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Spaulding High School’s quarterback takes the snap, sees he cannot make the pass, cuts to the right and – “Keep going! Run it out! Run it out!” coach Chris Autry shouts from the sidelines.
BSC photo by Mike Creswell
Sanford, N.C., native Chris Autry now serves as pastor of Faith Community Church in Barre (say BARRY), Vt. Part of his community outreach is to serve as an assistant football coach for the local Spaulding High School in Barre. Here, at an away game at Lyndon, about an hour’s drive from Barre, Spaulding played Lyndon Institute on Oct 14.
The rest of the week, Autry, a North Carolina native, is pastor of Faith Community Church in Barre, Vt., but this Saturday afternoon, he is one of the assistant coaches for Spaulding, a high school in Barre, as the team plays in Lyndon, a town about an hour’s drive north and east of Barre.
He screams, pleads, plots and sketches plays onto a notepad in quick huddles with players, striding back and forth along the visitor’s sidelines as he follows the moving scrimmage line.
After the game, Autry heads down the winding two-lane road that leads back to Barre. He stops at a farm store so out-of-state visitors can buy samples of Vermont-made maple syrup and the special desserts called “creemees,” soft-serve ice cream heavy with maple syrup.
Later he slows as he passes through the rural community of Plainfield and points to an empty Baptist church building.
The sign out front says “Macedonia Baptist Church,” but it might say more properly, “Rest in Peace,” for this is only an empty church building – the people who were the church have gone.
“We want to do all we can to replant a healthy, vibrant, growing church that for years to come will carry the gospel,” Autry said, gesturing glumly to the building.
Fortunately, that will be possible, because ownership of the building went to Green Mountain Baptist Association after the last members left and turned out the lights for the last time early in 2017.
Autry’s own church, Faith Community, has already been working in this area. As missions teams have come from North Carolina and elsewhere, he made sure they spent time in Plainfield, visiting people and just making contacts.
“When a church planting team gets here, they can hit the ground running because they will already have some people to build on,” Autry said.
Faith Community had also lost some members by the time Autry arrived but growth has been slow and steady upward since then.
Church member John Pellegrini, a native of Vermont, likes how Autry has worked with the church.
“Chris was realistic. He knows how to relate to Vermonters,” he said. “He’s patient, and he understands that it’s important to develop a relationship with people before he talks to them about Jesus. He’s doing very well.”
On a stop by the Faith building in Barre, Autry points out the bookshelves in his office. “North Carolina Baptists built those,” he said, and he reviews the other construction work they did, such as the house he, his wife, Becca, and son live in, plus the mission house that’s available for volunteers to stay in while they work in the area.
It’s unlikely Autry will cut ties with North Carolina Baptists: His mother works in the convention’s technical support division at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina building in Cary, N.C.
While Baptists know about the ministry teams from North Carolina, Autry said many unchurched Vermonters know that N.C. Baptists on Mission (NCBM), also known as Baptist Men, sent hundreds of volunteers for disaster relief after Sandy hit New Jersey and New York.
“That reputation helps planters and pastors like myself from North Carolina who have moved here to share the gospel in the neighborhood,” Autry said.
“That reputation helps immediately create a bridge for us.”
Originally from Sanford, N.C., Autry and Becca served three years with the North American Mission Board planting a new church in Pittsburgh, Pa., before heading back to North Carolina for a time and then moving to Vermont.
“We feel called to a place where the gospel is not common,” Autry said.
Autry understands that it’s not enough just to be a pastor in Vermont. This is a place that pleads for all hands to be on deck and busy, and he understands that church planting is part of his job description.
While he readily acknowledges that living in Vermont is tough and the winters are brutal, Autry says he is excited to be a part of what God is doing in New England.
“For us, living in New England is pure joy,” Autry said.
“The labor is so worth it. Whether we are here two years or 20 years, we will look back and see how every one of those days God has done something totally miraculous.
“We don’t take this time for granted. We want to make the most of every day we are here.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Vermont is a unique mission field, but North Carolina Baptists are helping increase the gospel influence in this New England state. Visit BRnow.org for more stories and look for stories in our Biblical Recorder print edition.)