Monday, January 21, 2008

The Clarkston International Bible Church

[This post was written in September, 2007 and moved to January 21, 2008 in observance of the King holiday.]

As a long-time resident of metro-Atlanta I am compelled to point to today's video and story in the New York Times about a local ministry, Clarkston International Bible Church. Formerly a Southern Baptist church, it is now an independent multi-ethnic congregation in one of the most diverse communities in the area. The Times video is well-done and only five minutes long. (So far they have not enabled You Tube to make the clip available for embedding, but these things take time. After all, it took a long time for the Times to discover how pointless it was to charge for Times Select.)

Clarkston, Georgia is inside the Perimeter very close to the DeKalb Farmers Market, one of the city's most colorful and important cultural attractions. My family and I have moved too far out to shop there now, but when Robert and Harry Blazer started their enterprise in town we were among their most faithful patrons. Starting on a vacant lot at Medlock Drive and Scott Blvd. in Decatur, selling fresh produce off the back of trucks, they put together one of the most impressive retail food outlets in the country. They grew too big for their original location and relocated to the present site which is as big as a warehouse. The brother Harry started a separate business on a similar model, appropriately called Harry's, which grew in the North Atlanta suburbs, but the Original DeKalb Farmers Market remained one of a kind with Robert in charge. The last time I was there I saw him talking with one of the staff in a conversation that lasted the whole time I was shopping. I have no idea what they were discussing, but I was impressed that his sense of priorities is balanced enough that he has all the time in the world to chew the fat with a retail clerk. I think that may have something to do with the success of the business.

But this post is not about the market. This is about the church nearby. Watch the video and get a feel for what happens when old fashioned Southern Baptists decide that welcoming others from all parts of the world is an important part of building the Kingdom. This kind of ministry is not common, incidentally, but also not unique. My wife and I went to St. Jude's Episcopal Church in Marietta for a decade and experienced very much the same kind of cultural mix. Christians from all over the world have more in common than many isolated congregations imagine. By isolating themselves from their Christian brothers and sisters who don't speak or worship the same, they only succeed in limiting their vision of what the Church really is. As the preacher in the video concludes, we can expect Heaven to be a culturally mixed place.

This church and the nearby DeKalb Farmers Market reflect an impressive international diversity. One reason for the success of the market is that from the beginning shoppers from all over the world could find products they wanted. Immigrant shoppers traveled long distances to shop there. Virtually anything available in North America was for sale at reasonable prices, including strange root crops and vegetables not found in most grocery store produce sections. Imported products from Asia and South America appeared along with those from Europe, Australia and New Zealand. In time they built an impressive wine selection. But the most impressive part of the market has always been the staff and a true international flavor. Flags from all over the world hang overhead and clerks speaking many languages in addition to English are everywhere. I have no idea how many countries are represented but the impression is that they compose a virtual United Nations in uniform.

No, I have no connection with the church, the market or the Chamber of Commerce. But yes, I can tell you if you have time when you are in Atlanta consider putting the DeKalb Farmers Market on your list of places to visit. Travelers from New York, San Francisco or other places with large immigrant populations may not be impressed. But you can be sure that places like this are a rich, new experience for lots of people here in the South. And churches like the one in Clarkston have a very important ministry and deserve recognition.


Anonymous said...

In the first paragraph you wrote "Formerly a Southern Baptist church, it is now an independent multi-ethnic congregation in one of the most diverse communities in the area."

CIBC is a "multi-ethnic congregation", but we are still a Southern Baptist Church.

We appreciate your interest and the comments you made.

We have a web site:

Please visit it sometime.

Charles Griffin
CBC/CIBC member for 37 years.

Hoots said...

Thanks for your comment. I stand corrected. That makes me proud to have been reared as a Southern Baptist myself. Much has changed over the forty-plus years I left for the Episcopal Church.

The Times article and video were published in September, 2007. Your comment and correction come in a timely way to remind readers of your ministry in connection with the MLK holiday. I'm moving this entry to January 21 for that observance.

I'm still hoping that someone at your church with the technical know-how will put up some You Tube videos. Yours is an important ministry that deserves to be better known and widely copied.