Last April, members of the First Congregational Church of West Tisbury and the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center traveled to Atlanta, Ga., to visit Ebenezer Baptist Church. They partnered with an Atlanta synagogue as well, and enjoyed working on community service projects together while they were there. The pastor of First Congregational, the Rev. Cathlin Baker, has a longtime friendship with the Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, the historic church where Martin Luther King Jr. and his father both served. Warnock preached to an overflow crowd in West Tisbury last Sunday. Another guest, composer and musician Mark Miller, director of chapel and associate professor of church music at Drew Theological School and minister of music at Christ Church in Summit, N.J., led the music for the 10 am service.
Warnock and Baker both have strong social justice messages in their preaching, and last Sunday was no different when Warnock took a turn at the pulpit. Baker is celebrating her 10th anniversary at the West Tisbury church, and this was Warnock’s ninth summer visit; he only missed one year, the year his daughter Chloe was born.
In her introduction, Baker said that the two have been friends for 25 years. She bid everyone an “extravagant welcome,” and reminded them that it was the one-year anniversary of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., where one person was killed and 19 were hurt when a speeding car slammed into a crowd of counterprotesters at the rally.
“This church is a place of love,” the Rev. Baker told the congregation. “Hate is not welcome here … It is the responsibility of people who consider themselves white to speak out against white supremacy.”
After the scripture readings, the Rev. Warnock began his sermon.
“I’m grateful to be here,” Warnock said when he was first introduced. “I feel like I’m among friends, and it’s not hard to get me to preach on the beach.”
He also joked that although he and the Rev. Baker have known each other for 25 years, they “met in kindergarten.”
His message was centered around a call to greatness, but he said many people give attention to those who are considered great without paying much attention to how they got there. Quoting Martin Luther King Jr., he said, “Everybody can be great because anybody can serve.”
“We’re all called to greatness,” the Rev. Warnock said. “Jesus is a good case study for greatness.”
Warnock reminded the congregation that in these days of social media, we all are busy posting in public things we have not worked out in private. He said, “Does your character match your ambition? What is it that matters to you? Being successful or being thankful?”
Warnock spoke about Jesus in the desert, when he was tempted by the devil, who told him to turn a stone into a loaf of bread to satisfy his hunger. Jesus didn’t do it, Warnock said, because he wouldn’t change his service into service for himself. “When Jesus makes bread, he doesn’t just feed himself, he feeds the multitudes,” Warnock said. “A person cannot live on bread alone. … you’ve got to do something other than feed yourself.”
He related his message to current politics when he said, “The way to be great is to reach out to something larger than yourself … make sure everybody has enough bread … we’re the richest country in the world, but few have all they need and then some.”
Ebenezer Baptist Church has worked in the Atlanta community to address mass incarceration, and hosted an event that helped expunge the records of those who weren’t convicted but still had arrest records. In a poignant story, the Rev. Warnock said that he was at the barbershop when a man stopped to thank him for hosting that event, which had cleared his record. Warnock said he was in a hurry, but thanked the man. Wanting to talk a little more, the man told him how expunging his record impacted his family. He said 20 years before, he had an issue with a bad check, and he was arrested but never convicted. Having an arrest on his record meant it was difficult to find work, among other things. There was a child in his family whose parents were unable to be parents, and because his arrest record was cleared, the man was able to adopt that child.
“No matter how high the fence is in your gated community,” the Rev. Warnock said, “you don’t get to be great by worshipping yourself … The way to be great is to give over yourself. If you do that, you never know how God might use you.”
I’m so glad that I visited the First Congregational Church and heard the Rev. Warnock’s message. Sometimes you hear exactly what you need to hear at exactly the right time.
The Federated Church in Edgartown hosts its 13th annual Blueberry Pancake Breakfast on Sunday, August 26, from 8:30 to 10:30 am. It’s a fundraiser for the M.V. Cancer Support group, which is sponsored by the missions committee of the church. Cost is $10 for adults, $5 for children, and $25 for families with children.
On Sunday afternoon, August 26, at 3 pm, the Unitarian Universalist Society of Martha’s Vineyard presents a performance of the entire Schubert song cycle “Die Schöne Müllerin.” This song cycle is an extended work based on the poems of Wilhelm Müller. Composed in 1823, when Schubert was 26 years old, it is the first of Schubert’s song cycles. The 20 songs tell the story of a young journeyman miller as he wanders through the countryside. Throughout the work, the voice and the piano share equally in expressing the poetry’s emotions, with the piano often imitating sounds and objects occurring in the poems.
According to a press release, baritone David Behnke and accompanist Molly Sturges, both full-time Islanders, are the performers. Behnke is a trained opera singer whose recent performances have included opera, oratorio, Broadway, and lieder. He appears regularly with the Wicked Good Musical productions at the M.V. Playhouse. Molly has performed as a freelance musician and accompanist to many organizations across New England. On the Vineyard, she has been active with a broad spectrum of the Island musical community as orchestral keyboardist, accompanist, and soloist.
The music series helps fund the church’s renovation project, and has so far contributed updating the electrical infrastructure and more effective and energy-efficient lighting, new seating, a renovated office space, and the installation of central air conditioning.
Suggested donation is $15, and a reception will follow the concert.
Union Chapel welcomes the Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts III on Sunday, August 19, at the 10 am service. He’s the pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City, and president of the State University of New York (SUNY) College at Old Westbury.
The Rev. Butts was an urban affairs instructor, and served as adjunct professor in the African Studies Department at City College, New York. According to a press release, he also taught Black Church History at Fordham University, and continues to give lectures and speeches to colleges, universities, and various organizations throughout the U.S. and abroad. He’s one of the founders of Abyssinian Development Corporation, a comprehensive, community-based nonprofit organization responsible for over $600 million in housing and commercial development in Harlem, the release says. He was also instrumental in establishing Thurgood Marshall Academy for Learning and Social Change, a public, state-of-the-art intermediate and high school in Harlem, and is the visionary behind Thurgood Marshall Academy Lower School, which opened in September 2005.