In Sheep’s Clothing?

In its little corner in the extreme northeast, Maine is, at least in terms of a U.S.-centric point of view, at the “end of the road” or on a “road to nowhere” (apologies to my Canadian friends, just to the north of Maine). We feel tucked away up here, with only the very brave venturing this far into the outer-reaches of the country.

In our extreme northeastern perspective, it may come as no surprise then that some Mainers tend to view the South as starting somewhere around Hartford.

And so it is perhaps understandable that when Southern Baptists come to town, they are very quiet and even secretive about it.

This is what is happening in Central Maine. The local Southern Baptist Convention affiliate, the Kennebec Community Church, doesn’t even include “Baptist” in its name. On their website and on their Facebook page, they offer no reference to their affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention—none whatsoever.

The Kennebec Community Church is, as they describe, a “young, active church.” They are thriving, recently moving into a renovated church building that was once a Roman Catholic Church. On the first Sunday of worship in their new space, this past Palm Sunday, I was told that they had eighty children in attendance. For this part of the world, that is a lot of children to be in one church at one time.

Given what I know about this part of Maine, with its difficult demographics and secularism, I realize that to be able to describe a church as “young” and “active” is remarkable. But, I can’t help but be concerned that they are, perhaps, thriving under less than full disclosure of who they are and what they believe.

Years ago, when I was a young pastor in Cambridge, Mass., I was part of a clergy group that included a Southern Baptist pastor—a truly rare thing in such a place. But, I found my friendship with this pastor to be interesting, enlightening and valuable. Although we were on opposite ends of the Protestant theological spectrum, we were able to have thoughtful and engaging conversation. Though I am sure that both of us thought the other to be “doing it wrong,” we were able to foster a friendship. Why or how? Because we were honest, and authentic, and because each of us employed a good dose of humility in our lives of faith.

This is what I find troubling in what I encounter in the Southern Baptists who have moved in to Central Maine to “save us” from being “lost.” They are not being fully honest about who they are. Though I can’t say that they are “lying” (I have not attended worship there, so I don’t know what is said during worship or what kind of information they have posted in their building), it feels like there’s a deception born of conscious omission—at least in how they communicate on the web. I can’t help but ask questions when I notice how many “free” things they offer—concerts, sports camps, etc. Along with a newly renovated building and staff, how do they manage financially without some connection to an outside entity?

The local Southern Baptists, this far north, may have found success in saving the “lost” by downplaying their denominational attachment, especially when “Southern” is part of that attachment. But, I wonder about the consequences of this way of doing business. Is it ethical to save someone’s soul by deceiving him/her along the way?

About smaxreisert

I'm a United Church of Christ pastor serving the small, faithful Old South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Hallowell, Maine. I was ordained in Massachusetts in 1995, moved to Maine in 1997 and have served the Hallowell church since 2005.
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