GCI Update

100 Year Church

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

More than 100 years ago my great-grandparents on my mother’s side of the family were founding members in Hendersonville First Baptist Church. Hendersonville is a touristy-type town with mom and pop shops and a strong population of retired people. Agriculture sits atop the economic sector, with apple production leading the way. (The Apple Festival over Labor Day weekend celebrates all that is Hendersonville.)

Not only was this a great place to grow up, it is also a great place to return to for periodic visits. Earlier this year I had the pleasure of attending a service at Hendersonville First Baptist. My mother attends this church, along with my younger brother and his family. My brother Mark is a deacon and his wife Penny is on the church staff.

What is the current state of the century-old Baptist church of my great-grandparents? The day Susan and I attended with my mom, we accompanied her to the 9:30 am service. (They have three services on Sunday morning – 8:00, 9:30 and 11:00.) First off, it was difficult to find a nearby parking space. Once we parked, we passed a steady stream of churchgoers coming out and going in. There were lots of smiling faces of young and old, and an astonishing number of families.

My mother struggles with aching knees, and to make life simpler, she sits in the back row of the sanctuary. She has a usual group of friends who sit with her. When Susan and I joined the merry band, I was sitting on the end seat next to the aisle. I knew who Pastor Steve was, but to my surprise, he was circulating through the sanctuary and he made a point to come over to me and shake my hand. My brother told me later that he has a keen eye for spotting new people and intentionally introducing himself. Instead of sitting on the front row and waiting to be called to the pulpit, Pastor Steve joins in with the ushers and makes himself available (what a novel approach).

I was wondering what the worship and preaching would look like. Traditionally, Baptist churches sing mostly hymns, and they are known for their fiery sermons warning about the perils of hell. To my surprise there was a mix of contemporary songs and some people were even raising their hands in worship. The sermon was outstanding. Pastor Steve preached grace with a posture of humility, and there was no bait and switch (grace for salvation, but now on to the requirements to live the Christian life).

What were the signs of Healthy Church at Hendersonville First Baptist?

  • Offering multiple services and having a pastor who is dedicated to preaching three times each Sunday is remarkable.
  • The blend of young and old, and the core group of multiple generational families is a sign of endurance. My mother and brother’s involvement marks four generations of membership.
  • Providing a service that is worshipful—especially when it is done week in and out. This is a defining factor of Healthy Church.
  • A pastor who is outgoing and welcoming, and who consistently preaches the grace of a loving, personal God. Our GCI ministry model is defined as “Team-Based, Pastor-Led,” and while this expresses the need for the pastor to engage, equip and empower others to join Jesus in ministry, the role of the pastor still sets the tone for the congregation. Pastor Steve is a wonderful example.

In our quest to be the best expression of church that we can be, we need to be attentive to establishing stronger roots within a neighborhood/community. We also need to practice patience, because establishing those roots takes time, but will never happen unless we first identify the neighborhood where we fit, and we then roll up our sleeves and begin loving and serving that neighborhood. As we continue to give attention to the Hope Avenue of ministry, we need to constantly evaluate how welcoming we are, how worshipful our services are, and how clear is our grace-based preaching and posture. What will a new person experience when they visit our church service?

What will the story of our church be in 100 years when our great-grandchildren assemble to worship? I say thank you to my great-grandparents, Walter and Essie Garrett, for being part of a church that is still vibrant today.

Keeping the Faith!

Greg Williams

Staten Island Congregation Begins ASL Bible

With help from God, the Home Office, and jumping through many hoops, Hands for Christ Community Church in Staten Island, NY,  is excited to get our license from Biblica (publishers of the NIV Bible) giving us permission to translate the Bible into American Sign Language (ASL).

Now we can start the inner works of producing the books of the bible bit by bit. Once the book is finished, we will upload it to our website for the Deaf Community to read and gain an understanding of what the Word has to say to them.

 

Sharing the Gospel in NYC

The COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly hard on our city and congregation.  All of us have been strained to our limits, yet remain strong in our unity and potential for renewed witness.  As we continue to support those who lost loved ones, we are praising God for the lessons learned and committed to reopening and “rebirthing” our congregation to more fully embody the gospel.

During this transition time, we prayerfully embrace our identity as children of God and the Body of Christ and ask where we can be most effective with the Spirit.  We need to examine our own hearts first, while not being afraid to embrace the “obligations” our calling, first by showing demonstratively what a diverse and unified congregation active in the community shows about Kingdom living and who Jesus is—awkwardly at times, but intentionally and fearlessly.  Our congregation shows that diversity works; a place where racism has no place actually works.  The effects of racism and other systemic sins may hold people down, realizing no one is held down in the economy of Jesus and these issues will be changed permanently only in the heart of the Word made flesh.

As we waited for a return to “normal” meetings, we looked into the community and renewed our commitment to come alongside  “people of peace” already doing the work of justice and restoration in the community.  We talked with and made contributions of funds and materials (and later volunteers) to a non-profit, the River Fund, right in our Richmond Hill community that focuses on anti-poverty initiatives, which seeks to help families especially now in the period of confusion and layoffs, schools closed and the resulting despair. They want to battle poverty on the frontline with both individual needs and supporting the family as a whole.  We found that they have an effective model to fight poverty in the City to help break the multi-generational cycle of poverty where people may be trapped. Our donations included items they were in great need of during the crisis: surgical masks, sanitizers, feminine products, and pet food, among other items.  Our team, led by Florence Emerole, also gathered donations from neighborhood businesses in the effort.

Most important for us is that they welcome our involvement as a church, which could have been an issue for organizations that receive public funding.  We were able to contribute communion kits, for example.  We realize and they realize that we cannot “end poverty” by ourselves in the community.  But we can bring gospel action and hopefully discipleship to those being served here. What this group helped us realize (“opened our eyes”) is the effects of poverty beyond what is officially related.  More in the community suffer from poverty, material hardship, work-limiting health issues, and lack of access to resources due to language and immigration more than we realized and beyond the official statistics.

 

By John Newsom
Pastor, GCI New York City

Feeding Children During the Pandemic

Our friends in the Atlanta GCI congregation are up to good work in their neighborhood again! Under Pastor Charles Young’s leadership, the church is participating in the City of South Fulton’s Summer Food Program. Twice each week the church delivers meals to 85 children who might otherwise go hungry during the pandemic.

This practical ministry reminds me of what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,  who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

Well done, Church!

Anthony Mullins headshot

 

Anthony Mullins
GCI Regional Director, Southeast

Romans 11

Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

1 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.

29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. 32 For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.

Sometimes I get discouraged when thinking about many I used to know at church, who, for a number of reasons, have left our fellowship, and as far as I know, just aren’t “going” anywhere. I don’t know their hearts, and what their relationship is with Jesus, but humanly, I grieve for them, wishing that they were again in community with me, that we could journey together in the love of our Triune God.

When I read this passage in his letter to the church in Rome (part of a discussion in chapters 9-11), I see Paul had similar concerns. Here he struggles with the fact that the descendants of Abraham, God’s chosen people, the covenant people and his own people, have rejected Jesus as their Messiah.

In addressing Gentile Christians, Paul explains that although they were once disobedient, God has shown them mercy, and he still offers mercy to those who are the original covenant people.

What does that mean for us when we reject God through our actions, or for those we may know who seemingly have walked away from God?

I take great encouragement from two statements in this passage:

God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.
The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

God has not abandoned the original covenant people. And he continues calling to me, even when I find myself in a state of disobedience to him. He also continues to reach out to all who have “walked” away from their calling.

Why? So he can show that he is merciful to all.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for showing mercy to all through your Son Jesus. Thank you for not judging us as we would tend to judge ourselves and others. May you show us how to be merciful the way you are merciful to us.

 

 

 

By Bill Hall
National Director, GCI Canada