Active Churches

Saturday evening the First Baptist Church of LaPlace held its 50th anniversary celebration at the Shrine Auditorium in Destrehan, and hundreds came for the occasion. Pastor Bobby Burt welcomed his predecessor, longtime pastor Major Speights, who now lives in Texas. (In the 1990s, people would mistake Major and me for each other. That is one handsome dude.) Former staffers were recognized, and present and former members filled the place. I presented two plaques, one from the state convention and one from our association, thanking this terrific church for a half-century of faithfulness.

I told them, “On behalf of all the people in this room with the same color hair as mine, I want you to know: 50 years is not so long! I recall sitting on the front porch swing with my girl friend and saying, ‘Next year will be 1957! That has such a futuristic ring to it.’ Now it sounds like the Stone Age. But it wasn’t so long ago, 1957, when some good people did a great thing and started this church.”

Sunday morning, the “new” Christ Baptist Church of Harvey held its dedication services. Formerly the Woodmere Baptist Church of the same New Orleans suburb, they bought the entire campus of the House of Prayer Lutheran Church–a congregation that went out of business as a result of Katrina–and relocated to the lovely site at 3000 Manhattan Boulevard. They sold their old facility to their mission church, New Covenant Baptist Mission, at a bargain price. Dr. Harold Mosley–professor at the seminary–is the new pastor of Christ Church. Sunday he welcomed back the founding pastor (and a seminary classmate of mine from the 1960s) Art Edwards. In addition to these men, speakers included New Covenant’s Thomas Glover and Randy Capote, most recent pastor of Woodmere.

In his printed remarks, Harold Mosley said, “It’s true not everything is in its place yet, and we still have projects to complete but oh, what a glorious day to praise the Lord for what He has provided!” He continued, “We have plans in the works for new ministries to reach out to our new neighbors, build a new playground, modify the nursery area, acquire a permanent sign, start an Awana program, and the list goes on.”

We congratulate FBC LaPlace as it gets its second wind and Christ Baptist as it makes a new start in a new neighborhood.

Sunday afternoon, Grace Baptist Church of the 9th Ward held a celebration of a different kind in the auditorium of our Baptist Center. They honored Dr. Bill Rogers, their 76-year-old pastor, upon his 30th anniversary as their shepherd and upon the receipt of his doctorate in December from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Former DOM Fred Dyess was the featured speaker at their morning services.

Can I put a bug in the ear of some small local church? I expect Brother Bill Rogers to retire before long and turn over the leadership of Grace to Associate Pastor Charlie Dale. Bill will be staying in this city, no doubt, because it’s home to him. I’d love to see one of our small churches invite Bill Rogers to preach for them after he retires and possibly even call him as pastor. He’s as sharp as they come and has much to offer for many years.

Next Sunday morning, February 4, Edgewater Baptist Church on Paris Avenue in New Orleans will rededicate its renovated facilities at a 9:30 am service. If you go to my website and scroll down the archives to late September or early October 2005–soon after our return from evacuation–and read about the first time we saw the flooded and ruined Edgewater Church, you will understand our total joy at this rededication. I honestly thought the building was a complete loss; it was such a heart-breaking sight. Congratulations to Pastor Kevin Lee and a ton of friends all over the country, but none more faithful than the good people of Riverside Baptist Church of Denver where Edgewater’s former shepherd Jim Shaddix is the pastor.

I preached at FBC Belle Chasse, downriver and just inside Plaquemines Parish, at both morning and evening services, and will again next Sunday at 10:30 am. This lovely church of friendly people is well situated to have a great ministry in a growing community and to the military families stationed at the Belle Chasse Naval Air Station–as of course over the years, it has indeed had such a thriving ministry. After pastoring over 12 years next to Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi, I know what incredible people Uncle Sam often sends our way and what a difference they can make to a church that might otherwise be isolated in a remote corner of the area. Margaret and I count as some of our best friends Air Force people who were transferred to CAFB and joined our church–and ended up joining our hearts forever.

This good church is trying to re-establish its identity and its direction these days, and has been without a permanent pastor since the summer of 2004.

I asked, “How many of you are on active duty in the military?” Several. “Formerly in the military?” A large number. “How many of you were born in the New Orleans area?” Not many. “How many of you moved here from elsewhere?” A large group.

And then, “How many are visiting this church for the first time?” One couple down front raised their hands. I said, “I’m going to tell a story–and it’s just for your benefit.”

In the 1980s when I was pastoring in North Carolina, I found out that Pat and Betty Hance–he was one of our finest deacons–had witnessed a fight in a Sunday School classroom on their first Sunday visiting our church, years earlier. The next time we met, I said, “Pat, what was that all about?”

He said, “There were two men in the church with some issues. I think one was a bully, always picking on the little guy. The little one had told him, ‘Don’t ever do that again. If you do, you will regret it.’ Anyway, we were sitting there in Sunday School assembly and the big fellow walked by and popped off to the little one. The little guy hauled off and knocked the daylights out of the big one. That’s all there was to it.”

I said, “There’s something I don’t understand here. We pastors bend over backwards to present our best image to visitors. We want them to come back and maybe end up joining the church. And on your first Sunday you not only witnessed a fist fight in Sunday School, you came back the next Sunday and ended up joining the church! Explain that to me.”

Pat said, “Oh, it’s very simple. We like an active church.”

I said to the two people visiting with us Sunday, “I want you to know, this is an active church!”

We have lots of active churches around this town. And activity is a sign of life.