Category: Community

VBS Off To A Great Start at Saddle Ridge Ranch

We partner with 4 other churches in our community to do VBS each year. Each church takes a turn leading VBS planning, and hosting the community for VBS week. This year we’re at Chestnut Level Baptist Church for Saddle Ridge Ranch VBS. The other churches participating include our church, Chatham Baptist; Watson Memorial United Methodist Church; Oakland United Methodist Church; and, Chatham Presbyterian Church. Here’s a quick video montage of the sets, rooms, and our first night at Saddle Ridge Ranch.

Saddle Ridge Ranch VBS set is taking shape

Debbie is painting the backdrop and set for our community VBS.  This year the theme is “Saddle Ridge Ranch,” which is available at LifeWay stores.  We partner with 4 other community churches — a Presbyterian church, two United Methodist churches, and another Baptist church — for VBS each year.  All of our churches have about the same attendance, which is under 100 on average, so partnering with other churches helps share the cost, provides lots of adult helpers, and lots of kids for VBS.

Our VBS costs have run a little more than $20 per child in recent years, and we anticipate about 100 children, plus 60-70 workers.  Here’s our schedule for the week of June 27 – July 1:

  • 5:00 PM:  Our bus leaves our parking lot to make the trip to this year’s location at Chestnut Level Baptist Church.
  • 5:30 PM:  A snack supper is provided for $1 per child, and $2 per adult to help working families get there together.
  • 6:00 PM:  VBS starts each evening.
  • 8:00 PM:  VBS ends.
  • 8:20 PM:  Bus arrives back at our parking lot in Chatham.

We start on Sunday evening to give us time to set up that afternoon.  We don’t serve the snack supper on Sunday, but Monday through Thursday nights we feed 80-100 people supper.  Each church pays a pro-rated share of the expense of VBS based on the number of children (not adults or workers) each church has enrolled for the week.  Usually the host church for that year spends a little more than the other churches, but over 5 years it all balances out.  What is your church doing for VBS this year?

Our community VBS backdrop for Saddle Ridge Ranch. A bunkhouse and ranch entrance will add to the western theme this year.

Baccalaureate Sermon: The Goal of a Successful Life

I’m preaching the baccalaureate sermon tonight at Hargrave Military Academy here in our town of Chatham, Virginia.  One hundred years ago, the pastor of our church became the founding president of Hargrave, so our ties go back to 1909-10, the first full school year.

The Goal of a Successful Life
2 Timothy 4:6-8

6For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure.7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. — 2 Timothy 4:6-8 NIV

Back to the Future in 2080

Imagine tonight that instead of being 2010, the year is 2080.  Rather than your age being, say, 18, you are now 88 years old.  And you’re reflecting on the life you have lived.  You’re looking back on the ups-and-downs, the highs-and-lows, the experiences that have made your life what it is.

You might have retired as the highly successful president of a Fortune 500 corporation.  Or you might have published a novel that had the literary critics and the popular press buzzing about your creativity.  Or you might have lived your life like most folks do, quietly and without fame or fortune, but with the satisfaction that you made a difference.  That the children you taught, or the leadership you exerted, or the love you gave to your family and friends made their lives better and richer for having known you.

Continue reading “Baccalaureate Sermon: The Goal of a Successful Life”

A Message for National Police Week

This week is National Police Week.  All across the country, law enforcement officers and community residents are gathering to honor the memories of officers who have been killed in the line of duty.  I was asked to speak at our local memorial service for fallen officers hosted by our church this year.  Here is the message I delivered today:

To Stand in the Gap
Ezekiel 22:30

30 “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.” — Ezekiel 22:30

A National Tribute

We are gathered here today during the observance of National Police Week, to honor the memories of the eight fallen Pittsylvania County peace officers who gave their lives in the line of duty.  Each year, between 140 and 160 law enforcement officers are killed in the United States.  On average, an officer dies in the line of duty every two-and-a-half days in our country.

So, we have gathered here today to remember not only these officers who made the ultimate sacrifice, but all officers who have put their lives on the line for their communities.  In the Commonwealth of Virginia, approximately 438 officers — 433 men and 5 women — have been killed protecting and serving their fellow Virginians.  These were experienced officers with almost 9 years of service on average.  And, they were officers in the prime of life — the average age of Virginia’s fallen is 39.

Continue reading “A Message for National Police Week”

Becoming Peacemakers In An Age of Chaos

This is the meditation I am giving at the Community Prayer Breakfast sponsored by our local hospital, Danville Regional Medical Center.

A Story of Prayer and Community

We have gathered here this morning because we believe in two things — the power of prayer and our responsibility to our community.  So we have come together to pray for our community, that we can find new ways to deal with old problems, that the promise of Jesus is true when he said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.”  — Matthew 5:9

In a day when violence seems unrelenting, and neighborliness is a quaint sentiment, let me tell you a story in which we might find some hope.

Not far from here, just across the North Carolina line, lies the little community of Cedar Grove, North Carolina.  Cedar Grove is like many of the small rural communities around here.  A changing economy and hard times have reduced the once-thriving crossroads to a couple of churches and a post office.

But Bill King and his wife, Emma, had high hopes for the little bait-and-tackle shop they opened just down the road from the Cedar Grove United Methodist Church.  The Kings had to run the drug dealers out of the cinderblock building they bought.  But gradually business picked up, and families even brought their kids to the little country store for ice cream on hot summer days.

One hot June day in 2004, an intruder walked into Bill’s store and shot him in the back of the head.  Bill died from the gunshot wound, and any sense of security and innocence Cedar Grove might have had disappeared that day.

Outraged, the neighbors demanded that something be done.  One suggested to Grace Hackney, pastor at Cedar Grove United Methodist Church, that they offer a reward for the arrest and conviction of the killer.  But Grace had a better idea.  She suggested they gather in front of Bill and Emma’s store in a prayer vigil for their community. Continue reading “Becoming Peacemakers In An Age of Chaos”

Would Your Church Censor This Art?

Station 7 - Jesus Falls For The Second Time by Jackson Potts II

Ecclesia Church in Houston, Texas, whose website describes the church as a “holistic missional Christian community,” invited local artists to submit original artwork depicting each of the Stations of the Cross.

Young 10-year old artist Jackson Potts II, who has been studying photography with his photographer father for several years, was given the commission to produce a photograph showing Station #7, Jesus Falls For the Second Time.

Young Potts chose to interpret the scene by replacing the Roman soldier with a contemporary police officer, and he depicted the innocence of Jesus using a child, his own brother, to portray the fallen Christ.

The church was offended by the photograph, according to ABC News, and would not display the photograph in the church art gallery, Xnihilo.  The decision by church officials has led two gallery directors to resign, but the church did create a blog about the whole incident. You can follow all the links in the curator’s blog for further information, including links to local media coverage.

The church gave a variety of reasons for rejecting the photograph ranging from “the photograph would scare young children who trust and respect police officers” to “we felt it was provocative in the wrong way” to “[it] did not draw people closer to the risen Christ.

Which brings me to my questions:

  • If this were your church, would you have allowed the photograph to be viewed?  If not, why?
  • Is the purpose of art to convey the church’s message or the artist’s message?
  • When a church engages artists to produce artwork, should there be any restrictions on what they produce?  If so, what?

These are pertinent questions as increasing numbers of churches engage artists in producing artwork to be shown for church purposes.  Are we returning to “church art” of the Medieval period where the church was both patron and censor, or are churches genuinely interested in hearing what artists have to say?  What do you think, and more importantly, what would you have done in this situation?  Fire away in the comment section.

Two Churches Die, One Emerges To Reach Out

“I’m the most unsuccessful pastor in Pacifica,” Jonathan Markham observed four years ago.  Markham’s church in affluent San Mateo county southwest of San Francisco was growing spiritually he thought, but not numerically.  Church attendance hovered around 15-20 each week with few visitors attending.  Located near the Bay area, the coastal town of Pacifica boasts an upscale, affluent California lifestyle where churches compete for residents’ attention.  But Markham’s church had failed to attract many from the community.

In an unusual but providential twist, Jonathan Markham was asked to serve as interim pastor of a second congregation which met at a different time.  Attendance at this church ran about 30 each week.  It wasn’t long before Markham wondered if the two struggling congregations he led might become one.  He approached church leaders of both congregations with the idea of creating a new church to reach Pacifica.  By March 2007, both older congregations had disbanded and a new church was born.

This brand-new congregation, New Life Christian Fellowship, opened its doors to the community for the first time in September, 2007.  Attendance shot up into the 80s each Sunday.  But, the real confirmation of their church rebirth came on Easter Sunday, 2009.  The church packed 153 people into its sanctuary, and church members had personally invited each guest.

Here’s how they did it:

1.  One pastor led two congregations. In typical church mergers, two congregations with two pastors have to sort out vision, staffing, finances, and worship styles.  Jonathan Markham was uniquely positioned to guide both congregations toward one dream — a viable, effective church for their community.

2.  Discernment involved each church. An exploratory work group of six people, three from each church, was selected to answer one question posed by Pastor Markham: “Is it God’s will for two churches to die, and another one to rise in their place?”  Markham thought discernment would take six months.  Instead, the group unanimously answered, “Yes” by the end of their first meeting.  The positive responses of both groups created momentum for the new church.

3.  Everything old had to die. After the initial decision to combine congregations, details had to be worked out.  Both groups agreed everything was on the table.  Old church names were scrapped in favor of a brand-new identity.  Meeting space Continue reading “Two Churches Die, One Emerges To Reach Out”

When Death Comes To Our Community

This is the sermon I am going to preach on Sunday, February 21, 2010.  It comes on the occasion of the death of one of our members tonight, Saturday, February 20.

When Pope John XXIII lay dying, the Pope’s physician is reported to have said, “Holy Father, you have asked me many times to tell you when the end was near so you could prepare.”  The Pope replied, “Yes.  Don’t feel badly, Doctor.  I understand. I am ready.”

With that the Pope’s secretary, Loris Capovilla collapsed at the Pope’s bedside weeping.

“Courage, my son.  I am a bishop, and I must die as a bishop, with simplicity but with majesty, and you must help me.  Go get the people together.”

His reply was, “Santo Padre, they are waiting.” — Accompany Them With Singing, Introduction.

Last night one of our own left us.  Earl Hedrick went home to be with God.  I had planned to preach today on angels as God’s ushers, bringing us at death and at the end of time into the presence of God.  And while that might be a subject of great interest to us at another time, I felt today I needed to speak to you as your pastor about death, and what happens when death comes to our community.

This is not Earl’s funeral or eulogy, but because his death came so close upon our gathering here today, and came as such a shock to each of us, I want to take a few minutes today to talk about death and how we as followers of Christ deal with the grief and loss that accompanies death.

Dying Is Part of Our Life’s Journey

We all know we are going to die someday, but the will to live that beats in our chest does all it can to push death away.  We have sought to remove death from our lives, our homes, even our churches so much that when death does come in unexpected and surprising ways, we are struck with its finality and force.

There was a time when death was seen as the shadow companion of life.  Walk through any old cemetery where the grave stones display dates that reach back a hundred or more years.  What strikes me each time I visit an old cemetery is the number of small

Continue reading “When Death Comes To Our Community”

A New Reputation for An Old Church

This article first appeared in Outreach magazine in July/August 2009, in my Small Church, Big Idea column.

A New Reputation For An Old Church
by Chuck Warnock

When the doorbell rang at Cradock Baptist Church not long ago, the staff buzzed in a man who announced, “I’m Mike, and I’m homeless. I heard you help people here.” With that, Pastor Rob Edwards knew his small church again had become a vibrant witness to its struggling community.

Cradock Baptist Church was founded 90-years ago in the Portsmouth, Virginia community of Cradock, the first planned community in America. In 1918, the U. S. Housing Corporation built Cradock to provide housing for shipyard workers. Today Cradock’s high-density, urban culture reflects typical big city problems of low income, high unemployment, and struggling families.

Like many churches of its era, Cradock Baptist Church has large buildings, declining membership, and an aging congregation. But Pastor Rob Edwards has led his congregation in new ministries to their multi-ethnic neighborhood, and in the process the church has benefited, too.

Historically, the church has reached out to those with special needs. The Robin Class has taught the developmentally-challenged for over 40-years. Pastor Rob has built on that concern for others, leading the church to reach out to its neighborhood. This summer 250 volunteers from World Changers, Southern Baptists’ volunteer workforce, will rehabilitate homes in the community. A partnership with the city and a grant from HUD for materials will enable the church to help revive its historic neighborhoods. That’s just the beginning. Pastor Rob envisions hiring a housing counselor to help prevent foreclosures among the financially-struggling.

One program, however, really kicked the church’s community engagement into high gear: a coop food ministry where combined ordering doubles a family’s grocery purchasing power. At their last food distribution, over 1,000 families received 27,000-pounds of food, with the help of 50 volunteers from eight different congregations.

Cradock Baptist Church changed their focus from self-service to community engagement by:

Spotlighting established ministries. The Robin Class for the developmentally-challenged joins the congregation for worship frequently, giving higher visibility to this longstanding ministry.
Touching people during the week. Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs meet in the church 7-days a week. In turn, the church and staff have gotten to know many by name, caring for them in times of grief, and sharing in their moments of joy.
Believing community renewal creates church renewal. By banding together to help revitalize the community through housing projects, feeding programs, school supply give-aways, and weekday ministries, church members found a new sense of mission.
Creating new worship experiences. The church retains its traditional worship at 11 AM on Sunday morning, but voted unanimously to create casual worship at 5 PM on Sunday evenings to reach their younger, unchurched neighbors. Special, one-time events also have drawn neighbors together at block parties, and musical presentations.
Celebrating the church’s weekday ministries on Sundays. While Sunday morning worship attendance hasn’t grown much, Sundays have become the celebration for what the church is doing during the week.

Today Cradock Baptist’s small Sunday morning crowd of 60 touches the lives of hundreds each week. One family called asking for prayer recently. “We’re one of your food box families,” they said. “Please pray for us.” To many of these unchurched families, Pastor Rob is their pastor, and Cradock Baptist Church is the only church they know. In the process, the church’s spirit has been revived and their reputation in the community changed. Now people in Cradock know when they need help, one small church won’t turn them away.