During Baptist Seminary of Kentucky’s 2022 commencement, held at CHBC on May 14, Steve Ivy, a BSK pastoral care professor and former CHBC member, paid tribute to Crescent Hill for the nurture the congregation provided him.
I first attended Crescent Hill Baptist Church in February of 1953. My seminarian father and my mother delivered me to the care of gracious and loving women who knew their ministry was to make possible a future preacher to be shaped by the preaching of Dr. Burhans. They sacrificially took care of my diapers while my parents worshipped. And they succeeded in that my father still talked about Dr. Burhans’ influence on him some 60 years later. I invite you to feel that wisdom in this sacred space.
We moved that summer and I did not enter this building again until March 1973. Happenstance was that this was the Sunday of Dr. John Howell’s installation service. High church organ, choirs and robed ministers processing, banners waving. This small-town Kentucky boy knew he was both a stranger and at home. Here we met peer seminarians who became life-long friends, including Daryl and Alice Adams, Nancy and Jackie Ammerman, Suzzi and Roger Painter, Paul and Kathy Duke. We were shaped by caring Sunday School conveners, Eleanor and Grady Nutt, Tom and Pat Scott. Here, we were able to vote for the first time for women to be ordained as deacons. In May 1977 I kneeled to receive the blessing of ordination to the gospel ministry, right there! This communion then sent me to be pastor of a congregation. A man who had grown up in this church and whose mother was still active here served as the chair of deacons for my congregation. Are you feeling the saints yet?
In a few years we returned to these people during my PhD studies. I saw scholars love the members of this communion as brothers and sisters in Christ – Barnette, Culpepper, Honeycutt, Tupper, Thornton, Leonard, Marshall – to name but a few. Scholarship in the service of God’s love and reconciliation. They each preached and several served as interim pastors. The insightful preaching of Pastor Stephen Shoemaker, the lovely music, the sacred dance group all have made every other church we have entered feel somewhat pale by comparison. Are you feeling the saints?
I must name one other dimension of the life of this communion. They learned resilience in the face of tragic deaths and choices. John Claypool’s and Temp Sparkman’s young daughters both lost to leukemia in 1970; in the 80’s John Howell’s death due to brain tumor and Grady Nutt’s plane crash; and so many other personal and public losses and failures. And perhaps their greatest loss was that their stance on blessing all God’s children into whatever their sacred calling might be, cost this church their core ministry of nurturing seminary faculty and students. To stand for God’s liberation can be a very costly stand! Are you feeling the saints? They must be very happy to be surrounding our small communion today.
I dare not end before directly invoking the communion of women in leadership. This congregation ordained their first women deacons in 1973. Some Baptist churches in the south did so earlier, but very few. Baptist Women in Ministry was officed here from its founding in 1983 to 1996 and their publication, “Folio,” was edited by Reba Cobb, a devoted Crescent Hill member. Rev. Cobb is currently a BSK trustee which completes a circle of saints!
This sacred space knows the heights and depths of life. And through it all, love of God and of neighbor has been their guide. Are you feeling the saints?
Let us pray:
We, O God, unite our voices in thankful praise to Thee.
Praise for the saints whose love has stirred us, friends who taught our hearts to sing,
From their laughter, love, and anguish, hope will never cease to ring.
Mercy met us in their faces, glory in their faithfulness.
As they lit the way before us, so we the future bless.
Not our choice the wind’s direction, unforeseen the calm or gale.
The great ocean swells before us, and our ship seems small and frail.
Fierce and gleaming is Thy mystery drawing us to shores unknown;
Plunge us on with hope and courage ‘til Thy Harbor is our home!
In the presence of all God’s saints, in the spirit, love, and grace of our God, let us say together, Amen.