I don’t know if you realize this or not, but there are just about an endless combination of types of Baptists here in my neck of the woods. Some are predominately traditional and others more contemporary. Some prefer a tie and coat while others like jeans and a t-shirt. Some Baptists rival a few other denominations (not-to-be named) in their tendency to express less than zero emotion at church. While, on the other end of that spectrum, a few Baptists sound more like their Pentecostal friends at church (just all in the same language of course). Some Baptists like the formality and order of high church worship while some of their counterparts would just assume have no order to worship to “let the Spirit move, amen?!” Indeed, along these lines and others, one of my favorite traits about being a Baptist — and one of our tenets — is our diversity on so many levels.
One of those most endearing traits for many Baptists is that they are proudly “huggin’ folk.” You know, those good-hearted types who are more likely to pull you in for a bear hug than shake your hand during the greeting time, right? Those folks that don’t know any such thing as a stranger and express that with a friendly embrace. I’m honored to pastor one of those churches that is full of “huggin’ Baptists.” We have kind-spirited, down-to-earth, friendly folks who truly do know how to make you sense a welcoming presence with a warm hug.*
So, among such a group of huggin’ folk, a hug that stands out should not be forgotten. A few days ago, I shared here how much fun the first year at Pleasant Garden Baptist Church has been for us. One of the search committee members, Curt Whitley wrote in response,
“The moment for me was, when after all three services, the votes were tallied, we met with you & Diana in the conference room, shared the results, and formally extended the call. Then Pastor Michael entered the room. You and he shared a warm, prolonged embrace with great joy and mega tears. Not a dry eye in the room. I wished the entire congregation could have witnessed that moment. God has and continues to be so faithful to His church.”
I won’t forget that moment or that hug. Our retiring pastor, Michael Barrett, who had so faithfully guided Pleasant Garden to that point of transition walked into the room with the search committee and my wife and me. As he congratulated me with that embrace and tears, he wrapped me in the warm grip of Godly mentorship, prayer, and love.
In the 12 months following that embrace of celebration and transition that day, he has continued to envelop me with encouragement, prayer, support, and investment. He’s been a listening ear from time to time, a source of advice, and a faithful support for God’s continued movement here at Pleasant Garden Baptist Church.
That hug embodied a powerful gift that “Pastor Mike” committed to me as we transitioned. He said, “Robert, I’ll help you. I’ll pray with you. I’ll pray for you.” And how he has! Can we do any better for those around us? Isn’t the command “to love one another” that’s woven through the entire Bible displayed in that type of expression to those God places along our path? Isn’t that exactly what God would hope “huggin’ folk” would do for one another?
I won’t forget that hug. But, more than that, I’m striving to pass it along. I want to hand off that same support, prayer, encouragement, and help that I’ve been so graciously given to others who need it.
So, be a hugger if that’s you. But, more importantly, be a helper, a support, and an investor in others around you. Perhaps you’ll give a hug–or a help–that won’t be forgotten!
*On a lighter note, I realize some out there are keep-your-hugs-to-yourself folk who are just as kind-hearted and down to earth, but at arms length 😉