I am a pastor at University BAPTIST Church. If you had told me 15 years ago that this would be the case, I would have never believed you. My impression of Baptist was shaped by my experiences. There was one Baptist church in my small Northern Wisconsin town of predominantly German Catholic/Scandinavian Lutherans. I was a nondenominational charismatic. The few Baptists I knew seemed frigid and reeked of the wrong kind of religious piety. To make matters (or at least impressions) worse, the other Baptists I knew were from the area home school group of which I was a part. They were kind but struck me as culturally unaware in way that made the Amish look like hipsters. We’d gather for co-op events like down hill ski day and the Baptist homeschoolers would show up in long jean skirts with scarves wrapped around their ankles. Attempts at cultural conversations about Michael Jordan, Jackson or J. Fox were completely futile. The only Mike they new about was the one that helped Daniel.
Given this, it might surprise readers to know that I chose to go to a Baptist college. At Bethel University I discovered Swedish Baptists, which are part of the Baptist General Convention (BGC). These Baptist shared my evangelical flare, but lacked the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Lucky for them I came to Minnesota to fix that. The next four years were some of the most formative of my life, as college often is. I moved toward a Baptist identity and in the process discovered that many of my BGC friends already knew about the Holy Spirit and had a wide variety of ways of responding to that knowledge.
Variety, I would come to learn, is an identity marker of Baptist life. Pick a theological issue and you’ll find a variety of opinions from a variety of Baptists. This point was made poignantly clear to me by the stark differences in Greg Boyd and John Piper’s Baptist churches, both of which are BGC churches I visited during my four your stint in St. Paul. The two have about as divergent of opinions possible on issues including, but not limited to: salvation, providence, and God’s knowledge. If I moved to one side of the Baptist tent, what I discovered is that I didn’t have the keen vision needed to see the other side. Baptist, I learned, meant a lot of things.
It wasn’t until I got to Truett Seminary that I actually learned what a Baptist was. In my polity class we learned that the Baptist distinctives are: autonomy of the local church, soul competency, two ordinances, priesthood of all believers, separation of church and state, Biblical authority, and two ordinances of the church (give or take a few … see autonomy of the local church). At this point I thought to myself, “self, I could get behind this Baptist thing.”
The other lesson I learned about Baptist when I came to Truett is that there are a lot of politics in Baptist life. Peers would refer to the big six Southern Baptist Seminaries none of which I had ever heard of. Anonymous someones would share how people had been hurt, fundamentalists had taken over and moderates were organizing in response. I quickly learned that I was not a Southern Baptist, though I was now a Baptist in the south. So this is how I now self identify: As Baptist with a southern flavor distinguishing myself from Southern Baptist.
But it’s not just being Baptist that has taken some getting used to, it’s also the South. Madison, the capital of my home state Wisconsin, was the first city to lobby to have sex change operations reimbursed with public money. This example is accompanied by the social climate that one might suspect gives rise to that sort of political legislation. If you are a demographer of any kind you might guess that the North is a much more sterile, even religiously hostile, place. Though census reports may reveal that religion runs rampant, Christian faith and more accurately denominational affiliation is by and large a civic duty. No one talks about the Jesus at the center of their Chreaster goings.
Conversely, the first week my wife and I lived here we stood in line at Jason’ Deli listening a pair of young women in front of us talking about church planting. Instead of the yellow pages being dominated by bars, they are consumed by churches. I was shocked when I reached the center of field as a coach my son’s soccer team and the referee asked who was going to pray—a city league mind you. I thought about volunteering and ending the prayer with “and we pray these things in the name of Allah,” to make a point, but wisdom prompted me to do otherwise.
Waco has turned out to be a much different place than Tomahawk, where I grew up. It might be because the city plays host to the largest evangelical university in the world, but I’d argue that Waco lays exclusive claim to the title, “buckle of the Bible belt.”
Given this, pastoring in the Baptist South has presented me with interesting challenges and opportunities for growth. I love the passion of the South. Though I don’t always agree, I love that South Baptists care so much. I love the sincerity of people around here. People aren’t just nosy, they are concerned. I love Baptists’ insistent belief that each congregation is unique and has something to contribute to the Kingdom. I love how networked this world is. The differences between large “C” and little “c” church is relatively minimal not just among Baptists but even across some denominations.
I love the efficiency of the second person singular and plural forms “y’all” and “all y’all”. I love the Baylor Bears. I now love brisket and TexMex and will even occasional enjoy a sweet tea.
But most of all I love UBC. This community has redefined church for me in the healthiest possible way.
This week will be Katie Moon's final week as the UBC Office Manager. Next month she will be moving to New Orleans to begin work on her Ph.D. in Social Work at Tulane University. Katie and Timmy have been a part of the UBC family for several years and have left an indelible on our community. They will be greatly missed. Below are farewell words from Katie... _________________________________
I went to college at Louisiana Tech University. To many, a Louisiana state school means one thing---trouble. But if you were a Louisiana native like myself, you would understand that all that trouble happens in the bottom half of the state and that everything grows lily white in the northern half of Louisiana. You would also know that Louisiana Tech (of the north) thrives in the richness of the great Bible Belt in a dry town called Ruston. Now, Ruston is a safe place where good ole boys, Protestants, and Republicans can all live on forever finding their family, friends, and purpose all in one place—First, Second, or Third Baptist Church right down the road. This is where I spent four years of my life. This is where I began to build the adult version of myself. This is the environment that welcomed and guided me as I entered into arguably a person’s most transformative time of life. And I loved it.
I loved that I was surrounded by a group of people that was concerned with my spiritual journey. I loved that they cared enough about me to give me an accountability partner, feed me lunch on Tuesdays, and call when I missed a Sunday. I had my own little world safe and separate from the big, scary college world. It was very similar to the youth group I came from. It was home away from home.
But then I turned 21 [insert dramatic music that indicates a shift in theme]. Now readers, I think we can all call a hen, a hen here and not be so naïve to think that I didn’t drink alcohol before my 21st birthday. Of course, I did. But I did most of my drinking in the closet next to my shoes. And when I say in the closet, I mean with my sorority sisters outside city limits far away from my friends at the Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM). Now, I didn’t do it without guilt. A whole lot of guilt and begging for forgiveness from God, and confessing. Well, not a whole lot of confessing. I did confess it to my college minister and accountability partner one time, and then I was under constant surveillance for the next 3 months (I think that is the standard amount of time it takes to get the devil out of you). That was the last time I did that.
When I turned 21 though, I became more open about my casual drinks and my “community” became more open about their disdain for my choices. I was still “welcomed” but I was on the fringe. To be real honest, my heathen sorority sisters gave me more love and grace than I ever found at the BCM (with a few exceptions). Point being, I found that most of my friends at church only accepted me if I agreed to fit into the acceptable mold that they had created and that the generation before had created for them. I was backed into a corner forced to choose between two groups, two lives, two perspectives. It was a black or white issue. And what did I do? Well, I chose my church group, of course. Did you think I would risk my eternity for authentic friendships? Nope. I stepped right into that mold and shut the door. Misery now, but paradise tomorrow.
The next natural step for me was to answer my call on my life and go to seminary. Perhaps, I initially chose to go to seminary because of the urgings of people around me. But really, that wasn’t the reason. A voice within me (within me, not a literal one), told me there was more for me to discover about this universe and about God, and this discovery began in seminary. I came to Truett not knowing much about it. I actually came to Truett because it offered a dual degree social work program not because I knew it would offer me a totally new way of learning about and experiencing God. But it was here that walls crumbled and doors opened for me. For the first time, I was being taught how to think not what to think. There were so many opinions and perspectives all under one roof…and it was okay. Welcomed, even. I began to discern my thoughts and feelings about my college experience. The trouble wasn’t that I disagreed with my college folks’ perspective, the trouble was that there was only one perspective that I could choose to agree with. Where were my options? Was it absurd to think that there could be (should be) more? Couldn’t we see things differently, and still all be Christians at the end of the day? I found that it’s not about whether we are liberals or fundamentalists, drinkers or non-drinkers, Republicans or Democrats, country singers or rap idols—it’s that we agree to make room for all of us and at least try to understand and sympathize with each other’s viewpoints. Let’s create a little bit of gray.
This lesson I learned at Truett came to fruition in my time here at UBC. Because of the acceptance and grace UBC offers, I was able to experience community in a very intimate and authentic way. UBC truly became a home filled with love and support as well as a solace for different opinions, approaches, and even shortcomings. I was allowed to become the most authentic and honest version of myself at UBC and be given the invaluable gift of freedom. As a congregant, student, and staffer at UBC, I have gotten to see and experience what it is to love others and be loved wholly. My husband, Timmy, and I will be eternally grateful for our experience here. The friendships we have made and the approach to life and community we have experienced will always be kept in the pocket closest to our hearts. Always ready and handy to be taken out and shown to others we meet as we journey forward.
As we say good-bye to this community, I am reminded of a sermon I heard in college from 1 Corinthians 12 which speaks about unity and diversity within the church’s body. The lesson I learned that day was that we all have tangible and different gifts that we offer as members of the body of Christ. We all need each other because we all offer a valuable function to the community. I don’t doubt that this is true. But, (admittedly, this is without reverting to commentaries-forgive me) I now have to believe that this passage is referring to more than just the tangible elements we have to offer. It’s not only our different tangible gifts and functions that make the body the body, but our intangible and diversified collection of souls. And with this comes our call to embrace others fully and wholly.
“But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” 1 Cor. 12:25-26
UBC. May you always be a community that embraces the beauty in others.