The Vespers Program
It has been over ten years since Linda Tate had a vision for ministry to the people who were coming to First Baptist Church on Tuesday afternoons to eat at the Hunger Coalition meals. The Reed Room became the site of a 30-minute devotional service that gave interested persons an opportunity to gather for prayer, hymn singing, the reading of scripture, and a brief message. The service began just before the 5:30 meal, so it was called “Vespers” – to correspond to the ancient Christian practice of early evening prayer within the cycle of the Divine Hours.
From the beginning there were indications that the Vesper service was meeting the need of this unique little “congregation” for worship, prayer, fellowship, and spiritual care. Those who attend Vespers often testify that this time together is meaningful and helpful, and a blessing for all who are hungry and thirsty for spiritual sustenance and positive support in times of difficulty. The Vespers program has welcomed all who would come. The emphasis has been on the goodness of God and God’s love for each person, on the value of each life, on mutual care within relationships between strangers who are becoming friends.
This small, safe time and place for the meeting of persons of different backgrounds and needs has also afforded an opportunity for providing other forms of assistance. For example, the rummage sales sponsored by the American Baptist Women of First Baptist have become a source of clothing and household items for lower-income persons, whether they attend Vespers or not. Personal care items have been donated by church members and made available for the taking. Monetary gifts to the Vespers program have gone to purchase many Bibles over the years, which guests have taken for their personal use. The youth of First Baptist have developed a tradition of singing at the service during Christmas time and passing out new mittens and warm hats. Occasionally, we have had movie or holiday parties and Bible studies on other days for those who could come.
Speakers for the service have been local ministers, lay church members, and the “guests” themselves. Music has been provided by a series of talented volunteers. Because of the stability of the Vespers program trust has grown between church members and many of the guests. In this atmosphere it has been possible to offer one-to-one support to people in search of jobs, housing, food, information about community resources, and healing in personal relationships.