What is a “federation”? It is a partnership of equals who hold and do some things together. First Baptist Church already belongs to three other federations. At the local level we are part of the DC Baptist Convention. At the national level we are part of the American Baptist Churches in the USA and the Alliance of Baptists. At the same time, First Baptist Church is chartered in Maryland but in fellowship with other churches by our common faith, mode of governance, and partnership in mission.
Being federated with two other churches does not change the status of First Baptist Church in any way. Nor does it change the status of either of the other churches. Each church is responsible for its own governance and ministries. Being federated says that the three churches are related as a partnership of cooperation.
Let’s remember that we are part of the Body of Christ. Jesus prayed that we would be one and left us an example of that oneness in what we call the Trinity. Each part is distinct, but all three are bound in a common being and purpose—our oneness in Christ.
To be federated says more about the spirit of how we get along rather than about our organizational structure. Some historical background will show how the idea of federation was born and grew. In early Fall, 2002, after our working to build closer personal and ministry ties with Pastor Graupera of Iglesia Bautista Emanuel, he shared IBE’s story of their relationship with First Baptist Church: “For several years, the Spanish Church felt like an unwanted tenant and saw First Baptist as a landlord who needed the rent.”
That hardly seemed like a “Christian relationship” and was far from what we wanted the bond between us and the other churches to be. We prayed about the relationship and talked often about what to do. This, along with maintenance and security problems in the buildings, led to discussions by the Trustees and meetings between staff of FBC, IBE, CDC, and the Congolese Church during 2004 and 2005. Many issues were resolved amicably and mutually. Though trust and collaboration grew between the churches, steps were still needed to resolve the initial issue.
With the help of the DC Baptist Convention, we obtained a grant from the American Baptist Churches Minister’s Council that allowed us to get a consultant from the Alban Institute. The pastors of the four churches using our building at that time and the Director of the Child Development Center were able, with the consultant’s help, to lay the groundwork of our new mutual relationship built on the biblical model of koinonia taken from Acts 4:32, “They held all things in common,” and 1 John 1:1-3, “fellowship” between believers and God and between believers in Jesus. With the Trustees, we worked out a payment for building use that demonstrated partnership in ministries and mission rather than a landlord-tenant relationship. We also worked through details of the building project so that all three churches were considered partners rather than tenants.
There are many other significant details to the story of healing relationships with the churches. IBE has responded by turning over their building fund of $100,000.00 to the building fund for the new facility. All three churches have participated fully in the Stewardship Campaign with the hope of building a common mission outreach to Silver Spring from our new facility.
To talk about a federation is very much about how the other churches see First Baptist as their partner rather than as their landlord who can expel them at any time. It came from that problem and remains for us to work out mutually so that God will be glorified by how his followers work together!