ABOUT THIS SERIES: Vermont is a unique mission field, but North Carolina Baptists are helping increase the gospel influence in this New England state.
Brattleboro sits among the hills and mountains of southeastern Vermont, and it’s a pretty town, popular with tourists.
BSC photo by Mike Creswell
Corey Eikes has started Rivertown Church in Brattleboro, Vt. He was formerly mission pastor of Hales Chapel Baptist Church, Zebulon, N.C. The Baptist congregation shares the building of an Assemblies of God church.
But look at the city, population around 13,000, with missions eyes, and you’ll see the darkness, says Corey Eikes, who is in the process of starting a new church there.
He was missions pastor of Hales Chapel Baptist Church in Zebulon, N.C., while attending Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Corey’s father, Andy, was pastor of Hales Chapel in earlier times. Corey and his wife, Ashley, came to Vermont in 2014.
“A handful” of earlier efforts to plant churches here have failed, Eikes said. “This is one of the darkest places in North America.”
When Eikes first talked to Lyandon Warren about planting a new church in Brattleboro, Warren did not answer his question quickly. “It will only be taken through prayer and fasting,” Warren finally replied.
While at Southeastern, Corey and Ashley had been intent on serving overseas. “We had been banking everything on going overseas. All our eggs were in the international basket,” Corey recalled. But when they finally journeyed halfway around the world to a major Asian country, they both sensed God calling them to Vermont.
However, Eikes feels the contextual training on understanding foreign cultures is great training for Vermont. For example, in Brattleboro the traditional rural and conservative values of lifelong Vermonters have been joined by many newcomers who have brought in a worldview strongly colored by Eastern religious ideals. These two patterns of thought divide the town, he said.
Drugs are also a plague here as in much of Vermont. “There was a drug bust three doors down from my house the other day,” Eikes said.
“It’s a very eclectic place,” Eikes said. “The hippy movement landed here and never left this area. Some church members grew up on communes in this area.”
Eikes has made friends with some of the local non-Baptist but Bible-believing churches, praising for their survival against opposition like having witches gather on their front lawns to cast spells against their churches.
Rivertown Church, which Eikes leads, now averages about 50 on Sunday. It was started after Corey and Ashley were joined by several others who moved to Brattleboro. They share the church building of an Assemblies of God congregation on Birge Street so both groups can cut expenses. Finding meeting places — especially affordable ones – is a challenge for churches across Vermont.
Like so many others in Vermont, Rivertown is banking on financial and volunteer help from North Carolina for continued growth.
“Southeastern has sent professors up to encourage the work and ministry,” Eikes said. “You couldn’t ask for better equipping or better ongoing support.”
Eikes is a bivocational pastor by choice. He supports himself through his work as a manager with Vermont’s state program of mental health, the same way he worked his way through college.
He figures Rivertown is going to need all the light they can generate to push back Brattleboro’s spiritual darkness.