Baptists and Episcopalians celebrate season of combined worship

By Mary Thomas Watts
Posted May 23, 2013
The Rev. John Paddock and the Rev. Rodney Kennedy, far left, are joined by a combined choir of both congregations for the first worship service together. Photo/Greg Sexton

The Rev. John Paddock and the Rev. Rodney Kennedy, far left, are joined by a combined choir of both congregations for the first worship service together. Photo/Greg Sexton

[Diocese of Southern Ohio] The challenges were real, but the opportunities for a bold experiment in ecumenism outweighed them when the clergy and congregations of downtown Dayton’s Christ Episcopal Church and First Baptist Church worshiped together for five weeks in January and February.

When Christ Church learned that demolition of two of its deteriorating chapel walls would block the main and only disabled-accessible entrance to “The Great Lady of First Street,” the Rev. John Paddock, rector, immediately called his friend and colleague, the Rev. Rodney W. Kennedy, pastor at First Baptist, to ask if the Episcopalians could use space at First Baptist during this phase of the building project.

What Paddock had in mind was the Christ Church congregation worshiping at noon or later on Sundays. But when Kennedy suggested that the two congregations worship and do Christian education together, Paddock eagerly accepted his invitation.

The Episcopal and Baptist congregations joined together for Christian education as well as worship. Photo/Greg Sexton

The Episcopal and Baptist congregations joined together for Christian education as well as worship. Photo/Greg Sexton

“John and I are not only friends and colleagues, but we share a passion for social justice and racial reconciliation. Our joint worship was a natural for both of us. For a number of years, the rest of the First Baptist staff and I have worshiped at Christ Church every Wednesday, and the Order of Worship at First Baptist Church already came mostly from The Book of Common Prayer,” Kennedy said.

On his first Sunday in the First Baptist pulpit, Paddock said: “Different polities, different traditions, different amounts of water used in baptism, different ways of gathering and praising God. Sharing worship? How’s that work? Well, we’re going to find out. It’s so intriguing that both the Baptist and Episcopal press services and The Christian Century magazine are asking questions about this experiment. They’re really interested in how it will turn out. I can’t wait to find out myself!”

Each pastor approached the combined worship with his own particular hopes. For Kennedy, it was “that we would realize our commonalities as fellow Christians, and I wanted my congregation to experience the strength, consolation and meaning of weekly Communion.”

To what extent was that hope fulfilled? “The congregation responded in magnificent ways, but they weren’t ready to continue weekly Communion,” he said. “At least the possibility is now part of our conversation. When a church evaluates her practices, there is always a chance for genuine change.”

A representative response from the pews came from Linda Brown, a longtime First Baptist member, who said, “What really impressed me was the ease with which we came together as one body to worship Christ our Lord. An added energy was present. As the weeks went on, when I walked into the sanctuary, I didn’t see Episcopalians or Baptists. I just saw the family of God.”

Paddock’s hope was “that no one would be too put out over the five weeks that we would be out of our building. I was telling folks to think of it like going on a field trip. And the responses were overwhelmingly positive. By the end, people were trying to find excuses to keep going. The choirs are plotting reunions.”

Christ Church parishioner and choir member Carole Ganim noted, “Many of us in the two churches know one another in other contexts: neighborhoods, work, community activism. We live, play and work together and share common interests, so worshiping together does not seem unusual, but rather a natural development and a welcome part of community life. And I loved singing with a big choir. We all want to do more of this.”

Youth from both traditions served at the altar during the combined services of Christ Episcopal Church and First Baptist Church. Photo/Greg Sexton

Youth from both traditions served at the altar during the combined services of Christ Episcopal Church and First Baptist Church. Photo/Greg Sexton

Kennedy and Paddock agreed that their greatest challenge was working out the logistics of consecrating and distributing the elements, which included wine and grape juice, during Communion. According to Kennedy, this was the first time wine ever was served at First Baptist Church.

“It got a whole lot easier once we clergy relaxed about it and trusted the Holy Spirit and the people to work it out,” Paddock said. “Isn’t that always the way?”

For Kennedy, the most memorable aspect of the experience was “the smooth integration of word and table. So powerful. We already pretty much used Episcopal worship, but to participate in it fully lifted me on high.”

What resonated for Paddock were “the joyous, full sound of the combined choirs, the full church and genuine hospitality – every week there were numerous expressions of thanks to us for coming to First Baptist Church.”

While acknowledging the role his and Paddock’s long-term friendship played in the successful collaboration, Kennedy said credit belonged “mostly to the Christian faith of two progressive churches that embrace hospitality, love of neighbor, openness to diversity and mutual respect.”

Enthusiasm for the experiment was contagious and ongoing. Paddock said. “Local interest is amazing. Just today, my dentist’s receptionist quizzed me about ‘the worship with the Baptists,’ and two days ago a Methodist pastor in a coffee shop wanted to know how it had gone.

Collaboration and cooperation are so rare these days, when something like this occurs, it’s real news.”

As for the broader ecumenical implications of the collaboration, Paddock reflected: “When we can figure out how to praise God together, not in some watered-down way, but out of the depth of our separate traditions, then we can experience a true gift.”

This article first appeared in the April/May issue of Interchange, the publication of the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio. Mary Thomas Watts lives in Wilmington and is a member of Christ Church, Dayton.


Tags


Comments (14)

  1. Frank M Harrison says:

    Years ago I converted from being a Baptist to becoming an Episcopalian. I was not interested in worshiping with them then — I converted. I am not interested in worshiping with them now. I am an Episcopalian (whatever that means these days). It appears to me that a good part of the Episcopal Church simply wants to give away its heritage, theology, etc. I find this very sad.

  2. Joseph F Foster says:

    ‘When a church evaluates her practices, there is always a chance for genuine change.”

    There is also a chance for a considered decision to not change.

    1. John R Huff Jr says:

      And so, what is your point? Is it a good idea or not?

      1. Joseph F Foster says:

        What does your it refer to? I was talking about change. A congregation may decide they don’t want to change. Or must we assume every change is a good thing?

        If your it refers to weekly communion, it’s a good idea if people want it and a bad one if they don’t. Me, I don’t care. I haven’t received communion in about two dozen years.

  3. Christopher Lo says:

    In the late 90s, while serving as Music Director at St. Francis’ Episcopal Church in Houston, Diocese of Texas, I developed a very cordial musical relationship with the late Dr. Robert Reid, the then Music Minister of the Memorial Drive Baptist Church. Robert was also the Professor of Church Music at Houston Baptist University. Our two churches, both situated on Piney Point Road in the Memorial area of Houston, were divided by a mere fire lane, not even a fence.

    In the fullness of time, our adult choirs combined to sing major works on “high days and holy days,” and sometimes with orchestra too. This camaraderie allowed both choirs to perform musical repertoire which neither could have sung alone. Furthermore, we combined our Children’s Choirs under one director, a lady who had an excellent rapport with children, was familiar with children’s choir repertoire and musical teaching techniques too! Eventually there were also pulpit exchanges between the then Pastor of Memorial Drive Baptist Church, the Rev. Dr. Bob Newell, and the then Rector of St. Francis’ Episcopal Church, the Rev. Dr. Dick Petranek.

    In April, 2008, after Robert Reid and I had both left the above mentioned churches, I commissioned him to write a composition for a conference organized by the Multicultural Commission of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas and held at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church, entitled “Thy Kingdom Come, Music in a Multicultural Church.” Robert’s composition, entitled “What language,” based on the text of Psalm 19, and the chorale “O Sacred Head,” was performed jointly by the combined choirs of Christ Is the Answer Church – Mugu’s House Ministries (an indigenous Houston congregation who speaks Swahili in worship); the Houston Chinese Church, and Iglesia Episcopal San Mateo. It may be the only composition in the world which has utilized English, Chinese and Spanish together!

  4. Al Lundy says:

    I’m tempted to respond simply with COOL!

    All of us need to remember that we are believing in…and worshiping
    the same god.

    God bless you and yours.

    Al Lundy
    Garretson, SD

    1. Joseph F Foster says:

      “All of us need to remember that we are believing in…and worshiping
      the same god.”

      I am not at all sure that that is the case, and I doubt whether you are either.

  5. Rodney Wallace Kennedy says:

    Frank, You still have the mindset of a certain kind of Baptist residing below the Mason-Dixon line. The joint worship was from the Book of Common Prayer and the Episcopalians didn’t compromise or accommodate any of their liturgy or theology.

  6. James Mikolajczyk says:

    Rodney, why does Frank have to be from the South? There is a whole denomination of American Baptists (originally, Northern Baptists), too. For a liberal who is supposed to have an open mind for new information and tolerance for all groups, you are quite the closed and prejudiced mind.

  7. As the great Baptist “sage” Will Campbell of Tennesse said recently: “Ontologically speaking, there are really no more Baptists.” After nearly 30 years of infighting in a denomination largely taken over by fundamentalists, Southern Baptists have primarily two crisis ahead of them in which they will have to deal with: One, the vacum created by the takeover of their seminaries has left a theological vacum in which all other kind of “stuff” (i.e. “Neo-Calvinism”) has replaced good solid theological scholarship. This has already divided a number of smaller Southern Baptist congregations, and as this issue grows it will be dealt with in a future convention(some pundits that I read have predicted that it will be only 2 or 3 more years). Secondly, the recent push for a name change for Southern Baptists(re-tooling them as “Great Commission Baptists”) indicates that some polls and surveys have indicated an un-willingness for new Chrisitans and persons coming from other denominations to identify themselves as “Southern” Baptist because of the narrowness and exclusion that Southern Baptist Churches have represented themselves as over the last few years during these “fundamentalist” wars(which are now on a more local or “association” level). All of which suggest to me, at least, of an “identity” crisis of which a major division or split in the convention itself is possible as a result. Perhaps I, as a former Southern Baptist(and now Episcopalian), should not look askance at other folk’s trials and tribulations. Anglicanism has its own history of battles between “Puritan”, “Evangelical” and “Laudian”, and its own recent history in which both division and separation loom should remind all of us (especially me) that it is all too easy to hide between and in the folds and pages of the prayerbook and to seek comfort in an Ordo that in which, ontologically speaking, change occurs and is, itself, tumultuous. Until I learn to get Liturgy “right”, and only until then, I will have hopefully matured enough to understand F.D. Maurice’s words: “Do not speak of our ‘excellent and un-comparable’ Anglican Liturgy. It is better to practice it than to praise it.”

  8. cherry davis says:

    Wow. I read a lot of hostility from some “brothers in Christ”. When I read the story I was impressed with the spirit of hospitality exhibited by the Baptist church and the gracious humility of the Episcopal church in accepting such hospitality. I also saw two churches building their community and the kingdom of God by building a bridge between their congregations. It is too bad others have to view such (what I perceive to be) Christlike attitudes and actions as negative compromise. Life is a vompromise…we just get to choose where and how.

    1. john neir says:

      I totally concur. Its s nice gesture from another Christian church to another.

  9. John Shields says:

    How happy I was to read of this wonderful cooperative and hospitable event in the life of these two Christian churches. How sad I was to read some of the responses. Jesus prayer that “… they all become one as he and the Father are one…” surely that includes Baptists and Episcopalians and lots of others inbetween or we are in a heap of trouble. I was reared as a Baptist and am now an Episcopal priest and I thank God for both of those blessings.

  10. Christopher Lo says:

    It is a little known fact that “The Report of the International Conversations between The Anglican Communion and The Baptist World Alliance Conversations Around the World 2000 – 2005” was published by The Anglican Communion Office, London, UK, Copyright © 2005 The Anglican Consultative Council and The Baptist World Alliance, Printed in the UK by Apollo Print Generation Ltd, London, ISBN 6-00000005-8

    Contents:

    Foreword ……………………………………………………………………………………………… 5

    1. Introduction: A new way of talking together ………………………….. 7

    Part One: The Report

    2. The Two World Communions
    The Anglican Communion…………………………………………………………… 15
    The Baptist World Alliance………………………………………………………….. 17

    3. Themes of the Conversations
    Introduction ……………………………………………………………………….. 1 – 2, 21
    The Importance of Continuity…………………………………………….. 3 – 17, 22
    Confessing the Faith………………………………………………………… 18 – 26, 31
    Mission and Ministry ………………………………………………………. 27 – 39, 36
    Baptism and the Process of Initiation ………………………………… 40 – 52, 44
    Membership of the Church ………………………………………………. 53 – 61, 51
    The Eucharist or Lord’s Supper ………………………………………… 62 – 68 , 55
    Episkope or Oversight ……………………………………………………… 69 – 78, 60
    The Meaning of Recognition ……………………………………………. 79 – 90, 64

    4. Questions and Challenges ……………………………………………………………… 73

    Part Two: Stories

    5. Anglican-Baptist Partnership Around the World
    Sharing in Informal Conversations: England …………………………………. 83
    Sharing in a Council of Churches: Myanmar…………………………………. 84
    Sharing in Witness to Society: The Republic of Georgia…………………. 85
    Sharing in Local Ecumenical Partnerships: England ………………………. 89
    Sharing in Theological Education: The Caribbean………………………….. 91
    Sharing in a United Church: North India ………………………………………. 93

    6. Conclusion to the Report:
    ‘Sharing in the apostolic mission’ …………………………………………. 97

    Appendices

    A. Participants in the International Conversations ………………………….. 99
    B. Papers Given in the Regional Meetings…………………………………….. 102
    Notes ………………………………………………………………………………………… 105

    I commend this report to your reading. This report may be freely downloaded as a .pdf file from: http://www.anglicancommunion.org/ministry/ecumenical/dialogues/baptist/docs/pdf/conversations_around_the_world.pdf

Comments are closed.