Welcome to my 8th “Weekend Gratitude” post! I just seem to find something special each weekend to share my thankfulness, so my series isn’t over yet. This week it is a celebration and the stories behind it.
I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking at first, then a little more story at the end. (Stick with me!) That’s a cake above, if you haven’t figured it out. There was a matching one with the number 5 on it — for a good reason. Lake Baldwin Church just celebrated it’s 5th anniversary (which was actually last month) with a wonderful brunch service this morning. Usually we meet in the auditorium at Glenridge Middle School, but today we took over the gym and transformed it into a banquet hall with a catered brunch.
Mama Jewel is the oldest member of LBC at age 91. My little Melody loves to say hello to her each week. I am grateful for a healthy mix of generations here.
Mike Tilley, our senior pastor, was on staff with Campus Crusade for nearly 30 years before planting LBC. He and associate pastor Dave Abney take turns preaching, and Dave also does much of the counseling. Soon Pak, our youth pastor, has been marvelous with our middle school and high school students. We’ll all miss him when he and his wife Erin leave for a two year long mission trip this summer. I am grateful for each of them!
Mike introduced some of the leaders of various ministries within the church, and the leaders then asked their team members to stand for recognition. It’s amazing to see how every one pitches in with their own gifts and talents to make this whole thing work.
Blank thank you notes were piled on each table, and we were invited to each write to volunteers we appreciate in the church. Naomi chose to write hers to her Sunday School teacher.
Our next door neighbor Deanna, Naomi’s best buddy, joined us for the celebration.
The children all got up on stage and told something they liked about the church. Melody said she was going to say “donuts” but she said “my teachers” instead.
Josh Bales is our worship leader. That’s his wife Mindy! I’ve already told him many times how much I appreciate the music and prayers he leads us in each week. He writes some of the music himself, and I’ve been able to download some of his recordings from iTunes. The rest of the music is a mix of updated hymns and contemporary worship songs.
After we finished eating, our worship time started. I am thankful for those who use their musical gifts to sing and play keyboards, guitar, violin, and/or drums.
Several members of the congregation got up and told their stories about what Lake Baldwin Church has meant to their families. There is power in stories.
Mike Tilley gave a short sermon about how people who have hope get through the hard times in life, are able to offer that hope to others, and learn to dream for the future about what God can do in and through them. I’m thankful for the people who dreamed this church into existence, combining their hope with practical action.
Bart, an elder who also leads our Communitas home group, along with his wife Judy, led the congregation in renewing their membership vows.
Near the end of the service, we celebrated communion, walking to the front of the room to tear off a piece of bread from the loaf and dip it into the goblet of juice or wine held by one of our pastors or elders. The wine as the body, the bread as the blood, remind us that this church is all about the grace of Jesus, who was sacrificed for us so we could escape eternal death, and resurrected so we can live in newness of life. I am grateful to be a part of the body of Christ, united in him with brothers and sisters all around the world from all generations.
After the service, there was a flurry of activity to put everything away, gathering the dishes and linens, folding up tables and rolling them like big wheels across the room. Like I said before, it’s amazing what happens when everyone works together.
And now more stories for you, first Lake Baldwin’s and then mine.
Lake Baldwin Church officially started services in February 2006, but its true genesis goes further back than that. You see, the entire community of Baldwin Park was built on what was once the Orlando Naval Training Center. The base closed many years ago, and a new planned city of 3,500 homes plus a commercial downtown area rose up in its place. And while Baldwin Park was still in the planning stages, five couples started dreaming of a new church for a new community. They met and prayed continually. They walked the streets and prayed some more. They added to their numbers. Eventually, they found a pastor who shared their dream, and Lake Baldwin Church was born. (It is a church plant of the Presbyterian Church in America, also known as the PCA.) I’m ball park guessing that there are about 200 people in the congregation now. Noting the military training roots of the area, Mike Mikkelson (an elder) reminded us that we are training for spiritual warfare, the kind where we bring love and peace to the neighborhoods and the surrounding city. Yesterday, they put some of that love into action, serving 800 bottles of water at the Smile Mile run.
Lake Baldwin Church was founded on some core principles, what Mike calls our DNA. Some of my favorite quotes from this are:
- We see the gospel as not only saving souls, but redeeming culture, making a difference in marriages, families, relationships and in the healing of the broken. (Luke 4:18-19)
- We minister out of our own sense of being transformed by the gospel, not out of duty, and not viewing people as projects.
- Seeing that God has entrusted us with global vision and global connections, we trust Him for an impact on the nations.
- Biblical teaching is gospel-centered, not moralistic; pointing people to Christ and not to their own power.
Well, that’s a little bit of the “story behind Lake Baldwin Church. Story is a big word at Lake Baldwin. I’ve heard it more times than I can count. Mike says, “There is a story behind every face.” I have a face and here’s my own story.
Last year, my husband and I realized that we needed to start transitioning into a different church than where our family had been for 8 years. Since I was more web savvy and more motivated, I started researching churches on-line. We knew we couldn’t get every little thing we wanted in one church, but looked for the best fit. I initially listed about a dozen or so, but eventually knocked most off the list because of theology, distance from our house, or size. (One of our kids was adamant about wanting a much smaller church.)
At some point early in the process, I talked to my friend Beverly to see if she had any ideas for me. She said she had found a few churches on-line and was interested in checking them out but hadn’t gotten to it yet. Lake Baldwin was on her list. I did a quick Google search, and while poking around the web site, discovered that our friend and former neighbor, Curt, was the webmaster. I immediately called his wife Debora (pictured left) and questioned her about the church in great detail for about an hour. Our decade of friendship has certainly built my trust in her judgment, and her honest and happy answers delighted me. I quickly added Lake Baldwin to my visit list.
In August 2010, we started visiting churches. We went to one for one week, and then a second one for two weeks. I had intended to go back to that one for the first Sunday in September to finish out a sermon series, even though I didn’t think it was the right church for us. Then one of the boys got sick and my husband offered to stay home with him, but he said he had to go and get gas and milk before we left. He got confused about what time the service started, so by the time he got back, it was too late for us to get there in time. I scrambled to find the next church on our visit list which started after 10:30. Lake Baldwin starts at 10:45, so after checking my iPod map app for directions, off we went.
We pulled into the parking lot around 10:30, and the sound of my car door caused a woman who was walking into the building to turn around and see who was there. Seeing an unfamiliar face, she walked back to greet us, then took us over to introduce me to the pastor and others. I marveled at how genuinely friendly everyone was. It wasn’t just an act. They actually took the time to stop and join into a real conversation rather than just an obligatory sentence or two. That’s a really big deal to me, because I always took the time to do this for visitors at every church we have attended. So I am extremely grateful to Jane for paying attention, even though she’s a very busy lady! In fact, when I snapped this picture today, she was telling me that she had recently traveled to the country of Slovenia for a Campus Crusade staff conference. Her job is to take care of the needs of CC staff in Hungary. (There are actually a lot of Campus Crusade staff members at Lake Baldwin.) And I think that first or second morning I visited, her whole family got up in church to tell about their recent trip to Haiti to help earthquake victims. She has since started a small gourmet shortbread and biscotti baking business, jane’s short and sweet, to send financial aid to struggling women there and other places. As she explains on her web site, “In the summer of 2010, as we were walking through the process of launching jane’s, a mission statement rolled around in my head to address the quality of our product, the folks behind it and our strong desire to serve others. What sealed the deal in my heart was a specific instance during our family’s trip that summer to work in Haiti. An unearthly sound from the street in front of the compound where we were staying brought me from the back of the building to find out the source. It was explained to John and me that while life is very difficult for the people who live there, it’s so much more so for the women.Therefore it’s not uncommon, to release the sadness and raw emotion within their hearts, that women will wail. Ingest that for just a moment. Heartache. Indignity. Oppression. It’s happening there, here in our own communities, all over the world. The irony is not lost on us that we are using the sales of very sweet products to finance improvements in the very difficult lives of women in our neighborhood, our city and our world. All profits from jane’s are committed to this humanitarian effort.” That sounds a lot like what we heard at the Synergy conference last week. Yes, Jane was there, too! See Jane work! See Jane go! See Jane give! See Jane honor Jesus with her life! And just know that Jane is not doing all of this because we are watching her, but because God is! So go to her web site and order some of that yummy shortbread!
Anyway, back to my story… Our family went back to Lake Baldwin the next week, and we’ve pretty much been there ever since. We did visit another much larger PCA church where almost everyone was so busy with their friends that it seemed like we were invisible. (There were a few exceptions, but that was my general feel for it. I didn’t see how I could fit in there.) When we returned to little LBC, Molly Tilley greeted me at the door with a hearty “WELCOME BACK!” At that point, I burst into tears from relief, and (God bless her!) she said very tenderly, “There must be a story behind those tears!” Oh yes there was, and I just told you all a little bit of it, too! I’m really grateful for Molly Tilley, Hayley Abney and Erin Pak. I know being a pastor’s wife is a tough job at times, and they are excelling at it!
Here we are six months later. We attended the membership class in January, and after an elder interview with Bart, we officially joined a few weeks ago. I am a Presbyterian again after over 30 years! It’s funny, though, that they really don’t make a big deal about what kind of church they are. They just see themselves as one little part of the body of Christ. And right now, there is really no other place I would rather be.
I am grateful for Lake Baldwin Church, for the grace-filled teaching and atmosphere, the genuine friendliness that flows from their commitment to being a hospitable culture, their heart for global missions, their appreciation of the story paradigm of life, and their authentic and creative worship of Jesus.
Happy 5th anniversary, Lake Baldwin Church, and here’s to many more to come!