Our History of Breaking Down Barriers
In writing my dissertation, I discovered some interesting things about our church. We’ve been breaking down barriers to the presence of God here for a long time. Not that we’ve always gotten it completely right, or done everything we could, but we have done some things. Like Israel, we have a history, a heritage of breaking down barriers to the presence of God.
That history includes being instrumental in founding Hargrave Military Academy at a time in the life of this county and commonwealth when rural education was not readily available, and Christian education was even less so.
Our history includes starting Samuel Harris Memorial Baptist Church. While it’s only two miles or so from our church, apparently in the 1950s those two miles might as well have been 200. To plant a church in a community that for whatever reasons was not going to come to Chatham Baptist Church was a part of our making the presence of God accessible to all.
When we started the bus ministry, our church reached out to our entire community, to include members of other churches, and perhaps no church, in our fellowship circle.
When we built the new fellowship hall over 15 years ago, you decided to open its use to the community, to welcome others into this building and to open our doors to civic clubs, and other worthwhile organizations who shared our values, and contributed to the well-being of this community.
When we opened our doors to the Boys and Girls Club, and to the Chatham Arts Community Music School, we were inviting others into our space, and by extension into the presence of God.
When we built the playground, we were inviting families with children to come and join with us. We were sending the message that here your children are loved, valued, and protected. Here is a safe place for them to play and learn about God’s presence in their lives.
And, when we installed the lift several months ago, we were inviting all of those who had mobility issues, who could not readily climb stairs, to join us in this sanctuary for worship. Of course, most of us thought that we would have to get older before we needed it, but I was one of the first who got to use the lift when I came to church on that Easter Sunday after my hospital stay.
Our Challenge for the Future
But as much as we have done, we must continue to pray the prayer of Solomon for this place. We have to think about who else we might need to reach out to, and what other groups might feel that they do not have access to the presence of God here.
Over fifty-three years ago, the Cradock Baptist Church in Portsmouth, Virginia, founded what they call the Robin Class “as a special ministry to serve mentally-challenged young people and adults. The Robins have their own Sunday School and church program on Sundays from 10 a.m. until Noon. Their dedicated teachers provide an environment where the Robins can experience spiritual growth and Christian fellowship. Transportation is provided for the class by a van purchased by donations from members and friends. The Robins attend a special session of camp at Eagle Eyrie each fall.” (http://www.cradockbaptist.org/about-us/)
Other churches have done and are doing similar things. Opening the presence of God to others who may seem like “foreigners” to us is not easy. That’s why Israel so quickly and often forgot that was their mission. But it is also our mission. And with each step we take, with each door we open, with each barrier we break down, we come a little closer to making God’s presence accessible to all. That was Solomon’s prayer, and it should be ours as well.