Posts Tagged ‘ Southern Baptist ’

New Beginnings Baptist Church – Visited on 1/22/12

No fanfare announces New Beginnings Baptist Church. It is a simple building, a yellow aluminum-walled barn, whose only windows are the glass panes in its doors. It sits on Old North Main Street in Clover, SC. The road is cracked and holed, and the homes that dot its sides are equally worn. Yet this unassuming building, on its lonesome street, is the seat of the largest charitable organization in Clover, and one of the main such organizations in York County.

Worship at New Beginnings begins early in the morning and continues throughout the day. Most activity takes place in the church’s sanctuary, a space just as modest as its exterior. The floor is linoleum. Rather than pews, there are rows of cushioned chairs, bound into rows by plastic ties around their legs. A stage rises before the seating, with space for a drum set and keyboard beside it and a pulpit at its center. This elevated space was little used on the morning and afternoon of the 22nd. Instead the pastor speaks from a chair beside the stage, or walks the crowd himself.

The pastor of New Beginnings Baptist Church is Sam Thompson. At 75 he’s clearly begun to feel his age. He moves slowly and deliberately, and his speech does ramble sometimes. Yet when the band backs him and the crowd’s blood was up—there were at least seventy people within the confines of New Beginnings that morning—his voice still holds its thunder.

At New Beginnings, as in many other churches visited by this blog, music plays a strong role in worship. There are no hymnals in the building. When the pastor or another speaker finishes saying their piece, and the time comes for a song, the congregation turns to the ladies who dominate its ununiformed choir. One takes up a tune. Others, familiar with it from long experience, join in. The band takes their cue from the rhythm and tone of the ladies’ song, and spin into an impromptu accompaniment. Before long enough members of the congregation join the song to send it echoing beyond New Beginnings’ walls.

A church like this does not spring up overnight. New Beginnings was founded over sixteen years ago, and to date Sam Thompson is its only pastor. Thompson entered ministry late in life, at the age of fifty, though he traces his first impulse towards such work to the age of 16. 1/22/12 marked the 25th anniversary of Thompson’s career as a pastor; his son, one of four children, who appears to be Thompson’s heir apparent, led a sermon that morning on ‘Pastorial Appreciation’ in recognition of the occasion.

After over sixteen years New Beginnings is a hub for charitable work in the town of Clover and York County in general. The church operates God’s Kitchen, a program that delivers food to the elderly and those unable to acquire or prepare it themselves. It also operates Clover’s only homeless shelter, as well as a thrift store to fund that shelter.

Pastor Thompson regards himself as 75 years young, and strains to do more with and for his church. At the service Churchspotting witnessed there was talk of raising a new church building with an adjoining education center. On the subject of Church and State, Pastor Thompson said that the church should be left alone, and should not be legislated by the government. He cited legislation against prayer in school as an example of such activity. He was himself on a local committee to organize ‘biblical release’ programs in area schools, in which students with parental release forms received religious instruction during the school day.

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The Body: The Church For Anybody, Part II – Visited on 12/19

Welcome, and a merry Christmas to all Churchspotting’s readers today.  This update is the second part of our coverage of The Body: The Church for Anybody.  The first part, uploaded on December 18, is found here: http://wp.me/p1JM4Z-5N.  Now, without further ado, Churchspotting’s interview with Tim Fowler, senior pastor at The Body.

Tim Fowler, as described The Body Part I, is a strikingly tall fellow.  An older man, his shaved bald head makes it difficult to assess his precise age.  By his own account Mr. Fowler is a native of South Carolina.  He was born and raised Spartanburg, SC, where he met his wife of thirty-two years.  His entrance to the professional world began with a nine year term of service in the US Navy, where his father served before him.

After working as an electronic warfare technician he entered a stint as a Navy recruiter in Asheville, NC, where he and his wife first started to attend church regularly.  By his own admission Mr. Fowler spent much of his early life struggling with drugs and alcohol but in the early 1990s, with help and support from his teenage daughter, he overcame those dependencies and felt a calling towards ministry.

Beginning with youth ministries, he rose to an associate pastorship before taking his first role as full pastor at Stone Station Baptist Church in Spartanburg, SC, 1997.  After some time at Stone Station, and a later transfer to Emmanuel Baptist Church in Rock Hill, SC, Tim left the Southern Baptist denomination to found The Body.  As he describes it, Tim “struggles with the traditionalism of the Southern Baptist Church,” and wanted to create a church that could appeal to people outside that particular cultural milieu.

His goal for The Body is to create a place where people who have left Christian practice, and those who are new to that faith entirely, can return to an open, casual community.  There is no dress code at the Body, and as observed in our first article on the church much of its membership is composed of young families.  Many of them are in similar circumstances to Mr. Fowler’s family when he first began attending church regularly: couples with young children on recently settled into the roosts of their more mature years.

Mr. Fowler asserts that The Body is a nondenominational gathering.  Though it remains a member of the Southern Baptist State and National Convention, the church has parted company with that group’s more established traditions.  Tim explained that The Body retains its convention membership in order to support the Southern Baptists’ international outreach programs, which he believes serve a useful purpose in the world.

Besides Mr. Fowler The Body comprises two associate pastors, a worship leader, a youth minister, a handful of elders, and a regular congregation of around 150 members.  Included in that figure is the church’s regular attendance by between two and six deaf worshippers, whose needs are facilitated by a sign language interpreter at each service.

In terms of charitable works The Body provides aid to its needy members first, offering coupons for food at local stores as opposed to an open pantry or doling out donated foodstuffs.  The church also supports a locally owned consignment store down the street and maintains a ministry to the deaf that provides deaf-enabled weddings and funerals, among other services.

Pastor Fowler did remark on a comment in the previous article on The Body.  That piece used the term ‘complaining’ to describe segments of the sermon observed that morning, which was largely concerned with discussing the theory of evolution and the de-Christianization of the Christmas season.  The use of the word ‘complaining’ for that discussion seemed to cause him some distress.  He explained that the substance of his sermons is often a response to questions he receives from his congregation; young couples come to him asking for advice on how to respond when their children come home from school talking about biological evolution and other concepts taught to them in class.  “I’m not antisocial,” he said; he explained that he was responding to concerns from his community, many of whom are relatively new to Christian belief and unsure of how their faith relates to and counterbalances with such issues.

Finally, on the relationship between Church and State, Pastor Fowler believes that “there should be a concerted effort between church and state to take care of people.”  He believes the government should not tell churches what to do and that churches, composed as they are of citizens, should do what they can to help the government “do what it does.”  Fowler tries to keep his ministry studiously apolitical, though he’s the first to admit that he was raised to be very patriotic and maintains those sentiments.

Jerusalem Baptist Church – Visited on 11/27

The fields of southwest Clover, SC are a lonesome place come late November.  The grass fades to brittle browns and yellows.  Farmers’ fields stand empty, harvested bare, just beginning their long sleep till spring.  The trees that surround every enclave of civilization in the Carolina piedmont stretch the twisted, grey fingers of their branches towards overcast skies, shrouded in tattered veils of brown, withered leaves.

That was the state of the countryside on the morning of the 27th, when the congregation of Jerusalem Baptist Church gathered for their morning worship at 11 AM.  Their church is a stout, two-story brick building, surrounded by fields and a venerable graveyard.  In truth most of the church’s followers arrived well in advance of the official worship service—twenty-one people were present for that morning’s Sunday School class, which began at 9:45 that morning.

They took their seats in the church sanctuary, an oblong hall with white walls and ceilings set with two large banks of pews and two choir lofts to either hand, arranged in an arc around the raised stage of the pulpit and the seats of the church’s ministers.  Behind the choir lofts glowed stained glass windows, their finely graven panels depicting scriptural scenes and abstract designs.

Though the church had seating enough for several dozen, the full congregation that day reached around thirty persons.  Those thirty arrived in their Sunday best, men in suits and women in dresses and hats, children in tow.  The congregation was primarily older, though a few young couples and young adults were present.

A Southern Baptist church, Jerusalem maintains its denomination’s tradition of a strong deaconate.  The deacons, lay ministered elevated from the congregation, officiated most of the worship service, leading prayers, taking up tithes and providing announcements while the church’s pastor, the Reverend Robert Gingles, looked on from his seat behind the pulpit.  Perhaps most importantly, they led the congregation in song.

Almost every group and congregation visited by Churchspotting has used some music in their worship services, but Jerusalem Baptist’s presentation was unique.  There was no band, nor was a single instrument played during the whole service.  Instead the hymns begin with a single voice taking up some tune and lyric known to the rest of the congregation by long tradition and repetition.  A few more voices rise to follow the first, and with them come percussion—feet stomping in time on the sanctuary floor, hands clapping.

Gradually more worshippers add themselves to the hymn until the whole church vibrates with stomps, claps and uplifted voices.  Though less than half the church’s capacity, that morning’s congregation managed to fill the arched and airy spaces of the sanctuary with their voices.  It was quite unlike any other musical devotion witnessed by Churchspotting.

The other two highlights of that morning’s service were the group prayer and the sermon itself.  About midway through the service, Jerusalem Baptist’s deacons called for anyone in the congregation who wished to gather in a circle on the open floor between the pews and the pulpit.  There they prayed, taking it in turns to voice their devotions.  These prayers could go at length, with lay members of the congregation spinning off into small sermons of their own.

The sermon itself dominated the second half of the worship service.  It marked the first time during that morning’s worship that the pastor himself stood behind his pulpit and spoke.  Rev. Gingles is a short, lean older man.  His hair has gone white with age, and glowed beneath the sanctuary’s electric lamps.  Gingles has pastored Jerusalem Baptist for twelve years, and his long familiarity with the congregation showed as he stood and addressed the crowd, welcoming those who’d been absent from illness.

That morning’s sermon concerned itself chiefly with an episode from the New Testament Gospels where Jesus is invited to a dinner at the home of his apostle Matthew, a former tax collector.  There he spends time with Matthew’s friends, “sinners and publicans,” and rebukes criticism over  his choice of associates by declaring that he came for such as them, not those already righteous.  The more Rev. Gingles preached the greater his confidence and ease seemed to grow; his voice took on a rhythmic, almost musical quality as he extended the message of the scriptural passage to say that his savoir came for “the jacked up, the messed up.”

Services at Jerusalem Baptist conclude with what’s called an “invitational hymn.”  As the congregation takes up their final song of the day the reverend calls on anyone in the audience who feels in need of salvation to step forward.  No one made such a bold move that morning.  As the last song faded the reverend gave his benediction, and the congregation dispersed into the cloudy November day.