Thanks be to God for church

August 30, 2009
Kevin Sinclair, Minister to Youth

Kevin Sinclair, Minister to Youth

I think I have figured out which season I am.

My second year of divinity school, my theology prof, Dr. Frank Tupper, delivered a lecture called, “The Seasons of Spirituality,” in which he sought to affirm the uniqueness and diversity of the spiritual journey. Beginning with Summer, Frank explained that the person who embodies summer-y spirituality lives perpetually in light and hope of the empty tomb; all is sunshine and roses. These are the kind of folks when you ask them how they are, they say, “Well, I am just so blessed!” My mom is totally a Summer person, and I love her for it because it rubbed off on me! The other side of the coin is the Christian who embodies a Spirituality of Winter. Shadowed by an old, rugged cross, these folk live lives plagued by painful questions that never seem to discover answers. Like Jacob, they spend their lives wrestling with God by the riverside, gaining only more questions (and a nasty limp). Frank gave us two warnings though: 1) no one can be exclusively summer or winter, because we are all a funny mixture of doubt and faith, and 2) the one should be very careful as to not judge the other–the summer-y is not superficial and naive and the winter-y is not consumed by their own woundedness and faithlessness.

The truth of the matter is that we need each other.

We have a tendency as humans to categorize. Boxes are helpful. They make sense. By identifying, clarifying, and naming we lay claim to things, places, peoples, and ideologies. So, I write this a bit tongue-in-cheek, because I am doing just that, but this is a helpful practice to give us a sense of location in trying to understand each other, I believe. This categorizing is often born out of the curiosity to understand–to know–and that is good and right for us to do. Nonetheless, human beings are not the sum of their theologies, ideologies, ethnicities, genders, political leanings, faith perspectives, hopes, and dreams. We are who we are–the children of God created the prismatic beauty of God’s image. So, I said that to say, I believe that I naturally gravitate towards a Spirituality of Spring. While surrounded by, “the bleak midwinter, Frosty wind made moan, Earth stood hard as iron, Water like a stone,” the reality of resurrection courses through my veins giving me the hope and courage to declare,

Vain the stone, the watch, the seal, Alleluia!

Christ hath burst the gates of hell, Alleluia!

Death in vain forbids His rise, Alleluia!

Christ hath opened paradise, Alleluia!

This is the hope that gets me out of bed in the morning and gives my life purpose and meaning. Out of the cold, dark winter, the light and hope of spring breaks forth.

Recently, my Aunt Ann died. Her death was a devastating shock for the family, and to be honest rattled me more than any death I have experienced up to this point in my life. When my cousin Rodney died, he suffered from a tragic, pugnacious form of cancer that slowly devoured his body…but could not conquer his soul. We sat with Rodney. We prayed with Rodney. We were able to say goodbye to Rodney. But, when Aunt Ann left, there was no farewell, not even a moment to share one last laughter or tear. Although, with bitter ends come sweet beginnings.

As I prepared to leave so that I might grieve with my family, I was met by waves of kindness, compassion, and love from a family I have grow to love and know over the past year of my life–South Main. After my mom called me that sunny Thursday morning to tell me what happened, I wept in my office for a good ten or fifteen minutes as our 9:00 staff meeting approached. When, I say to you that I love the people I work with, I mean with all sincerity and honesty that those seven other people with whom I sit around that conference table every Monday and Thursday are some of the finest friends I have known in my short 27 years. As if that was not enough, my youth–my sweet, precious youth–sent the kindest words of affirmation and peace, and the well wishes from all my delightful parents were absolutely breath-taking. And, sure enough, at the funeral home in Fort Smith, Arkansas, there stood a beautiful floral arrangement with the words scratched into the card, “With Love…From South Main Baptist Church.” That previous Sunday morning while I was still in Dallas with my family, I went to my home church, arrived entirely too early, and wandered the halls trying to figure out which Sunday School class I was supposed to be in and where everyone else was. I felt like a visitor. A stranger in a strange land. Then, in a moment of clarity I thought, “I miss South Main.” Don’t get me wrong, I will forever hold the most sacred love for Royal Lane, but I realized that my home was some place else now. I am a Houstonian. I am a South Mainer.

During the funeral, I watched as numerous people rose to take the microphone to speak a kind word about my Aunt Ann. With each memorial offered, my soul resonated deeper and deeper with the words, “Thanks be to God for church.” I am a churchman deep in my marrow, and I have been called to and accepted the call to live my life among the consecrated and commissioned Community of Christ, but even when all my theological chips are down and all pretense and erudition are stripped away, church is the place where I know faith still inspires, hope still stirs, and love still conquers the hardest of hearts. We don’t always get it perfect or right, but that is because none of us are perfect or right. When we do get it right though, and we learn to love each other–from the YAC to the Men’s Bible Class–and love the weary and the hungry–from Collique to Peggy’s Point–the Holy Spirit gathers the broken fragments of this world and weaves us into the People of God.

Apparently, I was just too close to the picture to see what goodness God could salvage out of the messiness and tragedy of death. Even in the winter of grief and loss, I witnessed resurrection by discovering a new sense of home, a new family, and friends with whom I might walk the journey.

Thanks be to God for church.



The Choir Director’s Perspective

August 26, 2009
Thomas Coker, Minister to Music

Thomas Coker, Minister to Music

Singing for the Astros game was pretty fun.

It’s a daunting walk on the beautiful grass in the middle of the field of Minute Maid Park. You get out there in front of God and everybody – including the ball players warming up and you feel a little “whelmed” as Pat Hardesty described it. When we got on the field, left fielder, Carlos Lee was warming up in the outfield as time to sing the National Anthem was drawing close. I was thinking “you boys are throwing the ball a little too close to the choir for my comfort. We don’t have any gloves here in the choir! Do you mind moving over just a little.”

As the clock was counting down to start, Carlos, who by this time was very close to the choir, held the baseball and moved right behind the tenors as we were confirming the pitch to start singing. I was motioning for the tenors to give their attention forward rather than chat with with the “new singer”. They did a good job of getting their concentration back, faced forward with the right pitch, and we began to sing with big Carlos Lee, towering above the choir complete with the mischievous grin of a little boy who knows he’s both being cute and doing something just a little risky, joining in the singing. It cracked me up! I understand that he was not much help on finding that high F# pitch the tenors had to sing near the end of the arrangement, but hey, he had the right colored shirt on and fit right in.  It was pretty cute and a lot of fun.

Oh, by the way, the choir did a great job singing the National Anthem!  To God be the Glory!



Carlos Lee sings National Anthem with South Main Choir at Astros game

August 23, 2009
Carlos Lee and South Main Choir

Carlos Lee sings with the South Main Baptist Church Choir

Astros left fielder, Carlos Lee, surprised South Main Baptist Church’s Sanctuary Choir by joining in the singing of the National Anthem today.  This clip shows Lee singing with the choir as well as Minister to Music, Thomas Coker leader the choir.

SMBC Choir and Carlos Lee sing National Anthem

SMBC Choir and Carlos Lee sing National Anthem

Carlos, we are always looking for new choir members.  Come join us any Wednesday night or Sunday that you have free!

Marry Me

August 19, 2009

Erin ConawayBy Erin Conaway, Associate Pastor

Alex and I were driving around town the other day and she mentioned to me that she was going to marry me.  I said, “You want to marry me?  Why is that?”  I admit I was hoping to stretch out this particular conversation as long as it would go because we’ve already had moments when she’s told me I’m a bad dad because I’m making her clean up her toys or brush her teeth or something as awful as sharing with her little brother, Sam.  So for the sake of balance, I decided to milk this one for all it’s worth.  She responded to my question with a beautiful little phrase I won’t soon forget, “Because you’re my nuff (a cute little term of endearment we share) and I want to be with you always and forever.”  My heart just melted.  I was a puddle of daddy goo in the front seat all noodle arms from her blast of love.  Then I took it one step too far and said, “But I’m married to mommy—what are we going to do about that?”  She looked at my watery eyes in the rear-view mirror and said without missing a beat, “Okay, then I’ll marry Sam—he’s nice.”

A few weeks later we were driving around again and listening to the Indigo Girls and I could gradually hear her singing louder and louder.  At one point I looked up and saw her little face in the mirror, filled with sincerity, gazing out of the window and singing with her whole heart.  Again, I was filled with wonder and love at my little girl, singing her heart out—not always on pitch or with the right words, but singing from her soul.

I think that’s what Psalmist’s meant when they wrote about making a joyful noise to God—as our heavenly parent, I can picture God loving every minute of our singing, regardless of our ability to sing like the members of our choir or our ability to get the words right or even understand them all.  And I know that in the same way I hear behind what my sweet little four year old says when she tells me she wants to marry me, God understands our fumbling attempts to give praise and offer thanksgiving for God’s love and provision in our lives.  We should tell God of our love, even if we’re sure we’re not going to get the words right.  And we should sing…from that place deep within us that’s longing to be heard.

Happy New Year, South Main

August 13, 2009

Amy GrizzleBy Amy Grizzle, Minister to Adults

School Supplies!  Yes, I was the child, and am still the adult, that gets excited about school supplies.  Each summer I eagerly awaited the Sunday paper at the end of July with the Sunday ads for School Supplies!  Clean, new Trapper Keepers (do they still make those?), unsharpened #2 pencils, lots of bright, sparkling, blank notebook paper, new markers that hadn’t dried up, and of course, a brand new box of Crayola crayons (complete with the sharpener) that enticingly begged you to be creative.

As a child who could care less about midnight parties and weight loss resolutions, School Supplies were the celebratory elements of my very own New Year.  Every year, a clean, fresh start, with new tools to help me navigate and create and it made me wonder what I would do differently, what I would learn.  Each new school year was an exciting and a scary new adventure filled both with unknowns and hopes that rattled my nerves, stirred my imagination, and inspired my heart.  College and even graduate school were nearly the same experience, minus, unfortunately, the box of Crayolas.

As summer moves closer to being a memory, we all have a chance to begin again.  Some of us begin again with children away at college for the first time or with the long dreaded empty nest, some of us begin new grades or new schools, some of us begin new jobs as Sunday School teachers or missions leaders.  We’ll soon have a new youth building and soon after that, we’ll have new construction on other parts of our building to help make it fresh and bright.  We have new ideas and new opportunities to re-engage and contribute to our shared life as a family of faith.

Will you consider joining a South Main at Home group in your new year?  Will you commit to engaging in and adding your gifts to our Sunday School Communities? We all have a chance to be reminded that each day can be that fresh, bright, energizing experience that begs you to be creative, inspires you to hope for what might happen, and a chance to walk with each other through all the phases and stages of life.  We all begin again as summer moves on and “fall” moves in. For those of us who move forward with excited hearts, may we share our joy.  For those of us who especially feel the trepidation and heaviness of transition, may we hold each others’ hands.

Happy New Year, South Main.

Not a joyful noise…

August 11, 2009

tom_williams-thumbBy Tom Williams, Church Administrator

I am as connected to my cell phone as any one.  It is really a lifeline to my family and work.  I remember when the first mobile phone for your car looked like a Princess Telephone!  I know that I am not willing to give it up.

I can tell you that if my cell phone is bothersome to my wife and family during a meal or social time with friends, it is really that and more to worshipers.  I encourage all church goers to make it a part of their getting ready for church process to disable the ring on your cell phone.  A ringing phone is not a joyful noise!

Let’s all try to enjoy and participate in  weekly worship without the ringing of a cell phone.  God will not be calling you via you cell phone.  One hour without the ringing of a phone might be viewed as a blessing to all.

12 things I love about South Main

August 5, 2009
By Steve Rader:
1. The people and how they genuinely accept you for who you are and where you are in your faith. I started going to South Main when I was at Rice and there were several occasions when I had been out partying that weekend… and they knew it… but they never judged me… rather they made me feel like I was in the right place. That spirit of “hey, we are all struggling here, better we struggle together than alone” is true and genuine.  

2. These people are all of the best parts of what it means to be a Baptist without all of the negatives that most people equate with Baptists. We have great sharing about doubt, relationships, creation, science, society and how it all relates to our relationship with God. I have yet to come across a taboo subject! Not everyone agrees, but everyone I’ve met is willing to listen, share, and discuss. 

3. The beautiful sanctuary! I remember just sitting in awe of that room when I first started going there. It surrounds you. I still feel that way. (Not to mention the memories of our wedding, all of my daughter’s dedications, Anna’s baptism, and Dolores’ call to ministry.)

4. The ministers and leadership of the church is great. Sermons and Bible studies are interesting, thought provoking, and for me, a way that I connect with God. The crazy thing is that the ministers is just the tip of the spear. I’ve never been at a church where there are so many amazingly talented people engaged in leading and working in so many activities (from missions to child-care to FPU to SEARCH to SMILE to ….).

5. The amazing people that are there for you, even when you don’t realize it. Don’t believe me? Just have something bad happen to you and suddenly you find yourself surrounded by them.

6. The children’s ministry is really great. OK… I’m not just saying that because of Dolores (although I have to admit I’m biased). The Kid’s Nights Out are win/win/win for kids/parents/South Main (just ask the people rotating through as volunteers working with the kids… it is great). The crazy thing is that I’ve always been weary of crossing that line from teaching kids to “indoctrinating” them… but what I see going on is much more conversational learning. AND I keep hearing parents say that their kids WANT to come to church events (I’m pretty sure that was not what I told my parents when I was a kid).

7. I am constantly surprised by the seniors. As I get to know some of them, I find these amazing people, with amazing stories who so active and engaging. There are several that encourage me in ways that inspire me.

8. The youth group…. It is wild to me that so many kids from so many different schools can come together and form such a tight, fun group. I’m looking forward to this fall when Anna starts.

9. The ministries and activities of South Main! WOW! The list is impressive (SMILE, OSA-Peru, Shoes for Orphans, Peggy’s Point, SEARCH, EAC, FPU, Buckner After School, Cambodian & Spanish congregations, KidQuest, Guatemalan orphans, BachToBroadway, South Main @ Home, ….). However, what impresses and inspires me more is the fact that so many of the ministries are started and lead by people in the church. It is great to be able to plug into so many things that truly make a difference.

10. The pledge that we all say together (by memory) whenever a someone new joins: “We pledge ourselves to be the family of God for you in this place. We offer you our love, our joy, our kinship and our hopes. We hope to learn from you, give to you and receive from you by God’s grace.”

11. The amazing music and music programs. You sometimes just get caught up in it.


12.  (OK… I just had to add this one) Those chocolate cookies with coconut in them that they don’t serve often enough on Wednesday evenings.

Steve Rader lives in Clear Lake (Southeast Houston) with his wife, Dolores (who is also the Minister to Children at South Main Baptist Church) and three daughters. He and Dolores have been attending South Main since 1993. He currently teaches Bible study in the Faithworks community, facilitates for Financial Peace University, and chairs the Church’s outreach committee. Steve works at NASA where he works on software and computer systems for the next generation spacecraft.

There are hurting children everywhere…

August 3, 2009

happyshoepicToday, there are more than 143 million orphans around the globe. Children without a voice… children who need love. There are children in crisis who need safety… who need care. Buckner provides an array of services to meet the needs of children around the world. Shoes for Orphan Souls is Buckner International’s largest humanitarian aid project, collecting and distributing more than 1.8 million pairs of new shoes since its inception in 1999. South Main Baptist Church began its participation in 2000. Through the generous support of members, South Main has contributed over 55,000 pairs of new shoes toward the project. This generosity has helped children around the world experience God’s love and hope.

Once again, you can make a difference in a child’s life.

New shoes can now be brought to the Welcome Center at South Main Baptist Church. If you prefer to make a cash donation, you may do so by writing a check to South Main and indicating that it’s for “Buckner Shoes.”

 Contact Henry Hill at 713-829-3989 for more information.