A Moment of History

2017 portland biennial-449
If I was a more obnoxious photographer, I would have gotten on stage to capture the pages.

The conference I attended last weekend concluded with a Communion service. Sharing the Lord’s Supper is always a meaningful ritual, so I was pleased to end the conference this way. I was even more pleased we didn’t use “Communion, Ready to Partake” packages. Those things are disgusting 1.

Other than the ritual of Communion itself, I found one moment of the service of particular interest to my history-nerd nature. During our gathering the head of the American Baptist Archives came out to a podium and began to speak about the nature of the Bible. She focused on the names of all the faithful people who can be found in its pages, and then added, “And this Bible has even more names in it.”

It turns out the Bible which this historian held in her hand had been given as a present by the First Baptist Church of Washington D.C. to the First President of the American Baptist Convention 2. The gift was given in 1951 and, since that time, it’s been signed by each president of our denomination. During our closing session Judy Fackenthal added her name to its pages.

Actions like this touch my heart. I feel the gravity of history every bit as much as I feel the gravity of the Earth beneath my feet. Adding the signing of this historic Bible to our Communion service did not minimize the significance of the Lord’s Supper 3, but it did serve as a reminder American Baptists have inherited a specific legacy in the Body of Christ. There was a weight to the moment which posed a demand to those gathered in that space. It spoke, “What will you do with what has been passed on to you?”

I don’t much care for reinforcing dead ritual 4. But when I experience a living ritual it makes my heart soar.

  1. On so many levels. 
  2. Now, “The American Baptist Churches USA.” 
  3. Really, that’s the high point of worship for me. Through the presence of Christ, Communion holds a connection to past, present, and future. 
  4. Baptists wearing robes which hold no liturgical function, for example. Or neck ties. I mean, really. What person thought to themselves, “You know, I think twisting a cloth in a knot around someone’s neck, and tightening it until it’s just shy of choking the wearer, would make for great fashion?”