A traditional Baptist church seeking a pastor was approached about uniting with Journey Church, a congregation with a pastor in search of a facility in Morganton.
“We are a portable church looking for a place – land or facility,” Mike Chandler, pastor of Journey said.
Journey Church, a church plant of Biltmore Baptist Church in Asheville, began meeting in August 2008. The congregation has been meeting on Sunday mornings at Morganton’s Table Rock Middle School since March 2009.
Calvary Baptist Church was established in 1925. The church constructed a new facility, including a sanctuary, in 1993.
When first approached about the merge, Robert Bolick, chairman of the deacons at Calvary, thought they just wanted to use their facility.
“We thought at first [Journey] wanted to share the building,” he said. “Talk about uniting – it caught us off guard, and then it made perfect sense. They needed a permanent facility to do worship, and we needed a congregation and a pastor.”
“We have very few young people at Calvary, and [Journey] has a lot of young people. We’re an aging congregation,” former Calvary pastor Larry Thompson said.
Jean Stephens, a founding member of Journey Church, prays over the facility where Journey is going to join with Calvary Baptist Church as one congregation. A prayer service was held Aug. 9 where members of both congregations came together to pray for the church which will start meeting Oct. 5.
Thompson retired as pastor of Calvary Baptist in June 2013 after serving the church for 12 years. He currently serves as interim pastor for Silver Creek Baptist Church.
“[Journey] had no building and we have a great facility, and it needs to be used,” he said. “I think it’s wonderful … the best thing that could have happened for Calvary Church. It is a win-win for both churches.”
While the pastor search committee was seeking to fill a position, Bolick said, “God already had a plan.”
John Setterlind, worship pastor at Journey, recalled how Calvary was introduced to the idea by Jerry Stephens, “He said, ‘pray about, think about,’ and he left.”
Stephens and his wife are two of the four original members of Journey Church.
“The Lord answered two prayers and it kind of dropped it in our laps,” Bolick said. “It is kind of like a marriage. Biltmore birthed [Journey], metaphorically, and raised them and now it is a marriage to [Calvary].”
Biltmore Baptist will continue in the role as a consulting partner.
“The facility is just beautiful and we want to add some complimentary elements to the traditional and vintage church look without taking away from that element,” Chandler said. “It is a challenge, but we are getting a lot of people involved to do this.”
Another part of the merger will include offering services that appeal to both the older and younger generations.
A traditional worship service will be offered at 8:45 a.m. with connect groups meeting from 10-10:45 a.m. A contemporary worship service will take place at 11 a.m.
At the same time children’s worship for children from kindergarten through fifth grade, called Kids AMP (All My Praise), will be held.
“It’s something for everybody. I truly believe that both services will grow,” Bolick said about offering two types of worship services.
The connect groups will continue to meet on Sunday morning as well as throughout the week in homes, Chandler said. These groups are like Sunday school and they are both teacher-led and discussion-based, he said.
“The home setting is so much more informal and it creates an environment that people feel relaxed and a chance to be salt and light in the community,” Chandler said.
Wednesday evenings will offer university-type settings where people can sign up for classes on topics including financial management or parenting strategies and prayer groups will meet throughout the week.
“For the first joint service [on June 29], we tried to be very strategic really, and polled the young families about what they feel about having Journey Church brought into a traditional setting,” Chandler said. Their response, he said, was “We could care less what the building looks like, it’s what is going on inside the building.”
Bolick agreed. “Words can’t describe it … for the sanctuary to be full of people and life and to see the older congregation accept it,” he said. “It is great for them and great for Calvary. We are really excited about the possibilities of what a united congregation can do.”
The transition process
A transition team, including five people from each church, was formed and the team started conversations to work through the process of joining congregations under one roof.
“We chose some from each body so that they would be equally represented,” Chandler said.
“We are working on a leadership model right now.”
Suggestions for the church name have been received, and it is yet to be determined.
Calvary is unique to be able to reach in to the community, and Journey had been praying for three things for the church’s future.
Those were: higher visibility, easy accessibility and a multipurpose facility. The facility at Calvary was an answer to prayer Chandler said.
He believes that while change is never easy, it is sometimes a necessity.
“We want to embrace change. Change is going to be what keeps us relevant to the next generation,” Chandler said. “Many of our churches look as they looked in a ’50s mindset. In a 21st century world … you have got to always be evolving.
“We often get locked into our comfort zone, and it is not about our comfort zone. It is about what works. Churches are in a decline – we need to do something to regroup and reach the next generation.”
While the facility may go through updates, Chandler said, there are certain things they will not compromise.
“We won’t compromise who we are or what we do,” he said. “The message is constant – it is what changes lives, but how you package the message brings people in and to strike a balance the message never changes.”
Calvary Day School currently has 70 students and this ministry will continue, Bolick said. In addition, the Shepherd’s Kitchen and Come as You are Sunday school class will continue.
“It is great to see what these ministries have done and will do,” Bolick said of the Monday night Shepherd’s Kitchen which serves 125-150 people with only 6-10 workers. Also a clothes closet is open during this time.
“We try to be very visible in the community and we will continue to help with the city Easter egg hunt and Spooktacular … we will be part of that,” Chandler said.
Thompson said the combined efforts can provide more to the community.
“I’m looking forward to it, and I think this is a great thing for the city as well as for the community,” he said.
Although the combined church had a successful joint service with nearly 425 in attendance and a smooth transition, there is much to be done, Chandler said.
“That’s not to say that we’ve arrived,” he said. “That’s just the beginning.”
Joint activities will be ongoing until the Oct. 5 target date for the churches to be united as one. A lake baptism was held at Lake James State Park.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tracy Farnham writes for The News Herald, Burke County’s newspaper. For more information about the church, visit myjourneychurch.me/.)