Tag Archives: Southern Baptist

Greater Friendship Baptist – Warm & Welcoming

Greater Friendship Baptist Church – East Side View

I visited Greater Friendship Baptist Church twice in September (see greaterfriendshipbaptist.org/). This church is not hard to find in its Fairview location at 13th & Ingra. Each time, I was warmly greeted by a number of individuals upon arrival. The first time I was escorted to a pew on the side which offered a view. Several times before the start of their 11 a.m. service, members came up to me, greeting me again and extending my welcome. This is an uncommon experience in most of my church visits. Mostly I get a bulletin and greeting upon entering, and the customary “meet n’ greet” where often true guests are avoided like the plague.

Greater Friendship’s website offers important clues as to their affiliation. “Greater Friendship Baptist Church was founded in the year of our Lord, 1951, thus becoming the first Black church in the state of Alaska. In addition, Greater Friendship Baptist Church was the first Black church in America to affiliate with the Southern Baptist Convention.”  I was deeply impressed about their status and I’m glad I had an opportunity to experience these worship services.

Their pastor, Michael Bunton, previously served at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, a church destination I’m fond of visiting for their friendliness to guests and each other. Pastor Bunton and his wife, Natalie, who is known as the First Lady, is the 13th pastor of Greater Friendship. First Lady Bunton is heavily involved in their ministry as deaconess, directing their media ministry, choir director, Bible study teacher for elementary and middle school children, and in their women’s ministry.

My latest visit last Sunday, found the church a bit noisier than I remembered from my first visit. It was raucous with loud conversations, laughing, and noise I don’t associate with the commencement of a worship service. When I hear this much noise, I whip out my sound meter to measure the sound level; it was 100 db, equivalent to the sound of a power mower, power drill, blow dryer, subway, helicopter or chainsaw. My point is that’s a marked contrast to the start of a worship service. In fact, Pastor Bunton was going to be talking that day about “A New Approach to Worship”.

At my first visit, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to their choir. Yesterday the choir did not sing. I asked an associate I recognized from the choir why they were not singing. She said they are periodically encouraged to participate in the service from the member pews, which I think is a great idea. For those churches with choirs, I believe few members understand what a significant time involvement and dedication is involved with choir participation. That said, I love the choir’s contribution at this church. Prerecorded music was played during the various parts of the service yesterday, while the choir sang and a small ensemble played at the previous service I attended.

The services tend to follow a “call and response” form of worship, usually led by the pastor. “Can I hear a witness?” or “Give the Lord some praise!” us usually a prelude to a vigorous applause. This is a major theme during all aspects of the service.  The pastor was led in to the platform by a young girl usher. He started the service by leading the singing the old Baptist hymn, “We Have Come Into His House”.  It was a great prelude to his sermon on worship. The youth function as ushers in this church and were ushering people in, handing out fans, and offering tissues to the congregation.

Scripture and prayer was delivered by a woman member who wiped her eyes first because of the emotional beauty of the song just sung. I’ve rarely heard a more sincere and heartfelt prayer, in any of my local church visits, than what she prayed. She was clearly connected to her God.

Like the previous visit, there was a baptism. Baptists practice full immersion water baptism and children and members of the families of those being baptized were invited forward to the platform to witness the baptism. Nine individuals were baptized yesterday by pastor Bunton. Believe it or not, but the early church practiced full immersion baptism until 1311 when the Roman church changed from immersion to pouring.

After the baptism, people were asked to stand and identify themselves if they were visiting. A packet of information about the church was given to each of them. Personally, I think this practice keeps many people from 2nd visits, but it must work for Greater Friendship; it seems to be part of their church DNA.  A  “meet n’ greet” time was then announced, governed by a countdown clock on the monitors, roughly about five minutes. I was warmly greeted by many, although some of those heartfelt crunches were painful for my arthritic thumbs. (Next time I’ll wear a sturdy hand brace.) 

Meet n’ Greet Time – Greater Friendship Baptist

While the offering was taken up, the congregation began to spontaneously sing the traditional gospel song, “I Know it Was the Blood” which in nine verses describes the crucifixion. The pastor joined in with a call and response form of singing. (see lyrics below)

Another prayer was offered at this time, by another woman. It was a spirit-filled prayer that one rarely hears prayed in church services anymore. It was followed by the song “The Battle is not Yours”, sung by a woman who sang sincerely and wonderfully. There is so much talent in this church.

Pastor Bunton Singing – Greater Friendship Baptist

By this time, an hour had passed and it was time for the pastor to speak.  Bunton restated he’d be doing a series on worship, and yesterday’s installment was “What’s Stopping You from Worshiping God?”.  Beginning with Hebrews 10:25, he continued on to pose some key questions about things stopping congregants from worshiping God. He mentioned:

  • don’t feel like it because we’re fearful
  • we’re embarrassed
  • we feel condemnation
  • we feel a lack of worthiness

I enjoy Bunton’s method and style of preaching.  He’s a good speaker and has an easy to follow outline for his thoughts. The monitors display his points, and Bible references to them.  He’s very direct, telling it like it is and does not soften the blows.  He is an encouraging pastor helping his congregation to live a more Christian life, and to grow in the knowledge of the word.  They are putting their youth front and center in Christian service.  He said the solution to many of the problems in their neighborhood was not criticizing the youth, pimps, prostitutes, and addicts, but getting them into the church house and into the Word of God.

You can watch the entire 2-hour service through their Facebook link. Apparently they do not feed the audio from the sound system into the live video so it is incredibly difficult to follow as the microphone must be located in the back of the church. I hope they fix this soon, as I find the feed distracting from and otherwise worthy church service.

Bunton ended each service with an altar call, which ultimately included more than half the church. He mentioned that several people he’d hoped would come up didn’t. I heard Rev Patterson of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church use the same remark at my last visit there.  It’s one of the things that makes me personally leery of altar calls. They come across as being somewhat manipulative.  That’s a hallmark of Southern Baptists and many other evangelical religions.

Overall, I really enjoyed my second visit to this fine, growing church.  I felt more welcomed and accepted there than I do in many of my church visits locally.  They enjoy their music and so do I. If you are ready for a spiritual vitamin B-12 shot, I recommend a visit to this church !

I Know It Was The Blood lyrics

Chris Thompson


Short-term missions have problems. Here’s an alternative

Last week I wrote about the flood of missions tourists coming into Alaska, and those who are leaving Alaska with the same goal in mind. Since then I’ve had an opportunity to speak with a missions representative from Africa visiting Anchorage to support the mission efforts of Faith Christian Community.

But before I share more about Faith Christian Community, it’s important to set the framework.

In his compelling 2011 book “Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (and How to Reverse It),” Robert Lupton wrote: “In the last fifty years, (Africa) has received $1 trillion in benevolent aid. How effective has this aid been? Country by country, Africans are far worse off today than they were a half century ago. Overall per-capita income is lower today than in the 1970s. Over half of Africa’s 700 million population lives on less than $1 a day. Life expectancy has stagnated, and adult literacy has plummeted below pre-1980 levels.” Lupton argues that this scenario resulted from created dependency and the destruction of personal initiative, due in part to government aid programs, well-meaning NGOs and missions programs. He also links this to U.S. efforts to eliminate poverty through entitlements, programs and charities, “creating a permanent underclass, dismantling their family structures, and eroding their ethic of work.”

Many Protestant denominations in Alaska host missions teams, primarily from the Lower 48, to work on churches, ministries and church camps. Often, these well-meaning individuals perform work for which congregations could and should be directly taking  responsibility, but create dependencies because the local attitude is that someone will always do it.

David George, director of missions for the 54-church Chugach Baptist Association (Southern Baptist), calls these groups “partners.” Cleaning up on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers or in Kodiak at the Crab Festival Outreach are important activities for their group of churches.

“In the summer these teams help us in 16 neighborhood parks where we feed children a healthy lunch (they don’t get school lunch in the summer) and conduct Bible Clubs afterwards. Our newer and smaller churches count on the mission teams to help them in promotion, prayer walking and the ministry at the parks,” said George.

“Along with the physical help, the teams bring financial resources that help our small and financially struggling congregations,” he added. “Without their financial assistance, we could not do the ministries noted.”

Some short-term missioners, here and in foreign countries, expect to be tourists, which creates problems. George noted that they’ve experienced this too.

“The only time a mission team has been a hindrance or problem is when they come and expect the local church to host their sight-seeing trip to Alaska. We know those on teams want to experience Alaska and we help them plan a day or two for that, but we need them to work while they are here,” he said. “Some teams, and only a very few, come expecting to be catered to and the churches be a guide for their Alaska vacation. When teams act this way, we make a mental note and never invite them back again.”

That happens in foreign short-term missions too. Many teams are more interested in local sightseeing than the mission itself.

Dayo Obewaya, who is based in Nigeria and serves as the West Africa area coordinator for Community Health Evangelism, told me some ridiculous tales of “short-term missionaries” who were uneasy with local food, water and housing accommodations in the countries he covers. Some went so far as to refuse to drink local water, requiring it be imported from Great Britain — clearly not an inexpensive proposition.

Last year, Southern Baptists announced cutbacks of 600-800 foreign missionaries and support staff due to financial shortfalls. Earlier this year, the total lost was revealed to be 1,132 missionaries. I wonder if any of this is due in part to short-missions adventuring by Southern Baptists, leading to a decline in giving. The saddest part of this story is that many were already the most seasoned, knew the landscape and had made the commitment to serve.

Over the past couple of years, Faith Christian Community has trained more than 100 members in their community health evangelism program, part of the Global CHE Network. They equip local members to serve in their own community, and, if God calls, to other parts of the world. CHE is a worldwide program with training at its core. It addresses poverty in all its forms (physical health, economic, spiritual and social). Obewaya networks with mission organizations and churches in West Africa and beyond. I think CHE and Faith Christian Community have discovered part of the solution and have already put it to work in our local community. I wish more churches were as Alaska-focused as they are.

I’ve come to the conclusion that most branches of Christianity contend with short-term missions problems. Alaska is spectacular and more convenient for Lower 48 churches than other destinations. As such, it is a magnet for people who desire to do a “mission” because it’s such a great place. However, the resources most useful here may not be those being provided. How many come to Alaska to serve without an adequate knowledge of our cultures and their differences from those of the Lower 48? How many think that showing local churches money, hard labor and service projects will rectify our dismal church attendance rate of 1 in 4 attending weekly?

As with foreign-directed short-term missions, we need to seriously think about what is accomplished by missions in Alaska. Is it adventurism, tourism or patching issues? How much good can one week in Alaska accomplish? Proselytizing, or sheep stealing, is clearly not the answer and has provoked distress in many villages. Thoughtful training and preparation of local members, such as at Faith Christian Community, might possibly be the best answer.

About the Author

Chris Thompson

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who has been visiting Anchorage and other local area churches for over 15 years. Go to his website, churchvisits.com, or follow him on Twitter  at twitter.com/churchvisits or email at churchvisits@gmail.com.

How local churches use — or don’t use — traditional Christian creeds

Christian creeds, developed during the early days of the church, are summary statements of Christian belief.

One of the earliest, the Apostles’ Creed, had developed by the fourth century from predecessors that may date as far back as the first or second century. In its current form it reads: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He arose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.”

A number of creeds have developed over the course of church history. The Nicene Creed resulted from the Council of Nicea (325 A.D.). Athanasius, the fourth century bishop of Alexandria, has a creed named after him, the Athanasian Creed (500 A.D.), which clearly distinguishes the doctrine of the Trinity.

Visiting local churches, I find creeds commonly used in liturgically oriented churches such as Catholic, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Lutheran and Orthodox. Most evangelical churches that don’t use creeds tend to have statements of belief, sometimes quite lengthy ones. The Seventh-day Adventist church, one of the fastest growing evangelical denominations in the U.S., uses “28 Fundamental Beliefs” as its core statement and test of fellowship.

A local evangelical exception is ChangePoint.

“We do believe in and express the Apostles’ Creed in its original form without the statement ‘He descended into hell,’”  says teaching pastor Dan Jarrell. “We do it because we agree with its theology and believe it has been a unifying creed in the church for almost 2,000 years. It is a ‘focal statement’ of orthodox theology, and singing it and reciting it are ‘focal practices.’”

Southern Baptists comprise the largest evangelical Protestant denomination in the U.S.

“Southern Baptists do not subscribe to a creed and firmly believe in the Priesthood of the Believer,” says Dr. David George, director of missions for the Chugach Baptist Association. “This means that we do not rely on any hierarchy to decree how we are to interpret scripture, but it is left up to the individual, his church, and the Holy Spirit.”

Evangelical pastor Mike Merriner of Clear Water Church says his congregation occasionally recites the Apostles’ Creed as they sometimes borrow material from the Book of Common Prayer.

“I like the idea of creeds, because a community of faith should share core beliefs,” he said. “In fact, it would concern me if a member of our church was not in agreement with the Apostles’ Creed.”

Episcopal churches generally use the Nicene Creed before the Eucharist and the Apostles’ Creed before baptisms.

“The Apostles’ Creed is probably the least controversial creed of the Christian faith since it does not contain the Filioque clause that the Nicene Creed in the West has — a point of continued difference between the Church of the East (Orthodox) and the Latin Church(es),” says All Saints Episcopal Church’s pastor David Terwilliger. “Filioque” is a Latin phrase added to the Nicene Creed essentially indicating that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father “and Son.”

“At various seasons of the church year, we also use the ‘Jesus Creed’ in worship, a devotional prayer first shared by Brian McLaren at a conference in Nashville in 2004,” says Rector Michael Burke of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. “It has evoked strong feelings and some deep thought among participants in worship, as evidenced by many follow-up conversations with people and in small groups. Because of this experience, I believe that people are also interacting with the traditional Nicene Creed in a new way, and not just reciting it in an unreflective or rote way.”

“The ancient creeds are still relevant today in a world where new and old Christian denominations invent and rearrange their understanding of the faith,” says pastor Rick Cavens of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Wasilla.”They fought for a common understanding of the faith around 300 A.D.; we still do, and need to.” He notes they use the Apostles’ Creed every Sunday, and, “once a year we may use the Athanasian Creed; which means you get a long service. It’s all about the Trinity and the historical tie to the early church.”

Rev. Anthony Patalano, pastor of Holy Family Cathedral, says the Nicene Creed is basically the only one used at that congregation, where it is said by the priest and congregation after the homily.

“When I got to Anchorage in 2011, the translation of the Nicene Creed was changed to be more faithful to the Latin text,” he added.

For an Eastern Orthodox view of creedal use I turned to Rev Marc Dunaway, pastor of St. John Orthodox Cathedral in Eagle River.

“We say the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed every Sunday as part of our Liturgy,” Dunaway said. “It is sometimes called just the Nicene Creed or commonly in Orthodox Churches simply the Symbol of Faith. We recite the Creed in the original form it was written by the first and second Ecumenical Councils, that is, without the phrase which was later added in the western Church, known in Latin as the ‘filioque.’ Orthodox hold it was wrong to unilaterally change a Creed written by Ecumenical Councils, and also this change diminishes the understanding of the role of Holy Spirit in the Church.”

“More importantly, we use this Creed first of all as a profession of faith when one prepares for Baptism. Within the Divine Liturgy, it is also an ongoing affirmation of what we believe about certain essential doctrines.”

I like creeds and choke up sometimes when I repeat them. They are meaningful expressions of what one believes. Too many churches and denominations use hundreds or even thousands of words to be explicit about their beliefs. I enjoy hearing and saying core Christian beliefs expressed in minimal words.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, churchvisits.com.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any Web browser.

Re-examining the meaning of Advent

This Sunday, Advent Sunday, signals two significant events in many denominations. First, the church year for many mainline denominations begins. Second, Advent begins: an annual period of about four weeks before Christmas, which for 1,500 years has been marked by fasting, repentance, hoping and prayerfully pondering the first and second Advents. Advent offers real meaning to the season, especially providing teachable moments for children and those new to the Christian faith. While Advent is primarily observed by Catholic and Orthodox churches, as well as mainline Protestant denominations such as Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Lutheran and Congregational, other denominations are also slowly adopting its observance.

Sadly, for many Christians, Advent only marks the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas when expensive holiday decorations go up in, on and around their houses. Then too, parents ponder, and often agonize over, what they are going to give family members and themselves for Christmas. The National Retail Federation survey for Christmas 2015 finds that holiday shoppers plan to spend an average $463 on family members, up from $458 last year and the highest in survey history. Average spending per person is expected to reach $805, with more than half of shoppers planning to splurge on non-gift items for themselves.

Contrast this with the loving charity embedded in Baxter Road Bible Church’s December giving program, where all church income is donated to those in need in this community. Pastor Bob Mather told me this week that, to date, $300,000 has been donated to “to help the poor, the needy and those going through a hard time.” Members suggest which local organizations receive this aid.

“We have found that the more generous we are, the better off we are financially,” Mather says. “You truly cannot out-give God.” BRBC’s program goes under the title “It’s Not Your Birthday.” That’s such an excellent idea. A few other local churches might designate one Christmas offering for this purpose, but December’s offerings? Incredible!

“The joy of God goes through the poverty of the manger and the agony of the cross; that is why it is invincible, irrefutable,” wrote Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. While imprisoned in Germany during World War II, he penned some thoughts to friends reflecting on the Advent season. “It does not deny the anguish, when it is there, but finds God in the midst of it, in fact precisely there; it does not deny grave sin but finds forgiveness precisely in this way; it looks death straight in the eye, but it finds life precisely within it.” Advent goes much deeper than much of what we see and experience in most churches.

Changing attitudes are slowly being seen in other denominations, such as Southern Baptists, where Advent is not a core tradition. Joe Carter, communications specialist for The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, in an article titled “Southern Baptists and Advent: Four Things to Know” that acknowledges changing attitudes in that denomination, writes: “With the exception of Christmas and Easter, Southern Baptist congregations in America generally do not observe the days of the Western church calendar. Instead, they tend to follow the pattern of the Puritans, who believed following the liturgical calendar violated their liberty of conscience (many Puritans refused to celebrate any holidays besides the Lord’s Day). Some Baptist churches, however, have begun to incorporate Advent observance in their preparations for Christmas.”

Traditional Advent music looks forward to the coming of the Messiah, and a traditional observance of Advent avoids Christmas carols, which are are reserved for celebrating the birth of Jesus on Christmas Eve. The watchful anticipation expressed in these hymns — such as “Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel” or “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” — is part of the attraction of Advent. From the perspective of one observing a traditional liturgical calendar, singing Christmas songs during Advent would be like a spoiler for a movie you were looking forward to seeing. Nevertheless, many congregations do so. Last year, when I asked a pastor why his congregation was singing carols during Advent, I was told they skipped traditional Advent hymns in favor of more cheerful music.

Advent sermons often address the key themes of each Advent Sunday: hope, love, joy and peace. They’re linked to the four purple Advent candles in a wreath of evergreen, lit in order each Sunday as a new theme is taken up.. On Christmas Eve, a white candle in the center of the wreath is lit to signify Jesus, the light of the world.

Theologian Walter Brueggemann, in a sermon titled “The What and the When of the Christ Child,” said: “People like us have careful work to do in Advent, to weave our way between two big dangers. On the one hand, there are dangerous people floating around the church who specialize in times and dates and schedules, who know with precision the time of Christ’s coming and who speak confidently of millennia and pre-millennia and post-millennia. … They know too much and reduce God’s freedom to the timetable of their ideology. On the other hand, there are dangerous people floating around the church who are offended by those people, and who in reaction are in love with their comfortable affluence and who imagine that it will not get any better than this, and who expect no gospel arrival at any time ever. People like us live in that awkward place amid those who know too much and those who expect nothing.”

Advent is a wonderful time to challenge and strengthen your faith and can be a useful force for sharing and Christian growth.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog,churchvisits.com.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.