Friday, February 19, 2010

A Baptist to Emulate

Yesterday I visited The Rose of Sharon Baptist Church and Christian School. Holy Nativity is looking for church property, and The Rose of Sharon has just begun a new building project on a nearby piece of property; so I called up Pastor Dave to see if they are interested in selling their old property. They are, so yesterday Bonnie and I found ourselves guided by Pastor Dave on a tour of the Rose of Sharon facilities.

May God grant that all Christians be half as humble, honest and committed to selfless service to others as Pastor Dave is.

On 1.3 acres, The Rose of Sharon owns a worship space seating 225, a modest fellowship hall converted into a gymnasium of sorts, three modular classroom buildings, and a seven-bedroom house—all in good repair. When I first entered the lobby through the door under the sign that said “office,” I was immediately intimidated by the large rack of Chick Tracts next to the open window behind which the secretary sat. My mind was preparing me for an encounter with a harsh fundamentalist.

Pastor Dave looks like a Baptist pastor: a little past middle age, conservative hair, conservative clothing, conservative bearing. He was expecting us. After awkward introductions, he began to show us around. His speech was polite and matter-of-fact, focusing on size and space, heating and roofing, water and sewage. We worked our way from the worship space through the offices (a peek out the back door to point out the septic tank and field location), then on to the gymnasium-esque fellowship room where over a hundred local children gather every Friday evening for their AWANA (youth Bible memorization) program. Out another door, we went through the three classrooms full of signs of active learning. None of the teachers were talking. All of the students (1st through 12th grades) were busy with books or on computers or writing at desks or (especially some of the younger ones) on the floor steadily focused on something or another. The classrooms exuded a kind of creative disorder that said, “Were a little too busy learning right now to keep things straight and tidy.” The students and teachers smiled politely and stared as a stranger in a cassock walk through.

Then we looked at the basement of the house, where the school kept its library in three of the seven bedrooms. Pastor Dave told us that the original pastor had eleven children, thus the need for so many bedrooms. We took a look at the detached garage and storage sheds, packed with school and church miscellany. We couldn’t look at the lived-in part of the house, though, because the renter wouldn’t be home for another half hour. After a walk around the parking lot and the children’s play area, Pastor Dave invited us to wait with him, if we wanted to see the house. We took him up on the offer.

Back in one of the offices, we awkwardly tried to make small talk. I commented on the school, and he explained their individualized teaching/learning style. I mentioned that we had homeschooled our children. He asked about our family. I asked about his. Then he told us a little story. His wife thought she would never marry because a doctor had told her that she would never be able to have children. Pastor Dave, not knowing this (twenty some odd years ago), was frustrated that Fran, whom he loved and who seemed to love him, refused his proposal. Finally Fran told Dave that she was not able to have children. Dave said, “If God gives us children, it will be a miracle and a blessing, if God does not, it is because he has something better for us. I want you to marry me to be my life companion.” A year and half after they were married, Fran was pregnant with her first son. They have had five sons and four daughters.

“Wow,” I said, “you seem to be the perfect pastor for church with such an emphasis on children and youth.” This seemed to open his heart. He told me that the whole vision and focus of the church is on the next generation. The congregation is about 130 people, and together their commitment is to build strong families. (They also operate a family counseling center off site.) Over the past fifteen years, since they purchased this facility, they have not only functioned as a church, built a school and provided youth and family outreach programs, they have managed to raise enough money to buy a 4.3 acre property (about ten years ago) and now begin building a campus with a larger church, school and real gymnasium.

I asked him what they charge for tuition at their school. “$2400 per year,” he said.

“That’s cheap. How do you pay your teachers?”

“Our teachers get paid very little. They do it as a ministry. Everything we do is for ministry. If we don’t give everything to save our children, the church will die in one generation. “

I was struck by his calm earnestness and willingness to sacrifice everything for the sake of his church’s continuity, for the sake of others. I was impressed by his ability to lead a small congregation in embracing such an unselfish vision.

We eventually saw the house, thanked Pastor Dave, and drove away. May God bless Pastor Dave and his family and his ministry. May God grant that Holy Nativity grow in godliness, generosity and vision; that the day will come when neighborhood youth will be gathering in our gymnasium, that busy students will be studying in our class rooms, and that daily Orthodox worship will be offered to the God who loves mankind.

Grant this O Lord!

1 comment:

Michelle said...

This made me teary. What a beautiful gift they are giving their children.