The Nazareth First Missionary Baptist Church
January 16, 2010
I wasn’t able to locate a website for Nazareth. The church’s address is 146 Pine Street at the corner of Hazzard St and MLK Blvd. just east of downtown Asheville. Sunday service begins at 11:00am.
This Sunday I chose to visit one of Asheville’s predominantly black Baptist congregations in honor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was a Baptist minister. I picked Nazareth because it’s a Baptist church located right on MLK Blvd and always plays a leading role in the Asheville MLK Day Celebrations. I’d also heard they had a particularly excellent gospel choir. I LOVE gospel music! Who doesn’t?!
While I do not wish to encourage people to visit churches as spectators (church is not a performance for an audience) but rather to approach the experience as an open-hearted guest receiving gifts, more people really should hear the Voices of Nazareth Choir.
The Choir was just finishing their first song and the first prayer beginning when I arrived a little bit late (not unusual for me to my constant chagrin). While I waited for the prayer to conclude before entering I admired the photographs and commemorations of people who’ve led and supported this congregation over the years. Mrs. Maybin, whom I met in the foyer, greeted me warmly and gave me a visitor card to fill out, which I did and returned to her.
As I entered the sanctuary one of the youth ushers in black pants, a crisp white shirt and white gloves gave me a program. The congregation was singing a hymn from the African American Heritage Hymnal. Another youth usher, this one a girl in a ruffled black skirt, a white shirt and gloves, noticed that I did not have a copy of the hymnal on my pew and brought me one almost before I noticed myself.
I looked up from my singing long enough to notice two friendly and familiar faces. Associate Minister Rev. Paul Milsaps, who formerly led a congregation in my neighborhood and, I believe, Elder John Hayes who manages WRES –LP 100.7FM.
Dr. Charles R. Mosley, Sr. the Minister of Nazareth, leads his flock like benevolent father–with high expectations and good humor. When he was not satisfied that the congregation had been holding up their end of the congregational singing he expressed his dissatisfaction, charged the congregation with its duty not to leave the singing all up to the choir and had us all sing it again. We did so and I certainly participated with an increased gusto that may or may not have been appreciated by the lady standing in front of me. Dr. Mosley is clearly loved and respected by his congregation as well as many other people in Western NC.
Now, there are a couple of things to keep in mind when visiting Nazareth. First, this congregation does not do anything by half-measures and the includes the Welcome to Visitors. All churches express their welcome to visitors at some point in the service, usually from the pulpit, and sometimes even ask visitors to stand. At Nazareth, I was called by name, Sister Michelle Smith, and invited to stand which I did. The entire congregation turned to face me and offered me this welcome in unison, “In the name of our Master, we bid you a cordial welcome to this house of God, its comfort and its peace. It stands for Loyalty, Missions, Benevolence and the Salvation of all mankind.”
If this sounds like more attention than you’re normally comfortable with I invite you to just relax into the experience. As I looked around into the faces of these people I felt truly honored to receive so much warm attention. I expressed as much when I was asked by the Minister if I had any words I’d like to say.
When I sat down I felt a little flushed from all the attention and began to fan myself with my program. Another young usher quietly brought me a proper fan.
The second thing to keep in mind is that this congregation enjoys church and each other. They are not in any hurry to get out. I failed to keep this in mind and, unfortunately had to leave before the service was over due to another obligation that afternoon.
The sermon started about 12:30 and looked like it was going to carry on until 1:30 or so. I was very sorry to have to leave early and normally I wouldn’t have if I’d been better prepared. Be sure and eat a good breakfast so you don’t get hungry.
This is a working congregation and good part of Sunday morning services is devoted to taking care of God’s business. Announcements, reports on fund raising efforts for scholarships and other ministries, fund raising calls to action, and of course, the Offering. Nazareth takes up offering in large, shiny golden plates as befits money dedicated to Spirit’s agenda.
As a professional fundraiser, I was completely inspired at the power of this organization to gather resources for the world changing work these people value. Talk about a fundraising culture! All you folks in the non-profit world who want to raise money but don’t want to have to ask anyone for it ought to go and watch what happens when people know they are channeling their resources to their highest vision of the world and people they trust ask them to contribute. I’m seriously considering assigning attendance at a Sunday morning service at Nazareth as homework for my clients.
In between and along with all these proceedings there is singing, magnificent singing! With a choir like the Voices of Nazareth and a preacher like Dr. Mosely, I can understand why this church enjoys Sunday morning to the fullest.
The choir sang no less than four songs before preaching started not including the Gloria Patri, the Offering hymns and the congregational hymns. One of my favorite parts of the service was the Pastoral Prayer and Altar Call. I had not seen this done before. Members of the choir and congregation gathered in a circle holding hands around the Altar to pray with their pastor for each other, their church and those in need. I’m sure this is a favorite part of the service for many and one that helps bond this community together for good times and hard.
Dr. Mosley is himself a fine singer and he takes advantage of this gift in his preaching. He took his sermon from the third chapter of the Book of Acts, the story of Peter and James and the miracle of the lame man outside the temple. I enjoyed hearing this story again. I haven’t thought about it since childhood and I didn’t think much about it then. This was one of dozens of miraculous stories that I knew and could recite from the Bible.
In the story the man, lame from birth, is brought everyday to the temple gate called Beautiful to beg for alms. (Don’t you love it? A gate called Beautiful.) Peter and James look him in the eye and tell him to take up his bed and walk. Then Peter reaches down with his right hand and picks the man up and the man goes walking and leaping into the temple praising God.
For me, the story gives us a compelling picture of how we can leave ourselves outside the temple, in our comfortable story of littleness and deprivation, feeling unable to change our perception of our lives from broken to Beautiful.
Peter and James did not see the man as lame, but as whole. They refused to buy his story about himself (“Silver and gold have I none”). Then Peter offered him a hand up and the man was able to believe in the possibility of a different story about himself. Dr. King asked the same of this country. He spoke his vision of wholeness and people walked toward it.
Dr. Mosely preached his way all the way from the beginning of this story to the end reaching into the meat of every sentence and phrase while the congregation testified with feeling. The organist, drummer and percussionist rejoined their instruments as Dr. Mosely began to build his oration to a satisfying crescendo.
Sadly, that’s when I had to slip out in order to meet my other commitment. I look forward to returning to Nazareth First Baptist Missionary Baptist again when I can relax and enjoy the entire service.
Communion is served at Nazareth on the first Sunday of the month. Baptism is offered on the fourth Sunday of the month. Perhaps I’ll make a point to join the congregation for one of these special services.