Baptist Routes Pilgrimage – Day 2 – DC

Our second day of the pilgrimage involved a day in Washington, D.C. In First Baptist Church in the City of Washington, D.C., we both recorded Epiphany homilies. It is difficult to write a homily or sermon a few days before it is heard now because of how quickly the news changes. So these homilies that we preached in D.C. were difficult. We had to leave space and be fairly general in referring to the time we were occupying.

We chose D.C. for Epiphany because Epiphany is the celebration of the Magi journeying to Jesus’ manger. They represent the “nations.” Epiphany is the a hopeful celebration of the nations coming together to bear witness to the Divine that they have experienced. The way D.C. is a crossroads for cultures of our world, we thought it would be best to use our time in the nation’s capital to talk about cultures coming together for greater causes. It is easy to talk about cultures coming together and imagine people of different ethnic backgrounds. But, D.C. showed us that cultures can be interpreted so much more broadly.

There is a certain culture in each political party. Churches have particular cultures. Unifying cultures exist among those who are in the same industry or business.

In D.C., cultures come together to make life better for their individual groups and for cultural outsiders. It seems as though right now, we could only hope for more coming together. Democrats and Republicans seem to face-off about something new everyday. Even within each party, there are sub-cultures who tear down the other side in order to boost themselves. Beyond the political realm, there are hundreds of embassies in the capital area. Within one block of First Baptist Church in the City, sat the Embassy of Kazakhstan and the Embassy of the Philippines. While we preached, the construction machinery could be heard building another embassy directly beside First Baptist Church. Churches work with other faith communities to stand up for the least of these within the city.

Interestingly enough, while in the capital area within the District, every church we saw had some way of speaking to the cultural moment in which we find ourselves. Whether it was through colorful murals, savvy signs, or lively flags, each church we saw engaged with the social ills of the day with their building.

St. John’s Church, directly across from the White House, not only covered its main church sign with a large “Black Lives Matter” sign, but they also painted the plywood protecting their stained glass windows from projectiles. On the plywood pieces covering the windows, there are colorful representations of black and brown heroes. A much larger plywood mural sits in the middle of their two buildings showing Archbishop Desmond Tutu saying, “Ubuntu,” the famous South African phrase that means, “I am because we are.”

We’ve learned that ministry in any city requires a sense of ubuntu. Ministry for a downtown church means that it will be committed to the “we” of the city. Their problems will be our problems and their success will be our success.

Cultures coming together means so much more than just sitting down at the table with one another, although right now that seems like a lot to ask for. The Epiphany challenge is to come together in more profound ways. Our day in Washington, D.C. has challenged us to think about the way our own church engages in the “we” of Savannah. Within our congregation, we do have cultures that come together (albeit metaphorically right now). Our growing edge is to be so connected to the city that our “we” includes people who might never walk through the doors of 223 Bull St.