7:00 am to 12:00 pm/ 13 October/ Kansas City MO
So by using the worst form of interstate transportation, I came half way across the country to attend a Divine Liturgy at a Serbian Orthodox Church that had elements of Ethiopian Orthodoxy (umbrellas over the Eucharist is cool). St. Mary’s has three readers to give the scriptures in Amharic, English, and Serbian (or was it Slavonic). This was a very beautiful worship experience. If only I didn’t have to catch the 1 pm bus. I would have loved to linger after service (and apologize for coming up for the blessings for the catechist when, officially, I am not one) and have those last conversations and good-byes. This inter-cultural, inter-racial fellowship was a glimpse of what heaven will look like. If I could have, I would have decided to stay in KC and be a part of the family at St. Mary’s.
Yet, my calling is here in my beloved eastern VA and (for now) as a Baptist pastor. But, what am I to do will all that I have experienced? For over a year, I have grown in the knowledge and spirituality of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Perhaps if I were not a pastor, I could go ahead and convert. But even if I could afford to leave Trinity Baptist Church, would it be fair for me to up and leave one of the most appreciative and loving congregations a man could ask for?
Having dinner the night before with Fr. Jerome Sanderson and Subdeacon Paul Abernathy shared an obvious piece of advice. That morning Turbo Qualls reminded me of the challenge I have already taken.
From the father and deacon: Take your time and make good steps. It is too easy to wish to either run away to St. Basil or try to force what little I know down the throats of my congregation (I tried by praying the opening prayer of the Trisagion prayers during the invocation. Some of my members felt uncomfortable with springing it on them without warning.). I can’t take the easy way out. Bringing Orthodoxy to African-Americans and anyone else in this area who is willing to listen will be and is a challenge. Actually, there are people I communicate with who are interested in how I came to be involved with Orthodoxy and how I balance being a Baptist pastor and yet one who practices elements of and has a deep appreciation for this ancient faith (praying the Hours, keeping the fasting rules, venerating icons). I have set something of an idea that I would convert to Orthodoxy sometime in 2015. Who knows, I may or may not convert then. It may be that I remain Baptist, yet with a strong slant towards Eastern Christian thought. Or, as some Orthodox have suggested, I will reach a point where I just can’t stand being away from the church so much and take the plunge. In either case, I need to be very prayerful and careful of each decision I make about my journey and how I invite others to walk with me.
But this is a journey that I must share. Turbo told me that a good pastor is someone who shares what he knows with his people. I have not been shy about telling people about my journey. I think that pursuing Orthodoxy has been one of the best things that has happened in my Christian journey. I am learning about how the Bible came into being and how it was originally interpreted by the church who first established the faith. I am learning about the church that was founded by Africans, Asians, and Europeans. As best as conditions allow, I am practicing the faith the way it has been done for almost 2,000 years. This is a pearl of great price! How can I not want to share it?
So, what is the plan? Right now, I see myself as a bridge builder between the traditional Black Baptist and Orthodox Churches. My task is to interpret between both of these very different worlds. There are some strong similarities, especially with the older manifestations of our church during slavery and Jim Crow. Yet, there are stark differences in theology and thought. Surely, there are people far more qualified for this task. Yet, it has been given to me. May the Lord lead me to lead others in love, truth, and wisdom.