In April of 1867, sixty-five members of First Baptist Church requested they be given ‘letters of dismission’ from the church so they might constitute a new congregation in Greenville. There was no anger in the request. Rather, their stated reason for separation was in order to ‘…be more widely useful in a church of their own.’ Their request also expressed confidence in, care for and the desire for counsel from the congregation of First Baptist. Prior to the separation, the ‘colored members’ (as they are referred to in historic documents) were seated in the gallery (balcony) of the church and did not serve in leadership positions. Our forebears were bound by a culture and/ or choice that inhibited imagining God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven. They did not benefit from or enjoy the presence of our African-American brothers and sisters in the fullest measure of Christian community. The limited nature of their holy imagination was not, however, reflected in their generosity toward this nascent body of believers. First Baptist offered space for the new congregation to meet, an assurance of continued Christian affection and a commitment to ongoing prayers, counsel and assistance.
When the sixty-five names were listed in the church’s minutes, they were listed by Christian name…followed by surname. This was the first time their names appeared in church documents like those of their white brothers and sisters. Until then, their Christian name was followed by the notation “servant of ____.” God’s Spirit was moving.
The Spirit of God has continued to be present and active in both congregations for the last 150 years. The work of Christ has been accomplished and Christian fellowship has been sustained. Our faithfulness to the original covenant between these two congregations has been maintained to varying degrees throughout the decades. We have continued in our mutual care, affection, prayer and assistance.
This Sunday, June 25, we are welcoming the congregation of Springfield Baptist Church home. At 3:00pm, in our Fellowship Hall, a reception will be held to honor the work of God in and through our extended faith family at Springfield. In our hearts, we will no doubt speak prayers of repentance for our ignorance in days gone by…and also prayers of thanksgiving for the graces that have been experienced. If there was ever an afternoon you should clear to be at church…this would be it. I’ll see you there…