Written by Michael on the occasion of his election to serve as a Deacon beginning in August, 2013
My name is Michael French and I am honored to have been asked to serve Highland Baptist Church as a deacon. I’m here this morning to give a testimonial on my faith story. I only have two or three minutes and mapping out all the reckless and self-destructive paths I turned away from to get here would probably take days. So I’ll skip over all that and focus on where my family and I are. This is a good beginning. I think it is this moment now that really matters.
I love this church.
My wife, Heather, and I have attended Highland Baptist Church for more than eight years. Those of you who know and have shared my spiritual life are probably surprised and amazed to see me up here giving this testimonial. When we first came to Highland, I would not describe that younger man who hid in the back pews as a natural church joiner. I came and I listened because I loved my wife, and she was Baptist and she wanted and needed to find a church. In the eight years since we first walked in the doors, Highland has become the center of our lives here in Louisville. Our two daughters, Sophia Grace and Lydia Rose, have lived their entire lives in this church and your community. My wife, Heather, practically lives at the church helping Renee with countless family and children’s ministry committees.
Highland Baptist Church has become our home.
When I say I love the church, it’s not the building. It’s not the bricks or the handcrafted woodwork or the beautiful stained glass windows. It is the people and the dear friends who have opened the door to their church and made room for us in their community. It is all of you. You’ve opened your home to us and made us part of your lives. There are a lot of people I would name if I had time, from my dearest friends who have shared emotional faith stories and struggles, to the first person who spoke to me eight years ago in the back pew and said, “Welcome Brother,” to the people I pass in the hallways who simply nod an unspoken smile, “Good morning.” I love you all. And I trust you to help my wife and me raise our two daughters to become capable, confident, and faithful young women, and to be there to help us when we are confronted by the difficulties of living in this world.
But I won’t pretend that the message this faith community has shared is easy or that I do a particularly good job of living it. It is a hard lesson. We are not simply asked to attend church and tithe and say we love Jesus. We are told to go out into our world, to go out and love our neighbors and love ourselves and love God with all of our hearts and all our minds …and that is a very hard thing to do.
The difficulty of this lesson is a reason Jesus was murdered.
But the lesson is true. The gospels are clear that living that lesson of uncompromised love is the only path to salvation for any of us and we are all called to live it. It is hard and it has always been hard from the very beginnings of human history when we built our cities out of mud. That is why we need one another. We need communities of faith like Highland Baptist Church to continue telling us the truths that Jesus taught and the prophets shared long before him. We must love God and love one another with all we are. Even though we really don’t know how, we must try.
I attended the deacon retreat for Highland Baptist Church last Friday night and was blessed to meet many wonderful people who I will be serving alongside for the next three years. We discussed the challenges our church community is facing. It is a long list. It is a tough time right now. It is a tough time everywhere throughout the world and we all know about it. You just need to turn on a broadcast from a corporate media outlet and you will be told the world is falling to pieces around you. You can spend 24 hours a day watching the video that proves it.
It is a tough time for our church and everything seems to be changing. There are hundreds of new people, many of whom, like me, did not grow up as Baptists. There are Methodists and Catholics and Episcopalians, and there are people who come from no faith tradition at all. All these lives have converged and collided here at Highland bringing their own experiences and questions and hopes. Even the building itself is being rebuilt and it is hard to recognize the Highland Baptist Church that was here even a decade ago. It is an uneasy time. I think there is a lot of fear, some anger, and even some grief at what seems to be slipping away. As one of the new members who have come into this community and put down roots, I can’t help but feel that I share some of the blame for that grief and that unease.
But I believe in the presence of God in this community, I believe in God’s presence in all us. While I am not well versed in Baptist theology I think that belief is one of the essential truths that we can rely on as Baptists. God is here amongst us.
At the deacon retreat, the gospel story that came to mind was the one about the boat trip Jesus and some of his disciples took across the Sea of Galilee while they were getting along in his ministry. The pastors can correct the details. As the disciples were sailing across the lake, a fierce storm blew up. It was nasty. The sky was pitch black. The wind howled. The waves were high and the little boat was taking on water. The disciples were afraid. And while all this was going on Jesus was curled up in the ropes taking a nap. The disciples finally woke Jesus up and in a panic they asked him, “Can’t you see that we are in a storm?! Don’t you care if we all drown?!” Jesus reaction was to say, “Don’t you people have any faith?” Then the storm calmed and the little boat got through it.
When I was told that story as a child, I marveled at the miracles. Sunday school was about believing in miracles. But now that I’m much older, I don’t think the story was just about Jesus calming the storm. When I read that story now, I think it is a lesson about Jesus having faith in his own disciples. It was a terrible storm. But Jesus had faith that his disciples had the strength and wisdom to get through the storm. The disciples were just scared.
I believe we Baptists here at Highland are passing through a storm. There seem to be storms everywhere right now. There will always be storms. But I have faith that as a community we can see it through. And I am grateful to serve you as a deacon as we get through these rough waters together. God bless you and thank you.