On The Road Again

100th Anniversary Celebration
Sermon by Peggy Haymes
March 12, 2006

Genesis 12:1-3

I have a confession to make…. I see dead people.

Oh, not in the Hayley Joel Osmet seeing Bruce Willis Sixth Sense kind of a way.

No, sometimes when I’m sitting in the choir loft, I look up into the back balcony, and almost think I can see them, the great cloud of witnesses gathered there…

Nannie Leigh…who used to call church members on their birthdays to sing Happy Birthday.

Fred Scott…hearing him pray was like listening in on an ongoing conversation.Now he is able to speak face to face, as friend speaks to friend.

Atha Raulston…who we used to joke would practically vault over the choir rail in herdetermination to speak to a visitor after worship.

Read Touchstone and Ed Fullington…who spent many hours here drinking coffee, solving the problems of the world and keeping our boiler running. Even now they are probably smiting their foreheads over the fact that the church has finally gotten a new gas furnace.

Miss Jane Howell…whose frame was small but whose heart for children was gigantic.

And so many more…

Then there are those who are just as much a part of the fabric of this place but who were gone much too soon…

Mancene Saunders… Sylvia Privette…. Andrew Russoli.

So when Michael asked me to preach this morning, I thought selecting the scripture would be easy. The obvious text is from Hebrews…

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses… let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”

The only problem is, as I drove back and forth to church, a different text kept running through my head. I will confess to being a little suspicious of preachers who talk about the Lord laying a scripture on their hearts. But I think there was at least something of the Spirit’s leading in this.

For the text that kept running through my head is the one we read earlier. Abram and Sarai have pretty much settled into their retirement years. If their life together hadn’t quite worked out the way they’d once hoped it would, it’d still been pretty good. And there was something to be said for pretty good lives.

And then, out of the blue, the Lord comes to Abram and gives him two promises, one dream more outlandish than the other, both of them hinging on a command.

Go, God says. Get on down the road. And I will give you land, a land that is your land. And I will give you a son that will be more than a son but will be the beginning of nations. I will give you a dream far beyond any dream you ever dreamed for yourself.

Go, God says. Get on down the road. In a way, College Park has always been on the move.

In fact, the planning committee joked that our theme for this year could be “on the road again.” We’ve been physically on the move, from a white frame store to a beautiful sanctuary on Forest Avenue, to the chapel building here and finally to this sanctuary.

We’ve been on the move denominationally, leaving the home of the Southern Baptist Convention (or, in the immortal words of Bernice Edwards, recognizing that they had left us) and now joining with the American Baptist Convention.

We’ve been on the move through missions. Through missionaries whom we’ve sent out, through members who’ve volunteered, through refugees whom we’ve officially sponsored, through immigrants we’ve reached out to help unofficially, College Park has touched the people of Japan, India, Togo, Pakistan, Hungary, Romania, Sudan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Bosnia, Cuba, Honduras, Chile.

In the name of this church, the gospel has been preached, and not only through words… through houses built, dying AIDS patients comforted, the homeless fed the outcasts embraced. And if we take to heart Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats, then there has been something of Jesus in all of this, for these are the places where he said he’d be.

On the road again…College Park has been on the move, sometimes out of our comfort zones. On February 1, 1960, four students from NC A&T State University sat down at the lunch counter at the downtown Woolworth’s and asked to be served. Not long after that, this white, Southern Baptist Church passed the following resolution:

Believing that Baptists have historically embraced a way of life and faith which recognizes that the worth and dignity of all persons is at the core of the Christian’s outlook toward his fellow man; and believing that the moral fiber of our community is strengthened by the willingness of Christians to stand against social injustice, we make the following relative to our position on the refusal of service to orderly patrons of food service establishments:

  • We commend all those businesses which have demonstrated a willingness to assume a role of responsible leadership in respecting human dignity.
  • We, therefore, refuse to eat where others are being refused service; and appeal to each individual that according to his conscience he support those merchants who seek to practice equality.
  • Moreover, we implore our people not only to refrain from eating where others are refused, but also to work actively for the elimination of racial prejudice and intolerance.

In the mid-1980’s, ordained women clergy were not the most welcome of ministers in the Southern Baptist Convention.After a year of waiting and looking, this church invited me to interview for the Associate Minister position. The search had come down to two candidates, myself and, as I later learned, a male classmate of mine (who has yet to forgive me.) As it was later told to me, the committee didn’t have a strong sense of which way to go. We were both equally strong candidates.

Then Dot Whedbee spoke up. “We say we support women in ministry,” she said. “Maybe it’s time we put our money where our mouth is.”

Now in these last few years some of you have admitted to me, somewhat sheepishly, I might add, that while you didn’t vote against my coming and weren’t really opposed, you just weren’t very comfortable with the idea of having a lady minister. You’d never even seen such a creature before. But to your credit, you never let on. You welcomed me and did not make me fight that battle. You even changed your minds!

Throughout our history, God has called us out of our comfort zones.

Now in this 21 st century, we are frankly not all of the same mind on the issue of homosexuality. Some are accepting, some are uncertain and confused and some are uncomfortable. But weare in agreement that gays and lesbians are God’s children, too. And as our brothers and sisters, they have just as much of a place at the table and in this branch of God’s family.

Go on. Get on down the road. And I will give you dreams more daring than what you’d dare dream for yourself. In reading through our history a common thread is that our dreams have always been bigger than our pocketbooks.

In the 1920’s the church newsletter was called Acorns and Nuts.They sold advertising, so it includes ads for “Hanes Funeral Home” (before it was Hanes-Lineberry) and Greensboro product, Vicks Vapor Rub. In one copy found in our collection, there is a note that last week’s meager offering was more than likely due to the inclement weather.

Phyllis Kelly, our historian, reports that in reading the minutes of the last 100 years, occasionally there was a note that the church was in the black, but it wasn’t more than a month or two before we were in the red again. The more things change….

Our dreams have been bigger than our pocketbooks, but that hasn’t stopped us from dreaming. And the miracle of it is…they come to pass…somehow… someway…

For years this church struggled with being landlocked, losing young families who visited because there were no playground facilities for their children. We kept telling ourselves it was just too bad that we didn’t have the room. Until the dreamers started asking, “what if?”

Now our children love our playground.

When this sanctuary was built, there were no funds for a pipe organ. But the dreamers said, “One day…” And so they built a space to hold the pipes they’d never live to hear.

During a difficult time in this church’s life, this congregation took a hard look at themselves. Why should there even be a College Park Baptist Church? After all, five minutes one way is First Baptist, and five minutes the other way is Lindley Park Baptist. Why be here, on this corner? and the dreamers said, “This city needs a church like this.”

And they were right. Over and over again what we hear from the people who comes to us is…“We had almost given up on finding a church.” Or, “We hadn’t been to church for a long time until we heard about this place…”

Go, God says. Get on down the road, because I have dreams waiting for you, dreams bigger and more joyful than you’d ever dare to dream for yourself.

However, like Abraham, sometimes we get in our own way. Abraham decided that God couldn’t figure this thing out, so he had to make it happen on his own, impregnating his slave girl and setting the stage for centuries of division.

Sometimes, we just get in the way. I kid you not, one of the fiercest and most difficult debates I ever heard in a church business meeting here was over who would make the coffee on Sunday mornings.

And yet, when I asked the committee to come up with words they associated with College Park, the first word was “laughter.” Not the mean-spirited or hollow, shallow laughter, but the joyous free laughter of those who know that we are so loved and held by God that we don’t have to take ourselves too seriously. (By the way, make sure you get a chance to see the scrapbooks of our skits. there are some pictures in them that you will never forget…not matter how hard you try.)

The second word was “love.” This church knows how to hug, and we know how to embrace hurting people in a hundred different ways. Over the last 20 years, I have seen members very quietly performing extraordinary acts of love. Most of them will never show up on a denominational report. But they are never forgotten by those who have received them. And it’s been going on for a hundred years now.

Go, God says. Get on down the road. I don’t know exactly what dreams God has waiting for us for the next hundred years.

I know that they will surprise us, challenge us, delight us, discomfort us, bless us.

In the prayer of Dag Hammerskjold:

For all that has been, thank you. For all that will be, Yes. Amen and amen.