As we approach the 30th Anniversary Celebration for ACBAS in September, I’ve been considering the role of our Baptist Heritage on my own life and ministry and some ways in which our spiritual heritage is becoming increasingly relevant in changing times. I grew up in a Baptist family that went faithfully to a Baptist church (Woodstock Baptist Church) and I spent wonderful weeks during the summers at a Baptist camp (Shiktehawk Bible Camp). My first pastoral ministry was the Victoria and Waterville Baptist Pastorate – the historic Victoria Baptist Church had been organized in 1833 in the same community where, a year earlier in 1832, the Free Christian Baptist denomination was organized. The Lower Waterville Baptist Cemetery contains the grave of Elder Samuel Hartt, the “apostle to the St. John River Valley” who planted many Baptist congregations in New Brunswick during the 19th Century.
In many ways, I realize that I have been inspired by the tremendous faith and vision of our Baptist ancestors. In the churches where I served as pastor, I think about how members must have sacrificed to construct the large buildings of both the Woodstock Baptist Church (completed in 1885) and Main Street Baptist Church (completed in 1895) – both amazing
examples of beautiful architecture and careful engineering, and those buildings are also examples of the kinds of facilities that would appropriately and have effectively ministered to their communities in the 19th century. I am equally inspired also by the decisions of both congregations in this twenty-first century to transition to entirely new buildings that are much more suitable for ministry and witness in this digital, postmodern age. In the case of Main Street Baptist Church, the congregation even transitioned to a new name (RiverCross Church) that does not include the word “Baptist” – even though the church continues to have a very Baptist identity. Throughout the process of designing new facilities, both congregations carefully honored their heritage as they prepared for a new future.
Our Baptist heritage can inspire us and guide us as we move forward in a more secular, postmodern society. That has been my own experience. In fact, a deep understanding of our history can provide the impetus to make the changes that are necessary to continue to be relevant and spiritually vibrant in a digital age. History may be about our past, but as we are inspired by and learn from our past, it is also very much about our future. In Atlantic Canada, the faith, hope, and love of Baptist people two centuries ago laid a foundation that we now have a responsibility to continue to build on as we carry out the Great Command and the Great Commission in a very different social and religious environment.
Those are some of the things that we can consider in September as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of ACBAS. In addition to the Zeman Lecture by Dr. Gary Waite, which will look back to our European Anabaptist Heritage, we will be reminded of the relevance of the material in the Baptist Archives and we will be challenged to think about the relevance or irrelevance of denomination labels in today’s society. We encourage you to celebrate with us – not just because of our past, but because of our future.
Contributed by Dr. Stephen McMul