Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama – The Legacy Lives (2)

Unknown-2The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church calls itself: “A Bible-Centric Ministry.” The Sunday bulletin proclaims, just under the name of the church, that this is a place “Where Jesus Christ Is the Main Attraction.” Inside the bulletin there is a vision statement, a mission statement and a statement of the church’s philosophy of ministry. Rarely have I read anything so biblically clear, and deeply moving, at least for its sheer simplicity.

Vision Statement

Our vision is to have a Bible-centric ministry that will reach, rebuild and reproduce, disciples through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Mission Statement

Our mission is to introduce people to Jesus Christ and to encourage the cultivation of a personal relationship with Him. We are, therefore, committed to evangelizing the sinner, exalting the Savior, and equipping the saints.

Philosophy of Ministry

In order to accomplish our mission we faithfully pursue seven basic philosophies in our ministries:

1. EXALT the Savior in dynamic worship.

2. EVANGELIZE the unbeliever through outreach.

3. ESTABLISH the new believer in the basic doctrines of the faith.

4. ENCOURAGE every believer to cultivate an intimate, personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

5. EQUIP every believer to do ministry through gift identification.

6. EDIFY one another through the exercising of spiritual gifts.

7. EMBRACE one another so that everyone feels loved, cared for, and accepted and enjoys being a part of our fellowship.

The Sunday worship service began at 10:45 and ended about 12:30, which is fairly common in African-American congregations. (My daughter reminded me that when she was young the services I led lasted that long. This may be why she stood up one Sunday when she was around four years of age, and said loudly, “I’m done. Let’s leave!”)

The worship included an opening time of praise, an invocation for God’s blessing and the doxology. We sang “The Solid Rock,” an old favorite which I sang with great joy. The choir sang on several different occasions. The pastor made comments and offered much prayer. Several texts of Scripture were read and one was read responsively. An offering (only one) was taken and more music was sung by the choir before the sermon by the pastor, Rev. Arthur Price, Jr. This sermon was followed by an “Invitation to Christian Discipleship” and then a benediction. During the Sunday that I was present there were about 50 “black robed” men and women seated in the front rows. I learned, when the time came, that these were judges serving in various courts –county, state and federal – in the Alabama legal system. These men and women were recognized and prayed for by the church. The judges gave an honor to Rev. Price in order to thank him for his service to their vocation. It was noted that there are almost 200 African-America judges serving within the state of Alabama. I was reminded, as I listened and observed, that fifty years ago there were none. The pastor said, “This means some of our people will more likely get a fair and just judgment in this state than they would have some years ago but do not do wrong because these men and women will exercise justice in sentencing you for your crime!” There was a good deal of laughter in response to that line.

The bulletin included a good number of ministry events in the church and the community. There was an appeal, in the bulletin, to help save a historic black cemetery due to the owner filing for bankruptcy. There was also an appeal to give to a Thanksgiving offering to help those in great financial distress.

The worship style was decidedly African-American, which means the music rocked. People clapped, stood spontaneously, shouted praise and gave heart-felt “amens” now and then. They also “talked” to the preacher in a way that is common to this worship context. It was decorous, respectful, reverent and all done with order and obvious emotional fervor.

wg--arthur price w poster effec 5knt-u6360Rev. Arthur Price, Jr.

Reverend Arthur Price, Jr. is the senior pastor of the historical Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. He was called to this position in January 2002.  The vision for Sixteenth Street, as implemented by Reverend Price, serves as an anchor to the mission  of Sixteenth Street as I’ve stated it above.

In keeping with these designs, Reverend Price and the congregation of Sixteenth Street are engaged in a variety of vital, active ministries, all of which have been instituted and/or developed during his pastorate over the last eleven-plus years. Reverend Price’s preaching and teaching are solidly rooted in Christ and Holy Scripture. His sermon was an exposition of 1 Corinthians 3:10-17 and was as good an exposition of the text as you would hear in any church. Pastor Price, via the church’s website, says:  “All that I have done is by the grace of God. My relationship with Christ is the reservoir from which all these activities come.”

Pastor Price has extensive ministry experience spanning work with children, college students, senior citizens, the sick and bereaved. Prior to his ministry at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, he was the Senior Pastor of Memorial Baptist Church in Buffalo, New York for three-and-a-half years. He is a 1995 graduate of Colgate Rochester Divinity School where he received the Master of Divinity degree with an emphasis on biblical studies. He completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminal Justice at Temple University in Philadelphia. Interestingly, especially given the honor paid to him on the day I was present, Reverend Price has experience as a Prosecution Assistant serving for a total of eleven years in both the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office and the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office in Rochester, New York.

Before I attended Sixteenth Street Baptist I went to the church website and found something that is commonly given in the biographical introduction to an African-American pastor. I love this and wish the same was true of more pastors in other churches throughout America. The site says: “He [Rev. Price] received ministerial training from both Rev. Charles Walker, Pastor of Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Philadelphia and Dr. Raymond M. Gordon, Sr., Pastor of St. Matthew’s Baptist Church in Williamstown, New Jersey.”

7673594Before I decided to attend Sixteenth Street Baptist I asked my good friend, Rev. Frank Woodson, to tell me if I would be encouraged by worshiping there. Frank, who is the pastor of Covenant Community Fellowship Church in Birmingham, did not hesitate to encourage me to attend. He said, “Pastor Arthur Price is using the legacy of this great church in a wonderful way and continues to exalt Christ. He shows moral courage and makes disciples.” Frank was completely correct in this endorsement. Tomorrow I will tell you more about his sermon, one that was filled with Christ and centered on text while it remained intensely practical.

I don’t like to end on a negative note but I have to say that I am weary of many mega-churches in the suburbs. I actually do not randomly visit large churches anymore when I am away from home. I prefer to find an alternative to what I have discovered in such churches – a consumeristic religious experience. The way so many churches promote their programs and present their (culturally captive) vision, especially without obvious concern for justice and mercy, troubles me profoundly. This is why I quit visiting “sight unseen” big suburban churches unless a friend highly recommends a church to me for a very good reason, which hasn’t happen too often in recent years.

Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was a genuine and healthy experience of the best of African-American Christian practice. It is alive and uses its legacy to serve the present and the future. I found a wonderful meeting of God ‘s people in holy worship. I was warmly welcomed and felt right at home among God’s people. I will share more reasons for this, and give you an account of the pastor’s excellent sermon, in tomorrow’s blog.

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