In 2004, I was called to Chatham Baptist Church in Chatham, Virginia — a wonderful congregation founded in 1857, 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
Currently, we are beginning a process of reimgaining our church’s ministry and impact in our community. However, here are some of the things we have done 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 one of our local schools where they do homework, get snacks, play games, learn life skills, and have access to a computer lab.
- Founded a community music program for kids. Although the original program has changed, our choir director and pianist continue to teach children in our community.
- 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. The Community Center has since been conveyed to our county government as part of the county’s parks and recreation program.
- We revamped our community VBS in 2005, increasing attendance from 60 to over 180 each night. In 2015, we began offering Music and Arts Camp instead of VBS, and that has been a great summer ministry for our community.
- On January 20, 2008, we hosted the first community interracial celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King’s life and legacy at our church.
- In April, 2015, the president of the county chapter of the NAACP, Mr. Willie Fitzgerald, and I founded a community racial reconciliation dialogue group called Pittsylvania Together. We live in Pittsylvania County, Virginia, hence the name. The group meets monthly in our church fellowship hall for presentations and dialogue about race relations in our community. Attendance ranges from 15-30 each month. Like our Facebook page, and you can keep up with what we’re doing to address race relations in our community.
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.