55 Years Ago..

I want to thank Kathi Lunardi for setting the tone for our 55th anniversary last Sunday. Her Children’s Lesson, complete with birthday hats and bows, was fun for the children and for the rest of us. We learned that singing Happy Birthday to our church was also a prayer, and a pretty jubilant one.

I’m also grateful for the midweek call from Mahan Siler. Mahan was RBC’s pastor from 1967-72. I included his words in my sermon, and what I’d like to share now is Don Moore’s response to Mahan’s words and memories. It’s not often that we are given such an evocative glimpse into the early history of our church. So read and enjoy:

Thanks for sending me a copy of Mahan’s comments and observations about his time at RBC. As I read his paper, my thoughts drifted back to the 60s, to a time when RBC was only nine years old, not even a teen ager. In those days Northern Virginia was a strange new land where Baptists represented about three percent of the total religious population.  Houses and new schools were being constructed at a rapid pace west of the beltway, and new folks were moving into the area.

Most of us were in our 30s with growing families. Most of us came out of SBC churches, and we brought with us a variety of religious convictions. We were a rebellious group not tied to traditions. It was a bewildering scene, like being in a small boat on the sea when a storm hits. We were a mix of conservatives, liberals, and a few left and right fundamentalists. Business meetings were long and at times heated. We debated everything and abandoned old ideas about this and that. Without knowing it, we were reinventing church.

Across the river in Washington, President Lyndon Johnson sat on the power seat and half a world away Brezhnev controlled the strings of power at the Kremlin. The Cold War created countless confrontations between the CIA and the KGB all around the world. The recent confrontation with the Soviets over missiles in Cuban still lingered in the background. The Viet Nam war was in full swing with 500,000 troops on the ground. As the war dragged on, student protests increased. With all of this, the Civil Rights movement led by King continued with the Poor Peoples Campaign and Resurrection City on the Mall. Stokely Carmichael advocated black power. Later in 1968, King was assassinated, and Washington burned.  The draft was reinstated. Johnson announced that he would not run for president. There were the shootings at Kent State.  Wallace and Humphrey ran for president. Nixon was elected, then resigned after Watergate. The list could go on.

The  American culture presented folks with  a variety of movements–secularism, humanism, human potential, I’m OK, You’re OK, hippies, flower people, pot, Hare Krisha, protests in DC over the war, civil rights, Farm Workers, Bob and Carol-Ted and Alice, Findley Edge, John Claypool,  church renewal, Gordon Cosby, etc. … 

This was the picture when Mahan and Janice arrived in Northern Virginia, a time when RBC and the nation were experiencing rapid change. As Mahan noted, our idealism exceeded our wisdom and capacity to understand the changes going on around us. But the times were exciting. We never had a dull moment. We were involved in a great experiment without really knowing it. With no established traditions, except what each of us brought from a far distance church, RBC was being reinvented, and Mahan and Janice were an important part of that process, along with Bill Ratliff, and Dan Bagby. There were tears and laughter during the pilgrimage, and it was a great ride.  

Thanks, Don!


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