Baptist associations in the United States celebrate their 300th anniversary in 2007. The Florida Baptist Witness is honoring Florida’s 49 associations in a series of articles that will showcase each association and its ministries. This is the second installment.
Chipola Baptist Association
Even before the founding of Chipola Baptist Association in 1925, 26 of the current 40 churches of the association were thriving congregations that ministered to the residents of the central Panhandle. Historic First Baptist Church in Campbellton and Shady Grove Baptist Church in southeast Jackson County had already celebrated centennials before the association, known as Jackson County Baptist Association until 1946, was formed.
The churches of Chipola Association celebrate their storied pasts and maintain “old ways of doing things,” said Coba Beasley, director of missions. “We still do mostly traditional things.”
The traditions of the past form a two-edged sword, offering comfort to older members but often spark little interest to a younger generation looking for contemporary worship and excitement, he said. At 48, one of the youngest directors of missions in the state, Beasley is tackling the area’s devotion to the past. Otherwise, he said, the association’s effectiveness might just be a thing of the past with the passing of a generation which finances about 60 percent of the ministries.
“We have to plan to be more spiritually minded and more prayerful,” Beasley said.
With an eye to the future, First Baptist Church and Damascus Baptist Church, both in Graceville, are nurturing new missions, and the association is sponsoring a Hispanic mission in downtown Marianna at the former home of Southside Baptist Church.
In an association of mostly small congregations—the smallest claims 15 members—cooperation is vitally important, according to Beasley. Teamwork among the churches enables the association’s ministries and outreach. Six years ago the association opened a Family Ministry Center, manned by volunteers, that provides food, clothing and utility aid to 10,000 people a year. The $60-70,000 profit from the sales in the clothes thrift store provide some of the food for the food pantry, but each church provides specific items for the ministry.
“We have a peanut butter church, and a mac and cheese church, and a flour church,” Beasley said. “We even have a church that provides children’s underwear.”
Scores of volunteers from Chipola churches remain on call for the association’s disaster relief ministries. Teams operate chainsaws, do clean-up and recovery, work in feeding units and do mud-out assignments. The association sponsors regular trips to New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast for the prolonged hurricane recovery there. The Florida Baptist Convention, in partnership with the Chipola association, is building a 10,000-square foot warehouse in Marianna on the ministry center property to store disaster relief supplies to be used in the Panhandle when the need arises.
Cooperation is also the key word in planning mission trips, most often to West Virginia. Beasley said he planned to take one team of 15 this summer, but, when more than 30 signed up, he added another team.
“I don’t want to say no to anybody,” Beasley said. “If they want to go, we’ll make a place.”
The teams of volunteers will travel to West Virginia in July. One team will work at a youth camp in Elizabethtown, and one in Huntington, leading Vacation Bible School and doing construction.
The association also finances a part-time director of Baptist Student Ministries at Chipola College. BCM members will travel to downtown Detroit to minister to inner-city residents this summer.
While maintaining its varied ministries, Chipola association leadership is formulating a five-year plan to be presented to its 9,000 members in October, to accomplish the association’s official mission statement: “Encourage one another through a network of fellowship and prayer. Enable one another to be on mission individually and together in our setting and beyond. Equip one another to be more effective in evangelism and church growth.”
Holmes Baptist Association
The 30 churches of Holmes Baptist Association, mostly small rural congregations, cooperate to fulfill the association’s official purpose statement: “We exist to be Kingdom builders by 1. maintaining doctrinal integrity; 2. fostering Christian fellowship; and 3. providing mission/ministry opportunities.”
Members of Shady Grove Baptist Church in Bonifay take part in an Easter candlelight service.
Together, the churches maintain ministries in their communities that provide both quiet encouragement and boisterous celebration. In cooperation with the Bonifay Ministerial Association, Holmes Association sponsors the annual Soul Jam in the spring which annually draws 2-3,000 young people. This year’s Jam, held at the Holmes County Fairgrounds, included a professional skateboarder, motocross racer and daredevil stuntman, along with a battle of the bands. A recent evangelism event in the Ponce DeLeon High School gymnasium attracted 400 teenagers. The Holmes Association also co-sponsors a July 4 celebration on the Sunday night closest to the holiday that is attended by around 6,000.
“That is huge in a rural community like ours,” said Paul Fries, former director of missions of the Holmes association.
In a quieter arena, the West Florida Pregnancy and Family Center ministers to women and families in crisis. The center has two offices in Bonifay and Chipley, and is sponsored by both Holmes and West Florida associations. Since its opening in 2003, around 70 people have accepted Christ through its ministry.
“That number is both male and female,” Fries said, explaining that husbands and boyfriends often accompany the clients to the center.
The annual Holmes County Fair provides an opportunity for ministry to those traveling and working at the fair. The day before the fair opens, volunteers treat the workers to lunch. The annual lunch has created new friendships, as some workers come back yearly, and seek out association volunteers every day the fair is in town, Fries said.
“They just want to come sit with folks,” he said.
The 80-year-old Holmes association maintains a close relationship with Immanuel Baptist Association in West Virginia. Construction teams from the Panhandle have traveled north four times since 2001 and have constructed Camden Flats Baptist Church in Glenville and Victory Baptist Church in Belmont. In what Fries describes as a “neat ministry,” volunteers sign up knowing that “whatever we build, we finance.”
Paul Fries is only the second director of missions to serve only Holmes Baptist Association, which previously shared a DOM with a neighboring association. He and his wife, Cheryl, have moved to Richland County, Wisconsin, which is home to five generations of the Fries’ family. He has been appointed by the North American Mission Board as a church planter and is now seeking to enlist volunteers to travel to Wisconsin on mission trips.
“For every week you come in the summer, we’ll come to Florida in the winter,” Fries offered.
Northwest Coast Baptist Association
Northwest Coast Baptist Association, under the direction of new Director of Missions Troy Varnum, is looking for ways to demonstrate its “care strategy.” The goal of caring for area residents and visitors is part of Varnum’s two-prong plan for ministry to and through the 48 churches of the association.
Northwest Coast Baptist Association recruited help from Northeastern Indian Baptist Association, in Ft. Wayne, Ind., to assist in conducting a Kid’s Club at St. Andrew State Park near Panama City and two block parties.
Varnum described the second part of his plan of ministry as using strategic data to forecast needs and read trends.
“We have to ask ‘How can this association be of value to you?'” Varnum said. “People are busy and if you don’t ask that question the association will lose its worth to the community.”
Admittedly speaking from only “nine days’ experience” as a director of missions, the former pastor of First Baptist Church in Lake City said Northwest Coast association includes churches with more than a 1,000 members and some with less than 100, with the majority claiming less than 500 members. Churches are located in rural communities, in a mid-sized city and in a beach tourist destination. In the Panama City area one mission is ministering in the African-American community and another mission is already in the works, Varmun said.
With churches spread across Bay, Gulf, Franklin and Washington counties, the 73-year-old association straddles the Eastern and Central time zones, a fact that necessitates notating time zones for associational meetings and events and intentionally including churches on both sides of Tyndall Air Force Base. Although a long-time fact of life in the association, the time difference poses a challenge for a new DOM.
“My worst fear is that I’ll get the wrong time zone when I’m invited to preach,” Varnum said. “I think their worst fear is that I’ll set my watch on Central Time in Eastern Time and preach ’til one o’clock.”
With its “caring strategy” in mind, the association maintains active disaster relief teams and owns a shower unit that travels to meet needs. Its booth at the local fair in the falls is a popular evangelism opportunity for volunteers who distribute Bibles along with popcorn and water.
Mission teams from the association travel often to the northeast tip of West Virginia to participate in projects with Tri-County Baptist Association, with whom Northwest Coast has worked in partnership since 2001. The Northwest Coast association region—with its famous white sand beaches—is also a popular destination for youth mission groups from the south and Midwest United States.
In the summer, association leadership works diligently to match up visiting teams with local needs. Youth teams and their adult leaders may be found working at summer day camps, in local nursing and children’s homes, at the local rescue mission or in the pregnancy resource center. The teams also work with small churches in the association to spruce up their facilities, to survey local residents and to host block parties.
The area’s “most loving churches in the world” were among the reasons Varnum was attracted to Northwest Coast association, he said. Calling his new job “a God-thing,” Varnum looks forward to becoming more than a part-time resident of the area.
“The whole script isn’t written yet. But that’s normal with God’s work,” he said. “I just have to listen for needs and follow God’s leadership.”
Walton County Baptist Association
Walton County’s 32 Baptist churches are poised to grow as quickly as the county’s population, according to Sonny Pritchett, director of missions of Walton County Baptist Association.
“There will be no limit to what we can do when we get in step with the Lord,” Pritchett said.
Reaching the lost is the association’s top priority and Pritchett believes the Lord has already supplied resources for ministering to the area’s burgeoning population.
“Everything we need is already here,” he said. “Now we need willing pastors and churches, and money.”
Graves Baptist Association was founded in 1890 with 18 churches. It was named for J.R. Graves, an influential Landmark leader of the era. The association changed its name to Walton County Baptist Association in 1990 during the organization’s centennial celebration.
The rural association cooperates to provide ministries and training opportunities for local churches. It sponsors at least one evangelistic rally annually. First Baptist Church in DeFuniak Springs hosted a Senior Adult Crusade in April led by Bill Coffman, pastor of Westview Baptist Church in Sanford. The large 2006 rally was held at Walton Senior High School in DeFuniak Springs. Pritchett is confident the meetings are profitable for evangelism.
“The Lord’s Word is seed, and we expect a harvest,” Pritchett said.
Knowing God’s Word is the aim of children’s and youth Bible drills which involve scores of students in church-, association- and state-wide drills. Pritchett said the keys to successful Bible drills in Walton County are “great leaders.” Leader training for Vacation Bible School faculty members is a yearly emphasis, along with a mission emphasis, On Mission Celebration, in September.
Outfitting a disaster relief trailer is a current project for volunteers from the association’s churches. Some workers are already trained in clean-up, roofing, dry-in and mud-out. Local organizers now are “picking up disaster relief coordinators for each church,” he said.
Pritchett moved to Walton County Baptist Association in April 2006, from the Florida Keys Association, and since then has made “a pretty good adjustment,” he said. The association’s director of missions position had been empty for about three years.
“They laugh and remind me that I came on April Fool’s Day,” Pritchett said. “I do believe that I am where I’m supposed to be.”
He believes a good portion of his job is ministering to pastors – listening and helping to find resources for the churches.
“I tell them that they pay me to talk, so they have to listen to me,” he said.
West Florida Baptist Association
In 1847, representatives from churches in Calhoun, Holmes, Jackson, Gadsden, Franklin and Washington counties in Florida and Geneva County in Alabama met to form the West Florida Baptist Association. Although the boundaries have changed, the original purpose of the association—”to spread the Kingdom of our Lord and to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ”—has not changed in 157 years.
West Florida Association’s Pregnancy & Family Center Director Mary Ann Rockburn with client.
Director of Missions Alcus Brock wrote in the May edition of the association’s newsletter that he would like to point to the West Florida Baptist Association as “an example of how the association helps churches be involved in mission work.”
Needs for emphases on missions and evangelism are coming to Washington County’s doorstep as new residential development and a new airport invade the once-rural area.
“Riding through the county, you can’t help but see that the numbers [of residents] are bound to increase,” said Brock, who has served the association since 1989. “I think the population will double in 10 years. I sure hope our churches are ready.”
The 16 churches and one mission that form the rural association are working “to spread the Kingdom and preach the Gospel” through an array of ministries made possible through cooperation. All the ministries could be categorized by the name of its benevolence ministry, Love in Action that places donated clothing and furniture in the hands of the needy in Washington County.
“A shirt costs about 25 cents. We found that most prefer paying a little so that it is not charity,” Brock said. “Of course, if they don’t have a quarter, they get the shirt anyway.”
Through the West Florida Pregnancy and Family Center, association volunteers see to the needs of women in crisis pregnancies. The center is jointly sponsored by the Holmes and West Florida Baptist associations and maintains facilities in both Chipley and Bonifay. The center director, Mary Ann Rockburn, oversees a staff of volunteers who are dedicated to their clients. The success of the ministry has exceeded all expectations, Brock said. In addition to the pregnancy center, the association sponsors a counseling service in cooperation with counselor Bob Johnson and Door of Hope Counseling.
Barry Rockburn, director of West Florida Baptist Association’s Love in Action Ministries Warehouse coordinates clothing, furniture and appliances donated to help the needy.
In 2003 the association was given a building, formerly the Chipley Motel Apartments, which had been damaged by fire. After restoration and adoption by several local churches, several of the 12 apartments provide temporary housing to those in need. Brock hopes Armstrong House is finished by 2008. Brock said two apartments lack “a little work” and two more—those completely gutted in the fire—require complete renovation.
Volunteers from several WFBA churches work together as a clean-up and recovery unit in disaster relief. The team helped Wisconsin residents after the ice storms in February, and previously worked in Mobile, Ala., and Louisiana. Local residents also receive help from the unit in removing dangerous overhanging limbs. Volunteers are currently constructing a “barn” to house the team’s equipment.
Churches of the association and the Chipley Ministerial Association are uniting to sponsor an area-wide evangelistic crusade led by the David Akin Family. Organizers have been praying and preparing for more than six months for the expected 1,000 people who will gather at a Baptist layman’s exhibition barn Sept. 23-26.
“Hopefully, it will be a time of harvest,” Brock said.