For everything, a season…


By Joe LaGuardia

The following article is reprinted from The Rockdale Citizen.  Please note that although Joe LaGuardia will no longer publish in the Citizen after April 29th, he and a community of Baptists will continue to publish for Baptist Spirituality and other publications.  Please be sure to subscribe to our blog to keep up on our inspiring and thought-provoking publications. 


Well, dear reader, it is about that time I say, “Goodbye!”  God has called me to new horizons.  As of May, I will head south to serve as pastor of First Baptist Church of Vero Beach, Florida.

Moving out of Rockdale County means having to move out of the religion section of The Rockdale Citizen.  I have done all the reporting and commentaries that I can do; you’re on your own now.

I started writing for the Citizen about 8 years ago.  Back then, we got the newspaper nearly every day.  Some dude in a hatchback tried to knock over my mailbox with the daily edition.  The religion section was indeed a section–in color, of course.  It came out on Saturday, when people actually had time to read the religion section.

Now we’re in the back of the Friday sports section–just a different type of religion section, if you think about it– which people rarely read because they are getting boats ready for Lake Jackson rather than reading the newspaper on Fridays.

Nevertheless, my time with you every week has been a blessing.  I enjoyed writing about the Bible, but I cherished reporting on stories from around the world and about religions not necessarily my own–weird stories, such as people coloring in adult coloring books as an act of worship, or the persecution of Muslims by Buddhist terrorists in Myanmar.

What I love most about writing is not just reporting on faith and culture, but engaging a community I have grown to love.

Rockdale County is a great place to worship and work.  Anyone who tells you otherwise may need to pray about how they view the world around them.  If you see the world as hostile and dangerous, that’s what you’re going to get.

Everywhere I go in the county, I meet the nicest people, many of whom are committed to raising their families right and living decent lives built on integrity, faith, and hard work.

I’ve never felt compelled to carry a gun; I’ve always believed that the Gospel was good enough.  The only time I got scared about living in Rockdale was when I received word (from the Citizen, of course) that “City Slickers” was closing.

Having great people means everything else is great too.  Conyers is one of the few communities I know where churches collaborate more than compete, pastors and directors of non-profits are close friends, and the local government is run by people who know you by name.

That is why Trinity Baptist has had an easy time working with so many people and agencies since its founding over 30 years ago.  It’s also why we believe strongly in participating in Family Promise and other non-profits that help the neediest families in our community.

Jesus seems all the more glorified when we work together.

When my family and I made the decision to follow God’s call elsewhere, we had a church family to consider at Trinity–but we had an entire community to consider too.  This is our home and, as much as its worth, this is our family.  We are excited about obeying God, but sad to leave.

With only a few more articles to go (my last article in the Citizen will run on April 29), I wanted to mention what I loved about this place this time around.  Next week, I hope to give a few challenges and words of wisdom for the road ahead.

When you sit and think about it–and consider that the Bible is correct when it says that for everything there is a season (Ecclesiastes 3:1)–I hope your memories and thoughts bring few regrets, warmed hearts, and a positive outlook for our community and the days ahead.

White Horsemint: A Thing of God’s Beauty

WHITE HORSEMINT Pycnanthemum incanum

Pycnanthemum incanum

By Orrin Morris

While teaching one summer at a seminary in the San Francisco area, I visited the Humboldt Redwood State Park.  I was dwarfed by the size of those magnificent trees.  The Scripture verses for today come from Psalms 91:1-2:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust.’

Unlike Redwoods, today’s wildflower, white horsemint, is easily overlooked.  You must travel to the edge of the woods to find it; and, on my property, it blooms in late summer in the shadows of our 60- to 80-foot oaks and hickories.  Even the smallest of plants, however, can communicate God’s magnificent, towering beauty.

As an artist, I’ve always enjoyed the beautiful colors, the fascinating textures and the delicate details of the smallest to the largest wildflower.  The white horsemint from afar looks like a weed whose top leaves have been bleached white by the sun, but a closer look reveals there is wonder in the details.

This wildflower bears its blooms on a plant that stands 3 to 5 feet tall and is easily identified by the whitish-green leaves surrounding the blossoms at the uppermost part of the branches. The stem is square, a common feature of the mint family.

When you get close and examine the blossoms you discover it is not just one bloom but many small flowers in a cluster.  The individual flower is less than 1/4 inch wide and about 3/4 inch tall. It is shaped like the bell of a trombone but stretched so the top of the bell juts upward and the bottom into a three-part lobe.  Its color is light pink or white with purple spots randomly located about the corolla. You need a magnifying glass to see these details, especially the pistil and stamen.

White horsemint is found in dry areas of thin or open woods. It blooms from June to September on my property, though my resource books say that it blooms primarily in September to October.  When the leaves are crushed they give off a mint odor and can be used to flavor iced tea.

In October, the leaves drop, but atop the stems will be dried flowers in which tiny black seeds can be harvested for planting in rock gardens and natural areas.

Finally, may you find joy by following the counsel I teach my students, “Look — truly look — at the shapes, colors, and textures.”  Thus, you can begin to grasp the true beauty of God’s highly diverse creation and “abide in the shadow of the Almighty.”

Enacting Race Reconciliation for an Eternal Impact

Pastor Layne Fields of Old Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, Conyers.

Pastor Layne Fields of Old Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, Conyers.

By Joe LaGuardia

Last week, I published an article on the importance of collaboration.  This week’s article is on collaboration of a different kind: Working together in a culture of distrust.

We start with the facts.  Rockdale County has experienced a major demographic shift in the last ten years.

If my memory serves me correct, the county consisted of nearly 80% Caucasian residents as of the 2000 census.

By 2010, that number shifted dramatically.  Now, the county is made up of approximately 49% African American and 48% “white” residents.  If you only take “all-white/non-hispanic” residents, the percentage decreases to just over 37% of the county’s population.

This shift has created some tensions within our neighborhoods, although not as profound as what other counties in our nation have experienced.

In fact, community development, economic stability, and recreation in Rockdale has remained largely undisturbed aside from more traffic on the roads (the result of an improving economy).

Our local government, churches, and businesses have done a good job of integrating and reflecting the reality of our neighborhoods.  We do not have a “Ferguson” problem in which one race dominates over another.  And, although government agencies are not always in harmony with one another, things get done quite efficiently–as efficiently as can be expected, at least.

Yet, it is also not a secret that race relations have been strained despite the good efforts of public and private sector efforts.  Regardless of schools and agencies still being rated among the best in the state, there is a still an undercurrent of distrust and (in some cases) fear within communities where segregation persists.

We can see this in the opinion columns in the local newspaper, for instance.  Many people insist that Rockdale County is becoming a hotbed for crime and perceive this community as a place of hostility in the wake of racial change.

The facts, once again, do not fit this erroneous worldview:  Crime rates have actually decreased over the last two years.

Participation in the non-profit sector by the entire community is vibrant and flourishing.  Hospitality, not hostility, has created an environment that I am proud of and that my family enjoys.

This type of trust-building, bridge-building ethos must be intentional.  No person — and no organization — is an island, and we must constantly work to reflect our neighborhoods in our rate of integration and partnerships.

This Sunday, as many celebrate Memorial Day at home and Pentecost at church, we are doing just that.  Trinity Baptist Church and its immediate neighbor, Old Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, will come together for a joint worship service that acknowledges our unity in Christ and the Holy Spirit’s transformative power.

We will read Acts 2 together, which tells the story of the Holy Spirit bringing Christians together from various cultures to birth the church.  We will worship, preach, and fellowship based on this theme.

Although it will last a little over an hour, it will impact our neighborhood with eternal significance: We will stand united in reaching our community for Christ.

This is important now more than ever.  Historically, Trinity Baptist Church has been primarily a “white” congregation, whereas Old Pleasant Hill Baptist has been primarily African American.  Even economic differences have kept these two churches worlds apart although they sit across the street from one another.

Sunday will not be the first joint worship we shared together, but it will be the first in recent memory in which strained race relations have made national news.

In worshiping together, we say that God is One over all creation, and that no one community speaks on God’s behalf.  We boldly declare that, although our worship services may flow differently and our preaching styles vary, we still have a unique and singular mission to reach a community in which 70% of the population is unchurched.

There is only one heaven in which we all share, and only one mission God has given.

We hope you will join us in this effort.  Worship begins at 11 AM at Old Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, and we welcome all who are seeking after God’s own heart in this time and place.