About Me

I graduated from Northeast Louisiana University in Monroe, LA with a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism. From there, I went to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and earned the Master of Divinity (’91) and Doctor of Philosophy (’96) degrees with an emphasis in Systematic Theology. I’ve served as Pastor of churches in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Missouri. As of July 2019, I’m back in the Volunteer State serving as Pastor of First Baptist Church Clinton.

I consider myself a free and faithful Baptist with an ecumenical spirit who embraces the grace of God through Jesus Christ in my life and desires to extend that same grace to others.

“I can’t breathe” and 84 days

After 84 days away from our worship spaces, First Baptist Church Clinton TN and friends will be able to gather in person. Our church council has approved guidelines for re-gathering and those are available for your review; if you plan on attending in person please take a look at them. In short, the church that gathers on June 7th will be different than the one that gathered on March 15th. Things will look different because they are different.

I think this is appropriate also because things aren’t the same in our nation; a lot of things have happened these last several months in regard to the COVID-19 virus and now the death of George Floyd on a Minneapolis street has rocked our nation.

A few of our church members have asked me about what’s going on in our nation right now. The violence, looting, and other images on television are disturbing. One of the best things we can do is to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” An important question to help us better understand what is going on is this: Does the destruction of property bother us more than the destruction of a human life?

I spoke about this during my sermon last Sunday (May 31); you can locate some of my thoughts around the 41 minute portion of the worship service. My concern was that Floyd’s last words of “I can’t breathe” are an apt yet tragic description of what many people are experiencing in our country. First the COVID-19 takes our breath, and now a graphic reminder of how injustice and racism rob people of their breath has happened too. Suffice it to say, the killing of Floyd by a police officer has generated much protest and rioting. Leaders are attempting to validate the rage behind this killing while seeking to bring about some return of peace. As Melvin Carter, Mayor of Minneapolis said, “The anger is justified, the violence is not.” And, Congressman John Lewis, who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. offered some of these words, “Vote. Organize. Be constructive, not destructive.”

It’s a challenge to be constructive these days; it’s easier to label and libel each other. I’m hopeful that the church wants to be constructive and helpful. Far too often, the church has been an accomplice with our culture by inciting violence and prejudice. Historically, the Baptist church does not have a good track record when it comes to how it has treated people of color. Jesus’ admonition to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” has remained elusive for far too long.

Prior to our move to Clinton, I was given a DVD on “The Clinton 12” which documents some of the violence and unrest this community went through in the desegregation of the public schools. This town knows something about the Governor having to send National Guard troops. In 1956, many out of town agitators stirred violence and hatred and were effective in stoking fear. This church and especially its pastor, Rev. Paul Turner, took a leadership role in standing for justice and togetherness at that pivotal time. But, not without great personal cost to Turner.

So, a lot has happened in our nation these last 84 days and we’ve all been affected in some way. It’s about more than just our not being able to be together in the church building. But, I’m hoping we’ll be able to gather on this Sunday to worship and reflect upon the kind of people God would have us be during these days. Join me in praying for the Holy Spirit to enable us to breathe better, and in so doing may we also create space for others to breathe around us.

COVID-19 UPDATE

The COVID-19 virus has cast a dark shadow here at home, around our nation, and across the globe. To quote Dr. Anthony Fauci, this virus is very “efficient.” It is not like the flu–more people get it, and more people die from it. Indeed, “Social Distancing” is now part of our lives and lexicon.

Governor Bill Lee recommended the closure of all schools through this academic year. Students have had to learn to work “online” so special thanks to all our educators for their efforts in making this possible.

In other news, the “stay at home” directive given by the Governor will expire in April. This means that businesses will seek to open and gradually return to a degree of normalcy. The COVID-19 virus has brought about an economic toll; this will be measured in concert with the impact this is having upon our health and well-being.

First Baptist has sought to be good neighbors in this community that we know and love, and have canceled our activities and meetings in cooperation with the school system. As such, our church council approved the following:

Our church will plan on resuming regular activities (pending any new developments) on June 1st. We will look to incorporate guidance of state and local leaders as well as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) related to group gatherings as we work through this process.

In the same way that the CDC tightened restrictions for group gatherings, I would envision a similar loosening of restrictions over the next weeks and months. This is a “fluid situation” and we will act accordingly.

On a related note, I’m encouraged to learn that Clinton High and Anderson County High Schools are planning graduations in June. Hopefully, this will be a redeeming experience for our seniors under some very difficult circumstances.

As we have done every year, this church will honor our seniors. Please know that the church staff will do its best to provide a meaningful way for this to be accomplished.

We are all in this together. The decision to stop meeting in person is only rivaled by when to resume meeting in person. So, let’s be in prayer as we seek to make decisions for the good of our entire congregation.

We are not closed—we’ve had three people come into our church during this virtual season! So, please know of my gratitude for your faithful financial support and staying connected through our virtual worship services and other gathering opportunities. Stay encouraged–DC

Easter Sunday isn’t Canceled

This isn’t what I had in mind.

This is my first Holy Week with the church and what is happening now wasn’t even remotely what I thought would happen. All the planning, times to be together, messages to be given to groups of people (in person), these and other ideas have been tossed aside in deference to the COVID-19 virus.

It’s a humbling situation for not only myself but also a number of my pastor colleagues. Easter Sunday in particular is like the Super Bowl for us, a time of celebration and bringing people together to proclaim the resurrection of Christ. Not to mention all those “Easter Lily” folks who come once a year wondering why every time they come, there are flowers in the sanctuary.

I’ve been trying really hard to watch my language these last few weeks, but not in the way it sounds. I cringe whenever I hear someone say that “the church is closed.” Of course, I know what that means (I think); it means that the church isn’t holding regular worship and gathering events. Some folks associate the meeting together moments in a building to be “going to church” and when that doesn’t happen, then the church is “closed.”

Another thing I’ve been hearing is that there is a danger of Easter being “canceled” because folks aren’t meeting in the church house. The reasoning is that because we can’t meet together, then Easter doesn’t happen. To be sure, there’s a lot of disappointment related to this realization. But, does this mean that Easter is canceled?

Thank goodness for technology–at least we’re able to stay connected that way. Still, it doesn’t substitute for meeting in person nor does it help people who aren’t technologically savvy enough to have a laptop or smart phone and follow the livestream events. It’s not a perfect situation, no matter much I try to keep the church connected.

I don’t know if we will ever get back to “normal” whatever that means. But, I do think this is a good time to get our theology lined up to what is truly important about life and also what “being the church” means.

On Easter Sunday, we will miss out on seeing all the new dresses, suits, and ties that were bought just for the occasion. We won’t be doing egg hunts, at least not in large groups, and we won’t see packed church houses with folks wondering ‘why can’t it always be like this?’ There won’t be the beautiful music with the choirs or praise team either. There will be any number of losses related to this moment. For me personally, I won’t have the privilege of preaching my first Easter Sunday service to people in chairs or pews. Indeed, it will be an Easter like none other any of us have ever experience.

When you think about all the things we won’t have, there doesn’t seem to be anything to be really excited about. Think about it. The only thing we will have to look forward to is the resurrection of Jesus.

These last few weeks haven’t fun by any stretch of the imagination. People are losing their jobs and livelihoods, and the economic impact is considerable. The psychological and emotional toll is significant also; we won’t know the real damage that has been done in these areas for a while. It’s enough to get depressed just thinking about how much longer this could last.

If there is one benefit to all this disruption and not meeting together (in person) it could be that we will all recognize what Easter Sunday is truly all about. Maybe the resurrection of Christ, on its own merit, is enough for us to celebrate. It could be that the people of God realize that the church is the people rather than a building, and we learn that the church is never closed. We are God’s people no matter what.

The early church experienced these periods of separation and isolation too, and we are here because they believed the resurrection of Christ was enough to sustain them through seasons of hope, hardship, blessing, and despair. Their testimony and faithfulness are our legacy, and now we are called upon to demonstrate faith in a season of testing.

I’m certainly looking forward to all of us being together in person for worship. I’m hopeful we will be renewed and motivated not to take the “gathering of ourselves together” for granted. I am skeptical though, because I recall how 9/11 brought us together for a season and then we drifted apart to business as usual. But, I’ll park my skepticism for now.

Still, maybe maybe this time will be different. I hope so. In the meantime, I am working on not being concerned about things I cannot control. I do want to get up on Easter Sunday saying “Christ is Risen!” to mostly empty pews and people tucked away behind the camera.

COVID-19 can’t stop the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Nothing can separate of us from the love of God than is in Christ Jesus our Lord. This is our season to learn, love, and lean in to being the people of God. We need to think about others and how our actions are impacting them. And while we’re at it, let’s work in this wonderful and familiar refrain:

“Christ is Risen–Christ is Risen Indeed!”

The Church is Open

I don’t want this to be the Coronavirus Channel 24/7, but it’s the forefront of all our minds right now. And it’s our minds that I’m really concerned about.

Jesus told his followers “do not worry about tomorrow” because “your heavenly Father knows you need these things.” Jesus was talking about daily provisions. This realization has become even more important in light of potential shortages of goods and services, and as people stock up and panic buy.

As I’ve told our church numerous times, we are still the church even we’re not together. During this pandemic and season of social distancing, numerous churches are making the difficult choice of canceling activities. We are doing this also. But, it’s important to recognize that the church isn’t closed. There’s a difference between canceling activities and closing the church.

I’ve heard this a few times: “How long is the church going to be closed?” I’m a theologian of sorts, and making the case that the church is not closed is significant. This is more than a distinction without a difference. Jesus said that the “gates of hell would not prevail it (church). I think that would include a virus that is creating havoc, illness, and sometimes death.

Our church will remain OPEN! We are making changes to how we do things. One of the best ways to describe what’s going on is that we are “building the plane as we fly it.” So, please know that the body of Christ is open and will remain open until Jesus comes back for us.

The Center for Disease Control has provided guidelines for groups in terms of how many can be together at one time. As much as possible, I want us to observe these as members of a community that we know and love. What this means, however, is that we are learning more about what we can do during this unexpected season which has brought us to a standstill.

I went into more detail about where we are and what we’re doing as a church on Wednesday night. You can go to our Facebook page as I did a livestream broadcast last Wednesday, and it’s still on our church Facebook page.

We are looking to stay connected as much as possible. One way this is going to happen is by livestreaming on Wednesdays at 6:30 am and Sundays at 10:00 am. Join us there if you can, and stay encouraged!

Coronavirus Update

We have entered a new normal–at least for a while.

The World Health Organization has declared the COVID-19 virus a pandemic.

Vacation destinations and athletic events are announcing they are closing for the forseeable future. The most dramatic event for basketball fans has been the cancellation of “march madness.”

Closer to home, the Governor of Tennessee declared a state of emergency in order to qualify for federal funds to combat the spread of the virus. State colleges and universities are closing campuses and going to online classes. School districts are also having to determine what is best as far as keeping their doors open. These steps and others are being taken to slow the spread of the virus especially as it relates to gatherings in large groups.

And, President Trump has declared a national state of emergency to combat the COVID-19 virus.

As it relates to First Baptist Church, we remain in contact with state and local government leaders as well as health officials as it relates to the spread of the COVID-19 virus. This is a very fluid situation and we want to be responsive to any developments that pertain to us.

After careful consideration, we have decided to move forward with our March 15 regularly scheduled 8:30 am COMBINED service in the Family Life Center. Small group Bible Study classes will also gather; the deacons will have their meeting at 10:30 am. However, the Widow/Widowers banquet has been postponed.

If you are sick or have a health condition that could be impacted adversely by gathering in a group setting, please stay at home. Take any steps necessary to ensure your personal well-being. Keep in mind that we will be live streaming the Sunday sermon via our church Facebook page.

Know that I am aware of concerns relating to the COVID-19 virus and desire to respond appropriately and best. Our church leadership has already taken several common sense steps in our buildings to enhance safety, and are prepared to take more significant ones as needed for public health, social distancing, and our well-being.

You can help us with this effort by washing your hands and using the increased  number of hand sanitizing stations in our buildings. You might also consider adopting alternative and creative forms of greeting each other (fist bumps, elbow bumps, toe taps etc).

Let’s keep praying for another and seek to follow the Lord’s admonition to trust Him through the trials. Let’s also take things “one day at a time” remembering that we are the church even when aren’t together on Sundays. We don’t have to be afraid. Rather, let’s use our energy to love one another and pray for wisdom for how we might be the people of God during this time.

Note to our church about Coronavirus

Yesterday our governor held a press conference indicating the first confirmed case of the coronavirus in our state. So, I thought it would be a good time to touch base about what we are doing thus far as a church in response to this development.

The church staff and I are implementing some common sense steps to help the church during this time. We have added hand sanitizing stations and are ensuring that door handles and elevator buttons are being cleaned on a regular basis. I would also encourage you to wash your hands regularly with soap and water.

If you’ve been in worship recently, you may have noticed that we haven’t been doing the meet and greet portion of the service which included leaving our seats and shaking hands with others. This initially related to my wanting to change the flow of the worship service, but this is also a practical step from a health standpoint.

There’s a good article from Christianity Today about what churches can do to deal with the coronavirus, and I’ve posted that on my Facebook page as well as the church’s page.

We are a church, not a fortress, so there is always a certain degree of risk when we gather in a public place. In the case of this virus, I want to keep us as informed and as healthy a congregation as possible. Rest assured that I want to do what is best to accomplish this goal.

We are going to pay attention to state and local government leaders and take our cues from them regarding any additional steps that we as a church need to take. In the meantime, I look forward to seeing you this Sunday—and don’t forget that we spring forward to set those clocks ahead an hour!

Dr. Chisholm