Long-awaited sunshine revealed monumental blankets of snow covering the Washington, D.C., area on Jan. 24 after nearly 48 hours of blizzard-like conditions. The skies were clear that Sunday morning, but roads and runways were closed due to historic levels of snowfall, leaving droves of travellers stranded in the city.
Among the D.C. castaways were organizers and attenders of the inaugural Evangelicals for Life conference at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, co-sponsored by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention and Focus on the Family. The Jan. 21-22 pro-life event had gone as planned, as did the yearly March for Life, until inclement weather created impossible travel conditions on Friday afternoon.
Nathan Lino, president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and lead pastor of Northeast Houston Baptist Church
Despite the helpless situation, marooned conference-goers decided to redeem their hotel-bound Sunday morning, doing what evangelicals do best – praying together, singing hymns and preaching the Word of God.
Nearly 100 Southern Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans and others packed into a hotel conference room that seated around 50. Staff members from the ERLC arranged the time of worship, inviting hotel guests to join them for the improvised chapel service.
Phillip Bethancourt, ERLC executive vice president, jokingly referred to the gathering as “Hyatt Regency Community Church.”
Nathan Lino, lead pastor of Northeast Houston Baptist Church and president of Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, preached to the gathered crowd from Ephesians 4:29-30.
“Words are tiny, but they are powerful,” he said. “They shape us and form us and control us and they direct our lives.”
Lino emphasized the potential for words to either build up or destroy.
“Every decision you’ve ever made, and who you are today, is the result of words,” he said. “I hope you suffer or I forgive you; I hate you or I love you; We regret to inform you or we’re happy to inform you.”
Words are powerful because they come from God, Lino said, referring to numerous biblical stories and examples from the life of Jesus.
“Do not speak words that rot people’s souls,” he continued. “Speak honest words, speak true words, but speak them in a way that is fitting … and it will be life-giving to those that hear.”
Daniel Darling, ERLC vice president for communications, led the group as they sang classic hymns, including “Amazing Grace.” He was accompanied by Trillia Newbell, director of community outreach; Lindsay Swartz, managing editor of content; and Christian Walker, wife of Andrew Walker, director of policy studies.
Scripture reading came from Daniel Patterson, ERLC chief of staff, and Ferrell Foster, director of Ethics & Justice for the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas Convention.
Freda M. Bush sang special music. She is a longtime pro-life advocate and clinical instructor in the OB-GYN and Family Medicine departments at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
The group seemed to enjoy the chapel service, despite the inconvenience of being snowed-in. They did, however, sing one particular verse with a hint of eagerness: “‘Tis grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Seth Brown is content editor of the Biblical Recorder, news journal of North Carolina Baptists.)