By Pastor Tim Phillips
If someone wanted to write a book on the history of Seattle, the author might want to include the Hanfords and the Holgates who were founding pioneer families that called early Seattle “home.” The congregation that came to be known as Seattle First Baptist Church met in the Hanford home for several years after its birth in 1869.
If someone wanted to write about the history of women in ministry in the Pacific Northwest, the author might include the story of May Jones, licensed to preach and ordained by this congregation in 1882. That ordination “was highly irregular and attracted derisive comment as far away as the East Coast,” the story says. Nonetheless, the ministry of the “Rev. Mrs. Jones” went forward and she supplied the pulpit here and in 1883 founded and served the Chehalis First Baptist Church. We continue that celebration of women in ministry with the joyful recognition of Pastor Catherine Fransson’s 17 years of faithful ministry among us.
If someone wanted to write a book about Asian migration to the area, the author might include the story from 1886 about our pastor, the Rev. A.B. Banks, who, on receiving word during a worship service that a racist mob was gathering to attack Chinese immigrants, pronounced the benediction, grabbed his rifle, and rushed off to join the Home Guards defending the Chinese. Our contemporary commitment to gun legislation notwithstanding, the Rev. Banks was clear about his duty to stand with the vulnerable. That same commitment led to the establishing of a school for Chinese children which later developed as First Chinese Baptist Church, a thriving congregation that continues to this day. That book might also include a chapter about our commitment to our Japanese neighbors that included supporting the establishment of Japanese Baptist Church in 1899 and the well-documented support of our Japanese neighbors during the Internment of WWII. There might be some lines about refugees from Myanmar/Burma and ongoing support for resettlement.
If someone wanted to write the book about Civil Rights in Seattle, or the Occupy or peace movements, or the pursuit of justice on any number of issues, the author might reserve several lines for Justice Charles Z. Smith, and Dr. Stephen Jones, and the many members of our Social Justice Ministries that have been involved in everything from the economy to the environment.
If someone wanted to write a book about Gay Seattle, the author might include the gathering of gay men hosted in the early 1970s by Pastor Walt Pulliam in the gym because he thought they needed a safe place to gather and talk about their lives. Or the ministry of Dr. Rod Romney to provide a place of belonging and reconciliation that eventually produced the hymn we sing as “Bring Us Home.” Or the “mass wedding” in our Sanctuary on December 9, 2012, the first day same-sex weddings were legal in the State of Washington. Of course, we like to say that we had practicing marriage equality for 30 years before it was legal.
If someone wanted to write the book on Gay Seattle – and someone has, Gary Atkins, who is a professor of Communication at Seattle University – one might include the whole history of empowerment, solidarity, and inclusion. Reading the prologue of Atkins’ Gay Seattle: Stories of Exile and Belonging, I was stunned to find a reference to Walter Bruggemann, the Hebrew Bible scholar who is oft-quoted in Adult Learning and from the pulpit. In the book, Atkins writes that:
“... Bruggemann once said that when writing of those whose common experience is not race, class, or religion, but living as outcasts, ‘the central problem is not emancipation but rootage, not separation from community but location within it, not isolation from others but placement deliberately between the generation of promise and fulfillment.”
When I read this, I sent an email to Professor Atkins to thank him for his book and for the reference to the wider context that Bruggemann provides. Because it’s true. If someone wants to write the book on exile and belonging, our congregation may well have a page or a chapter or a few lines or at least a footnote in the story. That’s not because we are actors in someone else’s story. It’s because this is our story. And that story continues to unfold from the chapters that have come before and the intentions of those we are yet to write. As Bruggemann says, the answer to all those experiences and forms of being “outcast” is not isolation from others but “placement deliberately between the generation of promise and fulfillment.”
If we are writing the book on empowerment, solidarity, and inclusion, let’s find even more ways this June to write a few lines in our unfolding story.
This blog includes thoughts from various contributors at Seattle First Baptist