Albertson Road Baptist Church was once a strong congregation, drawing members from around south High Point to its building, located not far off U.S. 29. But in more recent years, the church was ailing as local factories closed. Many white residents moved away and many Hispanics and Asians moved in.
“We wanted to reach them but we didn’t speak Spanish,” recalls Debbie Ford, an Albertson Road member for some 30 years.
The church’s first building on Blandwood Drive was built in 1948, and two others in the 1950s. One of these was a sturdy sanctuary able to seat several hundred.
By 2013 the church’s situation was critical. Only a small number of mostly older members remained. One member was paying the church’s bills the others could not cover.
Perhaps, the members thought, they should just sell the facilities and close Albertson Road Baptist for good. But David Phelps, then serving as interim pastor, suggested a better way.
BSC photo by Mike Creswell
From left, some of those associated with the transitioning church pose for a photo with the new, multi-site sign. On the left side of the sign are: Daniel Quick, pastor of the new African-American congregation; Peter Te, with the Burmese congregation; Lucrecia Quick, wife of Quick; Ngai Lamcing (yellow) with the Burmese congregation; Wayne Osborne (bright blue) and W.E. Thompson (light blue), long-time members of Albertson Road Baptist Church. On the right side of the sign, from left: Benito Lopez, pastor of the Iglesia Bautista Esperanza Viva (Living Hope Baptist Church) meeting here; Billy Scism, pastor of the new Blandwood Community Church meeting here; Jimmy Sowers, on the staff of Piedmont Baptist Association who oversees the property; Larry Doyle, director of missions, Piedmont Baptist Association; and David Phelps, who served 18 months as interim pastor of Albertson Road Baptist as they made this big transition.
“I tried to help them understand it was time to do something different,” he said. The members should indeed step aside, but not to sell out.
He proposed an idea: why not turn the property over to Piedmont Baptist Association to use in ministry?
Phelps talked to Larry Doyle, Piedmont’s director of missions, about transferring the three buildings and land to the association. Discussions followed, and the transfer was complete by the end of 2014. About the same time, several new church groups were looking for places to meet.
The old Albertson Road sign was taken down. Now a sign announces this is a “Lugar de Reunión,” a meeting place housing five ministries: a new Anglo congregation, new Hispanic congregation, new Burmese congregation, new African-American congregation and a ministry to High Point’s homeless and poor.
The building is now used seven days a week. Along with multiple services, prayer meetings and the like, there are also fitness classes, food distributions and a gardening program. On Saturdays, they serve pancakes to local residents.
During months with five Sundays, all the groups come together for a joint, multi-cultural service. The first such event was a unique experience for those who attended. One former Albertson Road member told Piedmont Association staffer Jimmy Sowers that this gathering is how Heaven will be one day when all the people groups of our planet gather. Sowers oversees the use of the property for Piedmont Association.
Groups assembled again for the May 31 fifth-Sunday service, but with a different purpose: to honor the former Albertson Road members. Eleven of the members and former interim pastor Phelps came forward during the service to receive plaques of appreciation for their years of service and the legacy they were passing along to future Christians in the area.
Doyle told them a permanent marker will be installed in the building which will be a certificate of recognition from Piedmont Baptist Association, “awarded to members of Albertson Road Baptist Church, for running the race God set before you and for the legacy you left to future generations of Christ followers.”
“We cannot tell you how such a legacy will be carried on,” Doyle said, “but you will see in years to come lives changed as people come to Christ. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the legacy you left us.”
At least seven different ethnic groups now live in the surrounding community, Sowers said. “One day we hope to have a church for each group.”
In a message translated from English into Spanish and Burmese, Doyle referred to the race described in Hebrews 12 as a relay race in which a runner passes along a baton to another runner to carry it on. That, he said, is what the Albertson Road members have done in handing over their building for others to use.
Member Wayne Osborne told the groups he used to come home from school when he was a boy and go straight to work on the Albertson Road building. “I’m glad God still has this property,” he declared, “and not the devil. Thank you for taking our place.”
Another member said he and his wife were married in the church many years ago. He pointed to the second pew on the right where he rededicated his life to Christ 30 years prior.
“I’m kinda sad we’ve lost our church, but I’m glad to see what’s happening here and I think it is probably for the best, because the community has changed so much over the years. I think this will be a good thing. It’s sad to see the changes, but they are good changes,” said Debbie Ford.
“I feel pretty good about it. It’s sad we had to leave like we did, but it looks like we’re heading in the right direction,” said Claud Clodfelter, a member for some 10 years.
Sowers puts the transition this way: “God directed this, God honored this, and God is blessing it,” he said during the service. He likened the new multi-platform ministry to a community-based mission board, sending missionaries out to the assorted people groups in the area. “It will be fun to watch what’s going on in the future,” he added.
Across North Carolina hundreds of Baptist churches are declining and face the same near-death situation Albertson Road Baptist faced as communities around them change. The High Point church transfer shows how a dying church can become resurrected into four new churches, turning a potential funeral into a celebration.