Sydney and Alice Rochelle were long-time members of Lakewood Baptist Church in Durham, N.C. The couple had no children, and in the 1980s, they left half of their estate to the church. They gave the other half to the local Yates Baptist Association. For 30 years the Rochelles’ gift sustained Lakewood until the church held its final service on Easter Sunday 2014. The funds given to the association were earmarked for a potential missions center but, for three decades, were never touched.
Yates Baptist Association photo
Yates Baptist Association’s board met Sept. 22 to vote on its new director of missions. They chose Marty Childers, a former International Mission Board missionary.
Lakewood was once one of the strongest churches in the area, said Marc Francis, pastor of Ridgecrest Baptist Church in Durham and chair of the director of missions search committee for Yates Association. But in recent years, the church saw a sharp decline in attendance and membership.
Teresa Dotson, administrative coordinator for Yates, was also one of the remaining members at Lakewood. She said while there were many children coming to church, there weren’t many adults or parents regularly attending. It grew harder to reach the community.
“They realized they could not survive, and they wanted to do something positive as they closed up,” said Francis.
The church voted to offer their property to the association.
Yates, at the same time, was also experiencing a lack of funding, support and participation from local churches. Like those of other North Carolina associations, the leadership team was in the process of making decisions about the association’s future. Jeff McCarthy, senior pastor of Rose of Sharon Baptist Church in Durham, served as moderator from October 2013 to October 2015. “We were just getting by, being an association for the sake of being an association,” he said.
The leadership team chose not to close. They decided instead to continue under the leadership of John Saunders, who was then director of missions, but to reassess their purpose as an association.
Reevaluating values and priorities also meant considering the efficiency of their location. At the time, the association’s property was located on Garrett Road, in a suburban area of Durham. McCarthy had lived in Durham for more than 20 years and was familiar with how much the city had changed.
“With the population growth – it’s an international city – all the different language groups, refugees coming to the area, people moving for school or the hospital or work,” he said. “The property was nice at one time, mainly for meetings, but you never could do a lot of ministry out of there because we were too far away from people who needed the ministry,” he said.
So when Lakewood approached the association with the idea of donating their downtown property, Yates leaders had another decision to make. “I looked at it like this would be a good opportunity to accept … an opportunity to do some missions and ministry and work in the urban setting,” said McCarthy.
Before the question of accepting the property could be voted on, Saunders resigned as director of missions after 20 years of service and relocated to Virginia. The association was now in a transition period that included a new direction and new leadership. At the annual meeting in October 2014, Yates voted to receive the Lakewood property. One month later they voted to sell the Garrett Road property.
The sale made it possible to fund more missions and staff. In March 2015, instead of hiring an interim director, they called Thane Barnes as associational missions consultant. Barnes, former executive director of the Nevada Baptist Convention, guided the leadership team in envisioning and creating a fresh set of core values.
Building a resource center
The association permanently moved to the Lakewood Baptist Church facilities in March 2016. Before closing, the church had opened the building to four other groups: a Hispanic congregation; Oak Church, a new church plant; a Burmese congregation; and First in Families, a nonprofit organization serving families with special needs. Yates allowed all four groups to continue using the property.
McCarthy said the use of the facility by the different churches and organizations is the whole point of steering the association toward a new direction. He describes the new location as more of an impact center, creating a model that other churches can use.
“The things we can do there and learn to do in an urban setting, we can take and try to duplicate in other churches,” McCarthy said.
“It’s more of a center where we learn how to do hands-on ministry with language groups, reaching urbanites and millennials in our city.”
The association is already seeing the advantages of networking with the other groups at the Lakewood location. This past summer a local church partnered with and helped Oak Church with Vacation Bible School. Yates is trying to be more strategic and collaborative, McCarthy said. If one group needs help for an event, “whether resources or people, then churches can go and work with them.”
“A lot of things were taking place at the same time that allowed us to do this,” McCarthy said. “Because we were proactive and taking steps necessary, God began to open other doors.”
Just last month Yates unanimously elected Marty Childers, a former International Mission Board (IMB) missionary, to serve as the new director of missions. Childers and his wife opted to take IMB’s voluntary retirement incentive last October after serving in the Americas for 27 years. He began his new role as director of missions Oct. 3.
Since relocating to the Lakewood property, Yates Association has renovated parts of the education building for office space. Selling the previous property on Garrett Road partially paid for the renovations, but there was another fund that contributed to the project: the Rochelles’ gift, earmarked for a missions center 30 years prior.
When the Rochelles left half of their estate to Lakewood, the church initially put resources toward building the education building. This past year, Yates used the other half of the Rochelles’ donation to update the very same facility.
“The people who had the vision for a Baptist center – the actual church they were a part of became the Baptist center,” said McCarthy.
Dotson, who saw both the closing of Lakewood Baptist Church’s doors and the shift in ministry at the Yates Association, couldn’t help but chuckle during a phone interview with the Biblical Recorder. “I can see how God’s hand has been in this, to see how it’s come full circle.”