In 2004, I was called to Chatham Baptist Church in Chatham, Virginia — a wonderful 157-year old congregation with a rich heritage of community ministry.
Our town of Chatham, VA has 1200 residents, and is the county seat for Pittsylvania County located in “Southside” Virginia. Chatham is home to Hargrave Military Academy, which our church helped found; and, Chatham Hall, an Episcopal prep school for girls. Our entire community is undergoing tremendous social and economic change due to the loss of tobacco growing, and textile and furniture manufacturing. Individuals, organizations, and institutions have come together to reimagine this area and our church is part of that process. And, in the midst of all that, we still do many of the things that traditional Virginia Baptist churches do. So, we’re walking a fine line between reinventing ourselves, and honoring the traditions that are valuable to our members and community.
Our Missional Approach to Ministry
Here are some of the things we have done here since 2004:
- Started a Boys and Girls Club, an after-school program targeting underserved kids. About 80 kids attended each day when the club met at our church. They have now moved to the new Community Center at Chatham where they do homework, get snacks, play games, learn life skills, and have access to a computer lab.
- Founded a community music school for kids called Chatham Arts. About 30-children take violin, cello, piano, guitar, and voice lessons at our church each week. The goal is to form a community youth orchestra. The music school is a partnership with Virginia Tech and the Renaissance Music Academy of Blacksburg, VA.
- Collaborated with artists and educators in our community to offer Soundcheck, a monthly teen open mic night. Outreach magazine did a feature on us in the Nov/Dec 2006 issue, Partnering For Art’s Sake.
- I pulled together a coalition of area pastors to form Chatham Cares, a non-profit corporation. I served as president and our mission was to design, build, and operate a community center, for which we have received a $3-million grant. Prior to the Community Center’s construction our county did not have a recreation program or community center. On May 19, 2008, The Community Center at Chatham opened to rave reviews.
- We revamped our community VBS in 2005, increasing attendance from 60 to over 180 each night.
- In conjunction with the Chatham Arts Community Music School, we host classical music concerts in our sanctuary featuring touring performers and groups, such as The Van Brugh quartet, the Irish Broadcasting Company’s resident string quartet. These concerts are funded by ticket sales, local support, and grants from the National Endowment of the Arts.
- On January 20, 2008, we hosted the first community interracial celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King’s life and legacy at our church.
Measuring Our Missional Impact
We recognize that not everyone who participates in our community ministries will attend our church. While some do attend, and we continue to reach out to others, missional ministry is most accurately reflected in participation in each ministry. Here are some numbers of how we’re impacting our community. We are impacting the lives of –
- 30-children and teens who take music lessons each week at our community music school;
- the families who are connected with this program;
- 20-30 senior adults from our community come to our monthly Adult Fellowship luncheon;
- 50-150 people attend our classical music concerts and music school student performances;
- 25 senior adults participate in our monthly bus day-trips;
- our worship service reaches about 80 each week.
- I hope all this gives you some idea of what we are doing in our small congregation and why we are doing it. Stop in often, because things change quickly in our small town!