Sunday, February 27, 2005

How a Nice Catholic Boy Became a Baptist--Part 2

Dave invited me to a concert that Saturday. Albany Evangelical Christians (AEC) had a music group called "New Covenant". They played a program of songs, sometimes the whole group, sometimes smaller parts of it. After the show, Dave and I met with Jay, a philosophy major. We went up some stairs to a lounge area to talk. Jay asked me what I believed about Jesus. After some discussion, I said that I thought I should take some time and read the Bible. Jay said "I think you know all you need to right now." He suggested we pray, that I tell God that I believed in him. I realized that he wanted me to pray out loud!

After we were finished praying, we went back downstairs. There were still some people there from the AEC group. Jay introduced me as "a new brother in Christ." People cheered. There were handshakes and hugs. I realized that while we had been upstairs praying, these people had been downstairs praying for me!

Dave and I developed a routine of going to the InterVarsity group on Friday night, Mass at Chapel House on Saturday night and Albany Baptist Church on Sunday morning. Chapel House was just off campus—about 10 feet off campus! Father Ryan was the priest who said Mass there. It was a forward looking group. We adopted changes early. Father Ryan understood how to involve college students in the Church.

It was an excellent ministry, but I doubted I find anything like it off campus. And I was having some doctrinal issues--Mary, the Papacy, etc., things I felt there was little or no support for in the Scripture I had begun reading.

Through the InterVarsity group, I went to its missions conference Urbana '79. The conference was held every three years at the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign during Christmas break. It was a great week. There were many challenging speakers, bible study and representatives from many missionary organizations. The highlight was a communion service lead by noted author and speaker Rev. John R. W. Stott. There's something special about 10,000 plus people singing hymns and saying prayers together. It was a foretaste of Heaven.

But when it was time to graduate, we could no longer attend the Chapel House or Albany Evangelical Christians. That left Albany Baptist church. It was, at the time, a small church of less than a hundred. There were several families of transplanted southerners, a few local families and some college students! I eventually joined that church. I taught some adult Sunday school classes. Some of the folks in the church encouraged me to consider seminary. I went to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX for my M.Div.

I lived in Fort Worth and attended seminary part time for about 6 years. I was fortunate to have many outstanding professors who not only taught their subjects but shared their lives as well, especially Dr. David Garland, Old Testament, Dr. Jack MacGorman, New Testament, Dr. Jesse Northcutt, Preaching, and Dr. Al Fasol, preaching and many others. Dr. Russell Dilday was seminary President while I was there, just before fundamentalists in the Southern Baptist Convention began to take over its leadership.

During this time, I was a member of Hope Baptist Church in Fort Worth (now known as simply Hope Church). The pastor is Harold Bullock. While I was there, Hope met in the downtown YMCA and then other rented spaces as the church grew. Hope had a contemporary style of worship, even using songs written by church members! The sermon came early in the service instead of near the end as with most Protestant churches. This allowed the rest of the service to be a time of responding to what God had said to the people through the Scriptures.

Another strength of Hope Baptist Church was it's commitment to church planting. Teams left Hope regularly to start new churches. Hope was the model church for these new congregations.

After graduating from Southwestern Seminary, I had hoped to go to Vancouver, Canada to be part of a media ministry there. But things didn't work out, so I moved back home to New York.

Would I find a New York state of mind? More in part three, or "You Can Go Rome Again".

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