Serving as editor of the Religious Herald has been the greatest privilege and challenge of my life. To have served as successor in that position to some of the greats in Baptist life has been humbling, but, conversely, being associated with a publication as noteworthy as the Herald has also been a source of (I hope) justifiable pride.
As a kid growing up with Southeastern Missouri roots, I could not have imagined some of the opportunities I have been afforded: people I have met, places I have visited, and salt-of-the-earth Baptists from Tidewater, NOVA, Southside, the Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountains and, of course, Richmond and central Virginia.
I have been privileged to witness the best in Baptist life, as when some of you have driven into the teeth of hurricane-force winds and rain to “be there” when victims of natural disasters needed help. Or when churches made incredible sacrifices, as when Weatherford Memorial Baptist Church gave its building away to The Saint Paul’s Baptist Church — a congregation better equipped to reach the people living nearby.
I have been inspired by amazing generosity, as when the Ketoctin Baptist Church in Loudoun County had saved $15,000 and was set to install an indoor bathroom for the first time since its organization in 1751. Then Hurricane Katrina swept through the Gulf and the church sent it all, plus another $2,000 they collected, to help the victims. This is the sacrificial spirit of Virginia Baptists at their finest.
I have also been inspired by some of the missional creativity taking place in our region by churches large and small. The Highlands Fellowship, a multisite megachurch centered in Abingdon, dropped Easter eggs from a helicopter as a part of a weekend celebration in 2010 — one that saw nearly 500 people make professions of faith in Christ. Awesome! Or, on a smaller scale, Chatham Baptist Church has repeatedly developed innovative approaches to ministry through partnerships with other groups. This kind of cooperative spirit is not only in keeping with the whole concept of servant leadership, but it is a good model for other Baptist churches. Partnership is the way forward.
Another inspirational innovation was the brainchild of a layperson of Columbia Baptist in Falls Church. Responding to pastor Jim Baucom’s challenge to take discipleship to the next level, Cindy Fisher responded by imagining the germ of an idea which has exploded into a vision of long-term engagement in the fight against world hunger. Columbia has continued to hammer away at hunger locally, regionally and globally.
I was also inspired by heroes — as when Lynn Litchfield Divers fought valiantly, but vainly, to spare the life of Theresa Lewis who, in 2010, became the first woman executed in Virginia’s penal system in nearly a century. Divers’ daughter must have received the “valiantly but vainly” DNA as she succumbed, on Dec. 31 of last year at the tender age of 10, to osteosarcoma after a two-year battle. Lynn’s fierce love in the face of opposition and her daughter’s illness made her a hero to me.
The common denominator in all these inspiring stories is the Religious Herald, the means by which their stories were told.
Playing a part, if only a small one, in encouraging Baptists in the Mid-Atlantic region to minister faithfully and courageously for Christ through their churches through sharing success stories has been more rewarding than I could ever have imagined!
But news comes in both varieties: good and bad. On occasion, we had to tell other stories, too — stories that caused me pain in the telling. Far too many times we were obligated to tell of a minister’s moral lapse and of the shockwaves it had created throughout his church and community. We were not looking for these stories, and chose to publish them only when there were compelling reasons to do so.
While I do not consider myself, in any sense, equal to those meritorious souls who bore the “editor” title before me, to have stood in their tradition has been an undeserved, but greatly prized honor. And to have served with Robert Dilday, Barbara Francis and Martha (Marty) Garber on the Religious Herald team has been a great joy.
And, to have received the good graces and best wishes of my fellow Virginia Baptists in the form of a touching resolution at the Baptist General Association of Virginia last week will become a cherished memory of my time and labor as editor.
I do not intend for this to sound like an obituary for in God’s good grace I hope to minister in other ways for many more years here! But I hope you will grant me the privilege of solemn musings as the Herald prepares to merge with Associated Baptist Press. The Religious Herald’s future is bright and full of promise as it will continue, in a little different form, to report the inspiring stories of innovative churches and heroes in our midst, and to share the bad news, too, when necessary.
The success of this endeavor will depend largely on we who value the freedom and opportunity to publish the truth. I hope each of you who reads these lines will choose to become a member of this new organization or will contribute to the Herald Legacy Fund to guarantee that the rich tradition of the Religious Herald continues undeterred.
Jim White (firstname.lastname@example.org) is executive editor of the Religious Herald.