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Soccer pulls church into community ministry
Norman Jameson, Associated Baptist Press
March 24, 2011
6 MIN READ TIME

Soccer pulls church into community ministry

Soccer pulls church into community ministry
Norman Jameson, Associated Baptist Press
March 24, 2011

The famous towel producer Charles Cannon built First

Baptist Church in Kannapolis when Cannon

Mills provided both engine and fuel for the aging textile town 27 miles north

of Charlotte. He wanted a good church for his workers, so he had First

Baptist constructed on the edge of the mill property.

First Baptist celebrated

its centennial in 2008 and has enjoyed its current red brick, columned building

for 75 years. It is imposing and regal, but because of how Cannon provided the

building, the church doesn’t own an inch of land outside the building’s

footprint; not a single parking space.

The textile industry has fled North Carolina like water

falls over Niagara, and in the past few years Cannon’s massive mills were

converted to Pillowtex, then that company and 2,400 local jobs were erased as

if they never existed.

Billionaire buyer David

Murdock rubbed out whole blocks of Kannapolis and on

that clean sheet is building a futuristic research facility of Georgian-style

red brick buildings. The buildings and the international workforce that is

beginning to occupy them are changing the face of this small southern town.

Tom Cabaniss, with 14 years in the pulpit of First

Baptist Church,

wanted to change the public face of his church, too. The church owns 11.5 acres

of land a half mile away, on a main drag in town, and had architectural

drawings in hand for a $20 million complex to be built in phases, including a

new sanctuary.

Then, at a staff retreat in the midst of an expository

journey through the book of Romans, Cabaniss asked: “What if we became the

place that people thought of when they thought of ministry in Kannapolis?”

That question began to drive deacon meetings, staff prayer

time, small groups and committee meetings within the church.

It also ate like a boll weevil through the extravagant plans

for a new facility and instead, prompted the church to ask the local Christian

community ministries organization what it would build for its ministry to the

area’s homeless and hungry.

First Baptist has always

sent money and people to distant lands, but they began to ask, “What if our

mission field is Midway?” — that 11.5 acres of sports fields and bare ground

the church bought in 2002. “What if God actually wanted us to ‘burst through

the bricks’ and make a difference here?” said Haven Parrott, minister of

spiritual formation.

When they considered ways to engage the community,

everything seemed to start with Midway. The fields are surrounded by easy

access highway and a transitional neighborhood of modest houses once occupied

by mill workers.

The church bought the land strictly on the basis of

opportunity and potential. They paid it off quickly and gathered their plans to

build. Then the economy hit a brick wall and the answer to their prayers was,

“Wait.”

But “wait” didn’t mean “stand still,” and the compelling

question of ministry continued to motivate the church. For several years they

had sponsored a soccer league that developed into a comfortable, friendly,

weekly get together at the soccer field for about 85 Christian children and

their families.

“That’s not outreach,” said Cabaniss. When the coordinator

had to drop out the church went a different direction. They passed out flyers

in each elementary school — all of which are Title 1 schools with a high

percentage of poor students. The church “charged” just $5 but easily overlooked

even that “dignity fee,” and 200 rambunctious, excited children flooded the

field.

About three dozen church members volunteered as coaches and

organizers, and other members came as cheerleaders for whatever team needed

some that day.

Long after the church had decided to scholarship the entire

program if necessary the Cannon Foundation responded with a $15,000 grant

because the six-week effort would contribute to healthy habits of children and

their families.

Participants 4 years old through fourth grade had one

practice during the week and games on Saturdays. Families received information

about the church and church members led devotions for the families. Coaches led

devotions for their teams.

A big season-ending carnival followed a recognition service

in the sanctuary. Parrott said families had to attend the service to

participate in the carnival, but the purpose was to break the barrier of

intimidation that often keeps strangers from braving entry into a large,

imposing, traditional church building.

Cabaniss said the soccer ministry gave his members a chance

to do something bigger than themselves. It connected them with people different

from themselves, gave them a chance to serve their community and helped them

grow in their own faith as they saw God at work and prayers answered in a

neglected part of town. They saw seeds planted that they intend to nurture and

to see God harvest “in His time.”

“What we do is relational,” Parrott said. “We didn’t go into

it thinking we’re doing this to get new members. We did it to be a presence in

that community, whatever that meant, but we knew it meant getting in their back

yard.”

Now Parrott is the “soccer lady” in the local grocery store

and the church gets calls all the time about a new soccer season. The church is

holding three Saturday skills and devotion clinics in April.

If things progress on their current track, future soccer

teams will play in the shadow of an 11,000-sqare-foot, $1.6 million ministries

building that will serve the homeless and hungry in Kannapolis.

It will be the simple, functional building First

Baptist Church builds for others rather

than the new complex for itself it was considering. It will have a basketball

court, kitchen, a sleeping area and space for feeding and a clothes closet.

First Baptist will hold

Bible school there and have activities, “but it is such a far cry from the

really pretty building we were going to build,” Parrott said. “We will build it

for others, not for ourselves.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Jameson is reporting and coordinating

special projects for ABP on an interim

basis. He is former editor of the North Carolina Biblical Recorder.)

(SPECIAL NOTE — Thank you for your continued support of the Biblical

Recorder site. During this interim period while we are searching for a new

Editor/President the comments section will be temporarily discontinued. Thank

you for your understanding and patience in this. If you do have comments or

issues with items we run, please contact [email protected]

or call 919-847-2127.)

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