Last Monday and Tuesday I gathered with about 150 other folks at the annual New Baptist Covenant Summit in Atlanta. New Baptist Covenant has been a critical partner in our renewed relationship with FBC on New St. over these past two years. Last year we solidified our commitment not only to our brothers and sisters around the corner and the wider work of racial justice, but also to NBC when we included them as a "partner organization" in our annual church budget.
The featured speaker at this year's summit was none other than Congressman John Lewis: Representative for the 5th District of our state of Georgia, Civil Rights icon, and American hero. Rep. Lewis was honored with the inaugural Ella Baker Justice Award, and in his words Tuesday evening, encouraged us to "get in the way."
"Getting in the way" was Rep. Lewis's distillation of his work organizing the March to Montgomery, which is largely credited with being the final motivation to pass the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. The status quo has a way of grinding on, day after day, week after week, year after year, generation after generation, until ordinary people make an effort to "get in the way." This getting in the way often comes at a cost--Rep. Lewis suffered a fractured skull during the infamous Bloody Sunday crackdown by Montgomery law enforcement. But in the end "getting in the way" is necessary to bring about change.
Members of the New Baptist Covenant Board had an opportunity to gather with Rep. Lewis for a brief time, which I will remember for the rest of my life. In a manner similar to President Jimmy Carter, whom I had the pleasure to meet, as many of you have, at his church in Plains, GA, Rep. Lewis has a warmth about him that is difficult to describe but impossible to miss. He speaks with passion, but also humility. He's honest about the challenges before us as a country, but also quick to point out how far we've come. And he's absolutely insistent that we need not--must not--give up hope. I doubt there's a more critical message for these times.
As for New Baptist Covenant, our work continues. This will be a pivotal year, as we focus our energies and efforts on nurturing more Covenants of Action such as the one we share with our friends from New St. Hannah McMahan, daughter of our members Jennifer and Craig McMahan, continues to do an outstanding job as executive director. Other staffing changes were a challenge over the past year, but the board feels we're positioned to move forward positively. Funding is secured in the short term, but continues to be a challenge in the long term. The board is hopeful that other churches will take steps similar to ours and include NBC in their budgets. If you would like to personally make a donation, follow this link.
And yet the greatest challeng facing the organization is no different from the challenge facing our congregation and even us as individuals: the need is so great, and the opportunities so vast, but we must focus on what we can do best. The question before us must always be: what are we/what am I uniquely prepared to offer?
I'm grateful for the ways our congregation continues to answer this question, and look forward to the ways in which NBC will answer as well.