upon which you can dig into yourself, meet in community, grow relationally, and flourish. What would your life be like if you were given that same affirming hand on the shoulder, to freely grow into who you are and who you are becoming? What could a system of support and resources dedicated to healing, growth, freedom to play, and empowerment to serve creatively do for the Church? When the Spirit is given freedom among us to move in its divine dance, what beautiful fruits will be harvested? This is why I am filled with excitement for the potential of the LIC Ecosystem.

Drexel Rayford:

I believe that when people align their lives with their deepest loves, they contribute to making the kingdom of God real in our world, living out the mind of Christ.  The ecosystem provides a safe, welcoming environment where people

  • can identify the barriers they’ve encountered which have kept them from living out of what they love;
  • identify and develop assets they possess which can remove those barriers and facilitate their living out of what they love;
  • provide assistance and encouragement to develop further skills for negotiating their life process;
  • all in the context of a supportive, affirming community of seeking believers.

Mike Martin:

The question put to me was, “why is Life is Calling work important?”  I was asked by Taylor if I would consider being a part of a small group that would be working on developing a grant proposal to address/investigate/be curiously mindful about the concept of “calling” in our church.  I was honored to be asked, for many reasons including wanting to find a new way to be involved.  Knowing little about where this would lead, I was curious and excited to see what would develop.

We have met numerous times as a committee, early coffee morning gatherings that have planted seeds which have birthed what we call “The Ecosystem of Discernment.”   This system, in short, is at its best designed to be a dynamic model/process for discerning and sustaining a “called way of life.”  We have named the physical space housing the Ecosystem “The Greenhouse.”  Let your imagination run wild with that metaphor!  As a physical space, the Greenhouse will be characterized by creativity, risk, discernment, faithfulness, dialogue, and community.

Why is this important to me?

-This is a dynamic tool to aid others in identifying ways to serve.

-This can be a process that generates ministry opportunities for our “church on the corner,” internally and externally.

-This can be a way to engage those who have not felt traditionally “called,” offering new ways of interpretation and taking action.

-This can be a gathering place that celebrates the arts in our church, and in the community.

-This can be a model that reaches the younger members of our church, an age group that is important to engage for our future.

Taylor Bell:

Our Life is Calling work is important to me because it’s about helping people live flourishing lives. A flourishing life is one of joy, goodness, and meaning. This is, quite simply, a life worth living. And as a pastor, I believe it is the life God intends for us to live. I hold fast to a theology which understands each person as lovingly and purposefully created by God, each born to live a meaningful life, and that such a life is lived by listening and responding to God’s voice in our lives. I am incredibly excited for the Ecosystem of Discernment because it is created to help each person to authentically live a flourishing life; a beautiful, joyous, meaningful, and good life. I can think of no greater task for the Church. Where Christ’s salvific love heals and redeems us, and the Church is called by God to be a Christ-centered community, the Ecosystem is about helping each individual discover how Christ’s love has uniquely shaped them to live a meaningful life. Living such a life is how we share the Gospel with the world, and how we experience the Gospel within ourselves. And this is our purpose as Christians.

The Gift of Thanksgiving: The Virtue of Gratitude

By: Taylor Bell

8 minute read

Every Thanksgiving Day[1] I am reminded again of an essential gift: gratitude. This past Sunday, I was reminded of the importance of gratitude as I had the privilege of leading our church’s Children’s Sermon. With Thanksgiving around the corner, I chose to focus on the Christian practice of gratitude. While Christians are not unique in valuing gratitude, what makes our practice “Christian” we root our gratitude in God’s creative and redemptive love. This means every act of gratitude begins with giving thanks to God. I emphasized this point as I held up slices of my favorite fruit: a fuji apple. I asked the children, “Who made the first ever apple tree?” “God!” And so, we gave thanks to God for creating this delicious apple. Yet God wasn’t the only one involved in our eating apples. There is also the farmer who picked the apple, the truck driver who delivered the apple, and the grocery employee who stocked the apple. And so, we reviewed and gave thanks for all these people too, whom without we wouldn’t be able to eat the apple. It seems simple. Mundane even. But as I concluded the Children’s Sermon, I was reminded once again that gratitude does not just happen. It is a choice and a practice, and so essential to a joyful and fulfilled life.

The ancient Greek ethicist Aristotle would describe gratitude as a virtue. A virtue is a character trait one develops through practice, and as one practices said virtue it becomes interwoven into one’s being.[2] For instance, as you practice the virtue of gratitude, you become a more gracious person. No longer must you remind yourself to practice gratitude, as it is now just a natural way of seeing and engaging the world. Some examples of other virtues are generosity, courage, truthfulness, and justice. Why is it important and worthwhile to define gratitude as a virtue? Because the essential lesson I’ve learned is that gratitude’s priceless gifts of contentment, joy, and serenity are only experienced after practicing gratitude for some time. It’s not until we’ve taught ourselves to make gratitude a way of life, not until we’ve cultivated gratitude as a virtue, that we discover how essential it is for living a joyful and wholehearted life.

There is a multitude of psychological research establishing this claim that gratitude is essential for a joyful life.[3] As a pastor, I articulate that gratitude is essential for a meaningful life because it re-centers our hearts and minds on God’s healing and sustaining love. Within the Christian tradition, all humans struggle with the inherent temptation that we are what we have—or don’t have. Our security and well-being become based upon our possessions, achievements, and titles. Our hearts are elated and soothed when we get the “thing” we’ve been pursuing. Yet quickly our attention focuses to the next “new” thing, and we become unsettled, discontent, and frustrated.

Renowned Alcoholics Anonymous speaker Bob E. described the alcoholic as a chronic malcontent.[4] “I am never tall enough. I am never handsome enough. My clothes are never good enough. The car is never expensive enough. I never earn enough money. I am never intelligent enough. … My boss never understands me enough. The house isn’t big enough. The sunshine isn’t bright enough.” I don’t think the dysfunction of being chronically malcontent is exclusive to the alcoholic. In our American culture, it seems to be a dysfunction we all share. And just as the virtue of gratitude is integral to 12-Step Recovery, so to do I believe that gratitude is essential for our own healing.

There is a woundedness many of us carry due to the lie that we will never be enough without this “thing.” We have ignored and neglected genuine love as we’ve recklessly pursued the “thing” we falsely believed will provide us security, safety, and well-being. Gratitude is a powerful virtue because it helps us heal from this woundedness. Because, through its daily practice we come to see and experience the truth of the infinite ways we are lovingly cared for. Because, gratitude centers our hearts and minds on the ways God has and is providing for us physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. The prayer of thanksgiving for the fuji apple above reminded me of this truth. God didn’t just create the apple tree. God also created people who work hard to connect all us to food—our God-created source for nourishment and sustenance. When I sit back and see this reality through the lens of gratitude, I cannot help but be thankful. I cannot help but realize that God has been taking care of me in profound ways I both know and will never know. That God has never forgotten about me. That I can relax and be at peace, because a power greater than myself is at work in the world taking care of me, you, and all of us. That I no longer need to doggedly pursue some “thing” and keep neglecting such genuine love.

Therefore, it’s important to daily practice gratitude. Pastor emeritus Sarah Shelton had in her office a basket full of small notebooks. Confused, I asked her one day about them. While offering one to me, she termed them her “gratitude notebooks.” She said that practicing gratitude is important yet difficult. We need something tangible upon which we can write what we are grateful for each day, so that in difficult times we can remind ourselves of all the things we are grateful for. Her instructions then were to write down three things you are grateful for in that moment. There are only two requirements. (1) You must be honest. You can be grateful for anything, the morning sunlight, the smell of roasting coffee, or your child so long as you are honest! (2) You can only write down something once. To repeat is to cheat. This second requirement is hard, but it challenges us to realize we often have more to be grateful for than we realize. And so, I’ve carried that notebook in my bookbag every day since. I may not write in it every day, but it is a symbol reminding me to daily practice the virtue of gratitude.

Now it is imperative to clarify that gratitude as Christian virtue does not elide over real pertinent needs in our lives and communities. As a Christian virtue, gratitude is not as Karl Marx related, an “opiate of the masses.” Rather, genuine gratitude keeps us planted in God’s love even amidst the real trauma of our pain and suffering. Gratitude is not a Pollyanna optimism of ignoring the reality of suffering by focusing on what is pretty and delightful. Nor is gratitude about finding the silver lining amidst life’s difficulties. Sometimes, there just is no silver lining and all we can do is our best to get through it. Gratitude demands honesty if it is to be real. Like Job, Jeremiah, and the Psalms, an honest faith means it is okay and faithful to get angry with God when we suffer. But an honest faith likewise means we also cannot forget the ways God has taken care of us amidst our suffering. If we believe that God’s love is true, and that God’s love is integral to healing and wholeness, then gratitude is an essential virtue amidst life’s darkness. And in so doing, gratitude as virtue becomes an act of faith. Now, gratitude in reminding us of all that God has done in our lives, anchors us in the real Christian hope that God will continue to take care of us, especially amidst our pain and suffering.

Yet gratitude as Christian virtue is not intended solely for us as individuals. I was taught this blessing from a good friend, “And God, bless the hands who’ve made it possible for us to eat this meal.” It was this blessing which anchored the Children’s Sermon as it reminds me that gratitude is as communal as it is individualistic. That is, gratitude as Christian virtue is concerned about others too. It is as though in giving thanks to God, God has redirected my awareness to all the people I have to be thankful for. Perhaps then, gratitude is an essential virtue because it helps us to see and celebrate the other. We transition from seeing others as “other” to seeing them as people we are deeply connected to, dependent upon, and grateful for. Here is why gratitude is not individualistic: gratitude is only gratitude when it is expressed to another, be it God or a person. This reality implies relatedness. Perhaps the wholesome power of gratitude is its knack for helping us recognize all the ways we are connected to others and the world; to help us see that we are not alone; that we are interwoven into relationships that form a community. In our country, where we are succumbing more and more to xenophobia, or the fear of the other, gratitude is an essential practice in helping us become more hospitable, loving, and just.

Therefore, this Thanksgiving and afterward, you are invited to choose and practice gratitude. It will not always be easy; we can always find a reason not to be thankful. But this is why it is a choice. So choose gratitude. Share it with others. And if you ever get lost just remember this prayer: “God thank you for this meal and bless the hands who’ve made it possible. Amen.”

[1] In reflecting on the “gift of Thanksgiving,” I recognize the need for historical honesty. The history of Thanksgiving is complicated, contentious, and messy. Much of this colonial holiday hides our history of war, displacement, and genocide against Native Americans that happened before and after the celebrated Thanksgiving meal in 1621 between Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe. (For more information, check out this Business Insider article and this New York Times article) As an act of honesty, compassion, and justice we Christians need to collectively acknowledge and address this history. However, this reflection is not intended to address this need. In an effort to respect the integrity and needs of such an accounting, I will not be engaging it here.

[2] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics.

[3] http://ei.yale.edu/what-is-gratitude/

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qPMKqu-h1U&list=PLq26HFQOjD8MCpsbTGG2Qcyk8NiE5Rp6x&index=2&t=671s

Thank You!

By Rodney Franklin


We are in the season of giving as we prepare for Stewardship Sunday. What a wonderful way to say thank you to God for all of God’s blessings and God leading us as a congregation to be not only a house of prayer for all people but also a church ever seeking to meet the needs of those we serve inside and outside of the walls of God’s house. God has been so good and we can never stop saying THANK YOU!

We must also say thank you to members of the congregation for sharing not only your time and talents but also your treasure. Your financial gifts fuel the ministry of the church that help us make a difference in the lives of those who need help with those financial matters that need immediate attention. Your financial gifts support the ministerial and lay staff of the church. Your financial gifts help us partner with organizations in the community who are making positive change in the area of food security, clothing, and political advocacy. Your financial gifts support our denominational, alliance partnerships and overseas ministry relationships. Thank you for making Baptist Church of the Covenant a recipient of what God has blessed you with so that we can continue having a transforming ministry presence in the Birmingham community.

As Proverbs 3:9 reminds us, “Honor the Lord with your possessions and with the first produce of your entire harvest.” We again say thank you as we honor the Lord on Stewardship Sunday with our pledge cards as we prepare to build the, “Bridge to the Future.”

Emma Berthiaume and Benjamin Burge’s words on the importance of Bread’s Offering of Letters

Every Fall, we at Baptist Church of the Covenant partner with Bread for the World in their Offering of Letters campaign. Each year, Bread for the World focuses on a certain aspect of domestic or international food policy in an effort to eradicate global hunger. While the goal is large, it is not impossible as great strides have been made over the past 30 years. Our youth Emma Berthiaume and Benjamin Burge share a few words on why they chose to serve on BCOC’s Bread for the World Team and why the annual Offering of Letters is so important.

From Emma Berthiaume:

I choose to be on the Bread for The World team so that the hungry across the world can get enough food for themselves, and we can make that happen. I believe that we can make a difference and ” leave our footprints in the sands of time.” I know that with even the small action of a smile or holding the door open can turn someone’s day or week or year or even life around. It’s easy to look at a huge issue like hunger and say, “Oh well, I guess that’s too bad, I can’t make a difference.” But we can’t give up so easily and just become overwhelmed with the huge problems. If we all come together, we can become stronger together. That’s why I choose to be on Bread for The World.

From Benjamin Burge:

I joined the Bread for The World team because I can go just out of my house and find someone who needs food and help but it’s just one person. By joining I can work with others and help thousands of people all around the world.

In speaking about God’s Kingdom, the prophet Isaiah once proclaimed: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.” (Isa 11:6-9, NIV). May our own youth’s faith inspire and lead us as we strive together to answer Jesus’ call to feed the hungry.

BCOC’s Offering of Letters concludes on Sunday, November 24th. You are invited to write letters and turn them at worship. If you have not written your letters and wish to do so, contact Taylor Bell (tbell@bcoc.net) for a Letter Writing Packet.

Trunk or Treat 2019

trunk or treat.frank and nancy.2015October 31
6:00 – 7:30 pm

It’s almost Halloween and while a lot of Christians have mixed feelings on this creepy holiday, at BCOC, we treat Halloween as one of those opportunities to share wonderful hospitality every year. It’s our goal to inject some fun, light, and kindness into our neighborhood.

The question, “What are you gonna be this year?” makes me wonder: What would Jesus be for Halloween? As we prepare to host Trunk or Treat, think about this:
How would Jesus engage our neighbors on this particular night of the year?

  1. Jesus Would Be Welcoming.

Not only would he have the porch light on, but he wouldn’t wait for you to ring the doorbell! Jesus would be standing at the door waiting to greet every trick or treater who came by. Jesus lived a life that was radically welcoming; he even welcomed the people he wasn’t supposed to welcome. If Jesus were to be living in our culture, his house would be the most welcoming house on the entire block.

  1. Jesus Would Be Radically Hospitable.

He wouldn’t leave the candy in a bucket on the doorstep, and he wouldn’t be one of those folks who just drops a piece of candy in your bag and mumbles “have a nice night.” Instead, Jesus would make sure that your encounter with him– however short– would have you walking away feeling cheerful and good about yourself.

  1. Jesus Would Be Generous.

I’ve never heard of anyone more generous than Jesus. He joined humanity– not to be served, but to do the serving. He sets the standard for generosity. Jesus’s house is where all the kids would go because they’d know he gave out the ‘good’ candy.  We may not know all our neighbors around us, but Halloween is a night they all come to us.

Let’s be the most welcoming, generous, and cheerful House on the block! Below are some ways you can be involved at Trunk or Treat. Volunteers arrive between 4:30 – 5:30pm to set up.

Sign up online.

  • Decorate your trunk OR create a small “carnival” type game in or beside your trunk… Here are some EASY ideas: http://www.schoolcarnivals.com/Games/alphabetical.htm. (more on Pinterest) We have ready-made games here at BCOC. Just ask. Other popular stations have been: Fortune-telling, face-painting, temporary tattoos, making balloon animals, corn hole. Bring enough candy to get started. Greeters will walk around and refill your supply!
  • Offer hospitality by giving away treat bags and tickets for concessions – 3 per guest.
  • Greeters will walk the grounds greeting guests. They will replenish candy at popular spots and help guide guests to the restroom facilities at the rear of the Ministry Center. Be in costume for this if you like, or just wear something comfortable (like a BCOC shirt!).

Sign up online!

Communion Began as Supper. What’s this got to do with Food Policy?

By: Taylor Bell

5 Minute Read

For Baptist Church of the Covenant, October 20th is Bread for the World Sunday. We hold this annual service in partnership with Bread for the World, a faith-based advocacy organization that works for better domestic and international food policy. Their central concern is those who are chronically hungry and malnourished. Each year, Bread hosts a national campaign inviting their partner churches to write their federal legislators advocating for certain food policies. This year, the ask is to advocate for funding that supports global nutrition. We partner with Bread because we believe hunger and malnutrition are curable social ills, and good public policies are essential steps to curing them.

In preparing for Bread for the World Sunday, I have been exploring the Biblical reality that Communion began as a meal. All four Gospels and Paul refer to it as the Lord’s Supper. We in the South know a thing or two about supper. It’s what most people call dinner, it’s a family meal, and it doesn’t start until everyone is seated at the table. Yet, though communion is practiced in diverse ways throughout the world, it is predominantly observed as eating a tiny morsel of bread and drinking a teensy sip of wine or grape juice. I am not saying that the ways Communion has evolved are bad or non-Scriptural. But where supper implies a meal where all are fed, physically, emotionally, and communally, what does it mean for us that Communion began as supper?

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians offers us some answers. In 1 Corinthians 11:17-26 Paul admonishes the Corinthian church’s rich members for reducing Communion from a holy communal meal to an elite social gathering. In 1st century CE Corinth, it was proper social custom that a dinner party begin with high-status individuals arriving early for the best food and wine, and then lower status individuals arrive later for left overs. It was this social custom the church was practicing when Paul laments, “When you come to together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk.”[1] According to Paul, the high crime is when the Corinthian Christians practice normal social convention, they defiled Communion by reducing it to an exclusive dinner party. For Paul, Communion is a communal meal that embodies Christ’s unconditional and powerful love for us. Communion is therefore a holy supper, and as holy supper it implies that all who come hungry have a right to leave fed. Fed physically, emotionally, communally, and spiritually.

I can hear the Corinthians grumbles now. “But Paul, this is normal. There’s no reason to get so upset, this is just how we do things.” Normal for society, yes. But normal for the Gospel, no. For Paul, Christ’s love doesn’t care about social conventions, or what’s normal, or how things are usually done. Rather, Christ’s love cares about people and their real lives. This means Christ cares more about people’s well-being and nourishment than our social conventions. Yes, Jesus cares more deeply about whether you’ve eaten and if your food is nutritious than if you’re dressed appropriately for church or sitting in your proper seat at the dinner party. Paul’s lesson for the Corinthians and us is that the Gospel is proclaimed when all Christians gather around a large dinner table to share a holy supper. Holy because it embodies Christ’s unconditional love for everyone. And because of this love there must also always be a few empty seats for any visitors arrive hungry, because Christ had a way about including everybody at the dinner table. Even those who weren’t like him. So, here’s an empty seat for you, have some bread and wine (or juice), get your fill, and know that you are always welcomed at this table. Normal for society, no. But normal for the Gospel, yes!

It seems then we cannot be Christian and at the same time be okay with hunger and malnutrition in the world. Or rather, we cannot celebrate the Communion Supper while at the same time neglecting our hungry brothers and sisters. Because for Paul, the Communion Supper becomes just food when we just eat the bread and drink the juice to remember Christ. For to remember Christ is to remember his love and service for the poor, hungry, and oppressed. If the Gospel is a liberating and nourishing good news, then the Communion Supper is a remembrance of Christ’s love and a divine clarion call to end hunger and malnutrition. Communion is more than bread and wine. It is a holy supper. And when people gather for supper, to eat their fill, talk late into the night, and become friends, holy things tends happen. People depart fed. Fed physically, emotionally, communally, and spiritually.

The Biblical reality that Communion began as a meal is important for food policy! It means that being Christian and advocating for good food policy go together. Because the Lord’s Supper is the experience of holy community, divine love, and the call to make the dinner table bigger so more people can be fed. And advocating for good food policy is one way we work with Christ to make a bigger table. Because Jesus was and is always seeking to feed more people. We Christians cannot take Communion this Sunday and forget about our brothers and sisters who struggle with chronic hunger and malnutrition. So, as we prepare for Communion may we remember that part of this holy supper’s preparation is making the table a little bit bigger so a few more people can be fed, both within the church and out in the world. As the apostle Paul teaches us, the Christian meal of Communion demands nothing less.

[1] 1 Corinthians 11:20-21, NRSV

A Night to Remember in Arthur Ashe Stadium

By Rodney Franklin

person woman sport ball
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The third round of the US Open in New York was set with Naomi Osaka the 2018  US Open champion and Coco Gauff the 15 year old phenom. The Arthur Ashe stadium in the Queens borough of New York City is the largest of its kind in the world and was filled to capacity. One reporter asked a couple who were in the nose bleed section, “Why would you come all the way up here when you can see the match better on your television at home?” They responded, “we are here to support Coco!” Thousands were there to support Coco but it was not her night to have a victory against the number one player and former champ. Coco lost the match but something really special happened after the game.

There is an interview that occurs after the match which is “live” with the winner, reporter and audience. Gauff was visibly upset, packing her tennis equipment and heading to the locker room where she would probably increase the water height of the Flushing River in Queens with a good cry. But “breaking tradition,” Osaka asked Gauff to join her for the on-court interview.

“These people are here for you,” Osaka told Gauff, who initially declined the opportunity because she was afraid she’d cry on camera. But Osaka wanted to give Gauff a chance to address the crowd that had, for much of the match, been cheering for Gauff. “I think its better than going into the shower and crying,” Osaka told Gauff.” We have to let these people know how you feel.” Gauff thanked Osaka for her kindness and example of being an amazing tennis player.

In a later press conference Osaka explained her rationale to ask Gauff to join her saying, “It was kind of instinct, because when I shook her hand I saw she was kind of tearing up a little, then it reminded me how young she is.” She said she figured that “normal people don’t watch the press conference unless they’re fan-fans, and so I was thinking it would be nice for her to address the people who watched her play, and for me, I just thought about what I wanted her to feel leaving the court. I wanted her to have her head high and not walk off sad. I feel like the amount of media on her now is kind of insane, so I just want her to take care of herself.”

This was a night to remember when the acts of grace, humility, and integrity were seen by thousands of fans in the stadium and millions on television.  How can we create more of these acts in places where we work, live and have community? Osaka and Coco have given us a blueprint. Whose ready to serve?

Not In My Backyard

By: Valerie Burton

8 Minute Read

Why did two of your ministers sign the Interfaith Proclamation of Sanctuary? And how did we end up on the news? We owe you an explanation. We also want you to be an informed congregation for this difficult conversation on immigration and justice. Taylor and Valerie have written two entries to shed light on the Sanctuary Movement and its relevance for Christians today. The first entry, published today, answers the questions “What is ‘Sanctuary?’” and “What does the Bible say about the immigrant?” The second entry, to be published Friday, invites us to see ourselves in the storylines of people and parishes responding when their neighbors needed aid. As a Baptist church it is our responsibility to discern together how we will respond to the immigrant in our own community. These entries are just the beginning of what we hope is a fruitful dialogue. Lean in as we communally discern the Spirit’s leading. As Christian pastors, we know God is calling us to respond. So let us discern together what this response may look like at BCOC.

When the foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.  Leviticus 19:33-34

When did we see you a stranger and invite you in…? ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’                  Matthew 25: 38a, 40

On a Monday morning in July, a man in middle Tennessee was driving home with his 12 year old son. Immigration officers followed him and tried to pull him over. After the man pulled into the driveway of a house, the officers blocked him in. But the man and his son remained inside the vehicle. A crowd gathered and neighbors reportedly brought extra gas for the van and food and drinks while they waited. While there were immigrant advocates present, the movement to harbor the two was mainly populated by their immediate friends and neighbors from their community. The immigration officers eventually left the scene. The neighbors continued to surround the family and formed a line of protection in order for them to exit the van and enter the home.

What would I have done if a neighbor on my street had called me to say that immigration was following him and he was afraid to get out of his car? Would I have jumped into my car to go to his aid? Would it have mattered how long I had known him; or if he was undocumented; or if his son had been in school with my children?

A woman who was interviewed at the scene said she had known the man for fourteen years. She showed up to help because she didn’t want to see the father separated from his son. Fourteen years he had lived in her community.

When I think about offering sanctuary to someone in danger of being deported, this is the kind of scenario that would motivate me to action. For the woman, it was personal. She wanted to help her neighbor.

Earlier this month, plants in small towns of Mississippi were raided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. ICE officers stormed the Koch Foods plant offices with guns drawn, pointed at the managers and demanded they immediately leave the office and wait in the break room. More than 600 workers were removed from the plants and detained. It was the first day of school in those communities. Children started the day with excitement and ended it with horror – many not knowing where their parent was.

Paula Dempsey of the Alliance of Baptists reached out to me personally the evening of August 9 through text. “Are you seeing what’s happening outside Jackson?” She wondered if I knew of congregations in our region who were responding to the “humanitarian crisis and/or otherwise responding to the moral crisis?” I didn’t see her message until Saturday when I was meeting folks at BCOC to prepare for a new education year.  I knew there were clergy and faith communities in Birmingham talking about immigrant justice issues and how they wanted to follow the lead of immigrant advocacy groups here in Alabama. A statement [Interfaith Proclamation of Sanctuary] written by representatives of that clergy group was in my email inbox. Later, I would find it to be thoughtfully composed, compelling, and respectfully challenging and empathetic of law enforcement. It was worded so that signers could stand in solidarity on the side of immigrant justice while allowing autonomy of persons and congregations to interpret “sanctuary” for themselves down the road.

Now, you may have heard others use the phrase, “Not in my backyard!” You may have said it yourself in regard to some unseemly activity or business moving into your neighborhood.  I wonder if we would also say it about domestic gun-violence, hate-crimes, racially motivated re-zoning for public schools or voting places. What about deportation of long-standing, tax-paying, but undocumented workers? [1]It’s a hard thing, isn’t it? We want to respect the laws of our nation, but we know there have been times in the past that the law was wrong. We want to be able to discern, as Martin Luther King, Jr. did,  a just law from an unjust law. A just law is a man made code, he said, that squares with the moral law or the law of God. The enforcement of our current immigration laws to the point of separating families and detaining people for months until their case can go to court is where the current law and it’s enforcement seems harsh, unfair, inhumane at times, simply unjust.

Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Canton, Mississippi went into action immediately following the raids that shook their town. Reverend Michael O’Brien pastors the church. Father Mike writes at their website:

We are now running a Crisis Center in our Parish Hall. We have lawyers, counselors (for children & adults) and social workers meeting there with impacted families. Our Parish Hall is also the collection site for donations of food, personal care items and school supplies.
We have confirmed that all our children have at least one parent in their home, so they are safe. But these children are sad, traumatized and scared. Our focus is on the children and we are even making plans for a temporary daycare ministry.
Parents no longer have jobs and with this sudden loss of income families are facing a frightening and uncertain future. Emergency funds are needed, as well as money for rent and the most basic household expenses.
Sacred Heart parishioners & churches of all denominations; families & individuals; old friends & new friends from communities near and far, have been giving awesome support. Much help is needed and will continue to be needed.[2]

Father Mike goes on to share what items are needed and how to make donations. For Father Mike it was personal. These are “our children” he says.

At the moment that our own neighbors are impacted or “our children” are separated from their families, will we set aside the entanglements (aka politics, semantics, optics) and down-right fear that might prevent us from taking action? I’d like to think that I would respond like the neighbors in Tennessee or like Father Mike defending and caring for the most vulnerable.

A few years ago, when the enforcement of immigration law came to the forefront of people’s minds, our own volunteers in our Internationals ministry decided they would continue serving those who came without any question. They would not ask for identification or require documentation. They would assure students that while they were inside our buildings, they were safe and conversational English classes would continue as they always had. We have practiced this kind of welcome to all people since our inception and in spite of what was said about us. We organized care-teams for people with HIV/AIDS when it was an unpopular political issue in Alabama. We have partnered alongside Beloved Community to provide safe and blessed space for years hosting families through Family Promise. Each Wednesday, we open our doors to feed the poor, homeless, and hungry on a first-come basis. We don’t check IDs. In fact, we have gone to great lengths to make sure they are kept safe while on our property.

We are a justice-minded group of folks. We are known in our community for hospitality and aid. Our neighbors know that we care. Other agencies in town often refer folks to us for assistance. It’s no wonder video footage of our steeple ended up on the news after the Interfaith Proclamation for Sanctuary was made public. We seem to be known for this sort of thing. Let’s continue to define ourselves by the ways WE offer sanctuary to the disenfranchised and the alien among us. Politics will try to define our reasoning. The evening news may try to interpret what we are doing before we even do it. Let us find confidence or motivation in saying that we are caring for the one in whose eyes we see the eyes of Jesus.

I read a journal entry recently in which Rev. Dr. George Mason said, We say we belong to the tribe of Jesus, but we’ve been revising his words to fit our politics instead of revising our politics to fit his words.[3]

That’s convicting to me and my thinking. And then, I recall words from our corporate and individual commitments that motivate me to engage fully this dialogue on immigrant justice with you.

Corporately, We commit ourselves to: …a prophetic proclamation of the Christian faith that is responsible and free, fervently evangelical, socially concerned, and relevant to our needs as a caring fellowship in today’s society.

Personally, I commit myself to… Give myself in loving concern for individuals within the church, supporting them in life needs, seeking to be an instrument of reconciliation and recognizing the freedom and dignity of personal convictions within the bonds of unity.


[2]https://sacredheartcanton.org/; Canton: How to help

[3]Mason, George. Christians without Borders: Toward a Trespassing Church, Christian Ethics Today, Summer 2019

What is “Sanctuary”

By: Taylor Bell

5 minute read

Why did two of your ministers sign the Interfaith Proclamation of Sanctuary? And how did we end up on the news? We owe you an explanation. We also want you to be an informed congregation for this difficult conversation on immigration and justice. Taylor and Valerie have written two entries to shed light on the Sanctuary Movement and its relevance for Christians today. The first entry, published today, answers the questions “What is ‘Sanctuary?’” and “What does the Bible say about the immigrant?” The second entry, to be published Friday, invites us to see ourselves in the storylines of people and parishes responding when their neighbors needed aid. As a Baptist church it is our responsibility to discern together how we will respond to the immigrant in our own community. These entries are just the beginning of what we hope is a fruitful dialogue. Lean in as we communally discern the Spirit’s leading. As Christian pastors, we know God is calling us to respond. So let us discern together what this response may look like at BCOC.

The Sanctuary Movement began on March 24th, 1982 at Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, AZ. This church declared they were a “Sanctuary” for Central American refugees seeking asylum from violent political oppression but were denied asylum status by the U.S. Government. Declaring “Sanctuary” meant this church would house and protect asylum seekers regardless if they entered the U.S. legally or not. By 1985, the Sanctuary Movement was in full swing, becoming a nationwide multi-faith network. Drawing parallels from the Underground Railroad, this network worked to move asylum seekers from one house of worship to another until they could reach Canada where their refugee status would be recognized. This movement lasted until 1996.

The church’s declaration in 1982 was understood as a Christian moral response to the growing human rights crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. For them, their Christian faith demanded they care and seek justice for the immigrant, regardless of the nation’s laws. The Old Testament is rich with divine mandates to care for the immigrant. Leviticus 19:33-34 (NIV) states: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” In the New Testament we here echoes. In Luke, the Parable of the Good Samaritan directly applies, as the question “Who is my neighbor” is answered as anyone who is in need of help regardless of legal code or social custom. For these Christians, declaring “Sanctuary” was a faithful Christian response to the cries and needs of their immigrant neighbors.

The Sanctuary Movement was also premised on the legal tradition of “Seeking asylum,” or the “Right to Asylum.” This right states that “Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution,” as confirmed by the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951), and the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (1967). Being granted “asylum status” depends on the country’s dictates that one is seeking asylum in. Our legal affirmation of asylum seekers is rooted in a deep historical tradition. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Hebrews all recognized the “right of asylum” to some extent. For Christians, in 511 CE, the Council of Orleans declared that asylum could be granted to anyone who took refuge in a church. This tradition continued through European Common Law and into the present-day.

It is this historical, legal, and Christian tradition that inspires and roots the present-day Sanctuary movement. We can note historical parallels to 1982, where today refugees from Central America journey to America to seek asylum from violence and oppression. We also observe the U.S. government’s refusal to grant these people “asylum status,” instead detaining and rounding them up for extradition. It appears our government’s goal is to make the U.S. as inhospitable to immigrants and refugees as possible–a direct contradiction to the Christian gospel. In reflecting on the Sanctuary Movement and its struggle with the U.S. government for compassion and justice, I am reminded of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail where he writes:

“There are two types of laws: there are just laws, and there are unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘An unjust law is no law at all.’ … A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law, or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law … Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality … We can never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal’ and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was ‘illegal.’ It was ‘illegal’ to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany.”

The Christian tradition of King and the Civil Rights Movement reminds us that while government is necessary, it is not always good and just. When this happens, Christians have a moral imperative to respond not by attacking the government, but by sharing compassion, hospitality, and solidarity with those people who are ostracized and oppressed. We are convicted as clergy of the Christian Gospel that it is our moral responsibility to stand in solidarity with the Sanctuary Movement and the refugees it struggles for. As Christians, hospitality for the immigrant, no matter documented or undocumented, is part of what it means to be Christian.

The Question of Meaning and Christian Calling

By: Taylor Bell

This blog post is an introduction to Life is Calling Team, a Lilly Endowment funded project led by Samford’s Center for Congregational Resources (CCR) researching how churches can more deeply help people discern and embody their God-given callings. As one of 16 CCR partnering congregations, a BCOC Life is Calling Team has been working since January to discern, design, and eventually propose a congregational initiative on calling. Because of Lilly’s involvement, the CCR is providing up to $30,000 for each church’s proposed initiative. Essential (meaning required), for our proposal and receiving funds is the congregation’s participation in this research, primarily through (1) The Life is Calling Survey, and (2) The Birkman Assessment. The deadline to take both survey and the Birkman is Wednesday, Sept 4th. The BCOC Life is Calling Team is inviting each adult member of the congregation to take both the survey and assessment, as they will also be instrumental for guiding us in designing an initiative that is both resonate and meaningful for Covenant. Instruction are posted below. The blog post itself is largely an introduction to the Life is Calling’s theological, historical, and programmatic foundation that informs this work—both for the CCR and the BCOC Life is Calling Team. If you are uninterested by in the theological thought and context behind our work, then feel free to skip the blog and just take the survey and assessment. However, if you would like to know more about Life is Calling then I invite you to keep reading.

  • Life is Calling Survey: use the link provided. The survey takes 5-10 mins (I timed myself)
    1. https://samford.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_bxW2jgBC4gNfDDv
  • Birkman Assessment: in an email to Josey Windham (jwindham@bcoc.net) to indicate your willingness to take the survey. Taylor will provide your email to The Center for Congregational Resources at Samford who will send you a link to take the assessment free of charge.

Okay, onto the actual blog post

The question “How do I live a meaningful and purposeful life?” is a universal and fundamental human question. We all ask it whether consciously or unconsciously. Meaning is the existential understanding that I matter, that my life is significant, that my life causes some amount of ripple in the vast ocean of the universe. Purpose is the opportunity or capability to embody and express one’s meaningfulness. It is knowing that my life’s actions matter because I matter. Meaning and purpose are existentially vital for they are at the root of our struggles for happiness, fulfillment, and hope. For without meaning and purpose happiness is empty, fulfillment is evasive, and hope is unsustainable because none of these realities hold any real meaning or purpose for our lives. Without meaning life has no significance, and without purpose life is empty.

Recognizing this, it is no surprise that throughout human history we have cultivated a myriad of ways to live a meaningful and purposeful life. Religion has been a central means, and we Christians epitomize this. We believe that meaning and purpose are not so much cultivated as received through faith. Faith as the faithful relationship between humanity and God. It is through this faithful relationship that we integrate the meaningfulness that we are each lovingly and intentionally created in God’s image, and therefore we are each called to live out the purpose of sharing this divine love with the world. Within Christian history, we have used various yet related vocabularies such as Christian discipleship, living a life of faith, following Jesus, responding to God’s will, and listening to God’s calling to define and live out this purposeful life. No matter the terminology it is all rooted in the existential need each of us was created for: to be meaningful and live purposefully.

Because meaning and purpose are so essential to living, there may be no greater task for the Christian church than helping people discern and embody their God-given meaning and purpose. Without these two existentialities the human psyche goes haywire. We become despairing and violent. When one does not know their own meaning and purpose life inherently lacks value and worth, and it becomes easier to destroy life—both others’ lives and one’s own life (this is also the case when one’s meaning and purpose is easily threatened, but this is a conversation for another time). In our contemporary society where the traditional vessels for instilling us with meaning and purpose are being uprooted, changed, and reformed—especially the Church—we Christians must critically inquire and discern anew how the Christian community can help people realize and live out meaningful and purposeful existence. Such a task means exploring again Christian history, tradition, theology, ethics, and ecclesiology. It means expanding our dialogue partners to learn from non-Christians. And it means faithfully trusting and listening to God, taking risks as we discern and embrace God’s calling us into the church’s future. To evade this task is to shirk the very reason for the Church’s existence: to be the community of God on earth; to be a community of deep and enduring meaning and purpose.

The Lilly Endowment, a philanthropic foundation that provides millions of dollars for theological education annually, has embraced this task to such an extent that they have dedicated over $10 million into an initiative termed “Called to Lives of Meaning and Purpose.” For Lilly, living a life of meaning and purpose is defined as living out God’s calling for one’s life. Lilly’s convictions for this project are twofold: that when we embody our calling (1) life is deepened and enriched, and (2) the church’s vitality is strengthened. For Lilly, calling is not just an individual concern. There is a communal dynamic as well. A faithful belief that God weaves together individual callings to strengthen and revitalize the fabric of community. Thus, it is not just the individual that is at stake in explorations of calling. The community is at stake as well. The church needs people to live out their callings if it is to survive and thrive.

Samford’s Center for Congregational Resources (CCR) was selected by Lilly as one of the 13 sites. The CCR shares in Lilly’s twofold conviction, and have anchored their research in the question: “What would our churches look like if everyone was living out their God-given calling?” To explore and respond to this question, the CCR has selectively partnered with 16 Alabama churches for 4 years, inviting them to discern, design, and implement a congregational initiative that will help the church members and the congregation discern and live out their God-given callings. To help make these initiatives a reality, CCR is providing up to $30,000 for each church. These creative, contextualized, and well-funded initiatives will provide the CCR with the essential information to answer their anchoring question and providing the Lilly Endowment with potentially groundbreaking research.

BCOC was selected by the CCR as one of the 16 partnering churches, and our BCOC Life is Calling Team is made up by Caroline Jansen, Ann Carol Mann, Mike Martin, Drexel Rayford, and myself (Taylor). We are incredibly excited to be partnering with the CCR and their research.  Both because this research is important for the North American Church and this project provides us with a unique and exciting opportunity. We have the opportunity to design an initiative on discerning calling that BCOC can carry with it into the future. We are eager because this initiative, while it may be helpful for us in this season of transition, it is intended to be impactful beyond just this season. The team is currently unsure what the proposed initiative will be. But we do know that whatever it is needs to be something that BCOC and its members can return to again and again. The question “How do I live a meaningful and purposeful life?” is a question asked anew as we enter new stages of life. With each next stage, we need space and resources, a supporting community, and faith in God to discern this question anew each time.

Since January 2019 the BCOC Life is Calling Team has been deliberately researching and learning about Christian calling. We have engaged research, learned from Fisher Humphreys on Baptist history, and held three focus groups with BCOC members. All of these efforts to help us discern and propose an initiative that is significantly resonate, meaningful, and impactful for Covenant. In other words, it would be a travesty and waste of time to propose a $30,000 initiative for our church only to have designed something disconnected and insignificant. And because of this intent and concern, we need (and it’s required for our participation) the whole congregations’ help (yes that includes you!). We are now expanding our research from small groups to the entire congregation. The CCR has provided us two opportunities to engage all of BCOC, which I previewed at the top of this post. (1) is the Life is Calling Survey, which takes 5-10 mins and will provide data on how BCOC widely understands Christian calling. (2) is the Birkman Assessment. A widely used “behavioral and occupational assessment” that helps spur reflection on the connection between gifts and areas of service. Furthermore, on Wednesdays Sept 11th, 18th, and 25th we will be using the Birkman Assessment to facilitate reflection and dialogue on Covenant’s gifts and connecting them to both the church and wider community. You’ll need to take the Birkman to get the most out of these evenings! Instructions for taking both of these are below. The deadline for both the survey and assessment are Wednesday, Sept 4th. Your responses to these resources will be integral to shaping the BCOC Life is Calling Team’s discernment and work. We invite you to take them and invite other members to do the same.

  • Life is Calling Survey: use the link provided. The survey takes 5-10 mins (I timed myself)
    1. https://samford.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_bxW2jgBC4gNfDDv
  • Birkman Assessment: in an email to Josey Windham (jwindham@bcoc.net) to indicate your willingness to take the survey. Taylor will provide your email to The Center for Congregational Resources at Samford who will send you a link to take the assessment free of charge.

Email Taylor Bell (tbell@bcoc.net) for any questions regarding Life is Calling and BCOC’s involvement in the program.