The 20 people sitting in the pews at the Forest Park Baptist Church two Sundays ago erupted into applause when Elder Sean Blaylock introduced them and the members attending online to their brand new pastor, the Rev. Dr. Timothy Hein.
Part of the reason for the enthusiasm was because the congregation that worships in the white stucco building on Harlem Avenue had been without a pastor for two years. Blaylock elicited smiles when he recalled that the congregation during that time had been earnestly praying, “Oh Lord, please bring us a pastor!”
If the congregation was excited to receive Hein, his wife Manju and their four children, their new pastor was equally enthusiastic about starting his new ministry with them.
Because the relationship between pastors and their congregations has similarities to marriage, Hein recalled that the committed relationship which officially began on Sep. 5 started out a bit like online dating.
Hein laughed when he said that when he and the search committee met for the first time via Zoom, he could sense right away that he and the congregation were “kindred spirits.”
They were a good match, he said, because of diversity. He grew up as a white boy in a white family which lived in California, Colorado and finally in the Twin Cities in Minnesota. His wife Manju is from an Indian family but was born in Zambia where her parents were serving as missionaries. “Manju,” Hein said, “calls herself an Indian-African.”
Manju became a U.S. citizen in 2006, so you might say that she is an Indian African American. Because their marriage is multi-cultural, Hein said, they tend not to fit perfectly anywhere, and that’s why they were attracted to the Forest Park church which is genuinely multicultural. Two Sundays ago the members sitting in the pews were exactly half white and half people of color.
He was also attracted to the church, because he felt right away “that vibe” that they were both “zealous to be faithful to God’s word,” that they were a faith community that built what they believed and how they live on a biblical foundation.
He also sensed a common commitment to mission. “Even during the over two years they were without a pastor,” said Hein, “the church maintained its support for missions at the local, national and international levels.”
Aware that Baptists, especially Southern Baptists, often get stereotyped as being anti-intellectual, Hein walked through his spiritual/theological journey to show that both he and his new congregation don’t fit neatly into any box.
Hein grew up in a family which went to their Baptist church together twice on Sunday and once on Wednesday evening. “I can’t remember,” he said, “a time when my father was not a deacon or in a position of leadership in the church. Church was the water I swam in. People started saying I would make a good pastor as early as when I was 8 years old.”
Perhaps it is because he felt that conviction while at the time resisting it for years, that church members feel a kinship with him. He would wind up getting a B.A. from Moody Bible College in 2003 but again resisted going on to seminary.
Part of the reason is that he met “this lovely girl from India” who still had a year to go before getting her degree from Moody. He worked at Moody in the admissions office and the multicultural couple got married as soon as she graduated.
During their first year of marriage they debated the question of what would come next while continuing to live in Chicago, and somewhat to his surprise he enrolled in a school in Louisville. “Surprise” was the word he used two weeks ago as he looked back, because he didn’t fit in that extremely conservative spiritual milieu. In fact he and Manju even tried to be agents of change in the Southern Baptist setting, which wasn’t always comfortable, but he stuck it out and graduated with a master’s in divinity in 2008.
Both he and Manju worked in a church in the D.C. area for five years, moved to Edinburgh, Scotland where he worked on a Ph.D. in Christian Origins and had four children along the way.
What Forest Park’s Baptist church got in their new pastor is a shepherd who passionately loves Jesus and encourages his people to share that love with their friends and neighbors and at the same is able to “think the faith,” as Douglas John Hall would say, from a scholarly perspective.
His vision for the future for his congregation includes spending the first year together forming relationships with both the church members and the community. He dreams of the church moving from trusting relationships in God and each other to gaining a reputation in Forest Park and the surrounding area as a faith community that loves God and loves their neighbors.