In a small country town where everybody knows everybody, word spread quickly that the Baptist church was without a pastor. But three years later, the news in Fort Ashby, W. Va., wasn’t news anymore.
Even during its lengthy search for a pastor and with few people in the pews, First Baptist Church of Fort Ashby continued to send 12 percent of its undesignated offerings each month to missions through the Cooperative Program – the Southern Baptist Convention’s unified channel of support for missions and ministry – to fulfill the Great Commission. An additional 3 percent goes to the Potomac Highland Baptist Association.
Lisa Wagoner, a member of the church for 30 years, described the church’s giving as vital.
“We would never decrease our giving unless the church was so far gone that no one was left,” Wagoner told Baptist Press. “We do live by the fact that the Lord blesses us for giving. … God will continue to bless us as long as we’re giving, and giving in the right areas.”
The church that in 1994 counted 71 people in Sunday morning worship dipped to 15 members before unanimously calling David Duckworth as pastor in August 2015. Bivocational, he owns Duckworth Insurance Services in nearby Winchester, Va.
“I grew up in the area,” Duckworth said. “I’m home.”
The 15 who called Duckworth included a “lovely young couple” who joined even without a pastor because they “felt the love and felt that was where they belonged,” Wagoner said.
That love had reignited after the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists sent two men to help the church while it was struggling to find a pastor. The men led the church to envision what God wanted from them, which led to the vision statement, “To glorify God by winning souls through the preaching and teaching of God’s word and loving others.”
A new pastor search committee was formed, and about the same time, the church restarted its midweek prayer service.
“We wanted to make sure everyone was praying and listening to what God wanted for our church,” Wagoner said. “We prayed, ‘If this is your will for this church to continue, show us what we need to do.’”
With 20 years of ministry experience, Duckworth applied to pastor the church in the town he had visited on a mission trip about 12 years earlier during a pastorate in Virginia. “That drew me back to the area,” he said from his current home in Winchester, Va., an hour east of Fort Ashby. “I got the people back in my heart again.”
He was shocked to hear of the church’s need for a pastor, said Duckworth, who had often looked at the state convention’s website but hadn’t known of the need.
“I had felt called to the area for many years,” he said. “I knew the church and knew what God could do at Fort Ashby. They got a new vision and that’s when everything started to turn around,” Duckworth said. “We’re running close to 40 in worship now, and we have eight new members, brand-new people who have never been in church before, and a lot of returning members.
“We’re waiting for the floodgates to open,” he said. “There’s a new energy level. It’s definitely a God-thing. … The Cooperative Program is a part of what’s going on. They recognize the benefit of it. We’re greater together.”
Members are involved in a variety of community ministries in Fort Ashby, from the fire department to the food bank, but the church is most known for prayer, Duckworth said.
“It’s amazing how the community calls us for prayer,” the pastor said. “They know we’re a praying church. We’re always looking out for other people.”
Among community outreaches are plans to build a handicap ramp for a community member this month, Duckwork said. Future plans include mission trips out of the area too.
“Us being small has a lot of advantages,” Wagoner said of the town of about 3,000 people. “We get to know each other better. We know the needs of the congregation and the community.”
The biggest issue in Fort Ashby is heroin use, Duckworth said. Baltimore, known as the heroin capital of the nation, is just 150 miles east of the community, and a typical hit of heroin costs less than a pack of cigarettes.
“There’s an epidemic of heroin use in the area,” Duckworth said. “We’ve had more than enough of that in the 10 months I’ve been here. … It’s heartbreaking. Kids, young kids, have easy access to drugs as do teenagers and adults. Even those who don’t use are affected by it.
“What I realize is that anybody could fall into that trap,” he said. “There but for the grace of God go you and I. The only way to combat it is Christ. Galatians 5:6 ‘… what matters is faith working through love.’ I really think that’s the essence of who we ought to be.”
The church has a family life center – built 13 years ago and mostly unused – that Duckworth wants to utilize as a gathering place for children, teens and adults.
“I’m hoping we can use that resource but the only way it will work is if we do so expressing our faith through love. … We need to change our mind, the way we think, the way we feel,” Duckworth said. “Maybe it’s a matter of us allowing God to love us more. The activation of our love comes as we allow Him to love us more, and then we can love more too.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.)