I have never stopped thanking my Heavenly Father, for bringing me and this special congregation together nearly 10 years ago. I answered the call of the church with an unprecedented 99% of the vote on that Sunday morning in November 2002. I have no idea what the vote would be if taken again today, but I would like to think that I still enjoy a good measure of support from the congregation.
We've had good times together, and we've had some challenges. The first two years were a period when I focused on ministry to people who were bearing hurts from years past. The next two years, the church rallied around me and Linda as they ministered to us during my battle with Stage 4 "Incurable" Cancer. God used my illness for blessings in many ways. One of those results was a spirit of unity and love at about the time a new pastor's "honeymoon" would normally be over.
One of the buzzwords today in SBC circles is the term "Missional". Westmoreland Baptist has been a missional church since its birth in 1915. It was, itself, the product of a church planting vision. The work on the corner of Hughes and Court Streets in the most westerly neighborhood of Huntington was planted by the Washington Avenue Baptist Church. Washington Avenue Baptist later became Jefferson Avenue Baptist, and just a few years ago that congregation merged with Eastwood Baptist Church on East Pea Ridge between Barboursville and Huntington.
Over the years this congregation has begun missions all around the state of West Virginia. Some of the church plant attempts only survived for a few years. Our most recent church planting effort was in our county seat of Wayne. Not all of our church plant attempts might be called "successful" but only eternity will reveal what God accomplished through those efforts. However, there are several thriving healthy churches today in Huntington (Altizer neighborhood), Elkins, Logan, and Point Pleasant that were all church plants by WBC. At least one of those churches has also planted a successful church in Lincoln County.
Many of our members have served as missionaries - both vocational as well as volunteer. Cynthia Perdue Mikhail (who recently passed away in Ramallah) spent most of her adult life as a missionary to Palestinians and Jews in the West Bank territory of Israel. Steve Howerton spent time as an IMB Journeyman in the Caribbean, and it was there where he met his future wife, Cathy, who was there doing mission work herself. Jim Fugate and Kevin Howerton also served as BSU Campus Ministers. Randy Spurgeon gave up his position here as Associate Pastor of Music and Youth several years ago to serve as one of our State Convention Missionaries as well.
Many of our members have taken part in short term missions both at home and abroad, and we continue to do so. Recent trips have included ongoing work in the Philippines with native Southern Baptist Church planters there, as well as trips to Russia, Europe, India, and Haiti. Our youth do mission work around the country each summer, and a number of our people have served in SBC Disaster Relief work for years. I am proud that many of our people have the desire to Go personally. I am also thankful that they back up their missionary spirit through giving.
Beside numerous non budgeted gifts we give to various mission causes (ranging from the Huntington City Mission to several independent missionaries, and Gideons International) the church body has committed to return 13% of all undesignated receipts to Southern Baptist Mission causes. The breakdown of our mission giving includes:
- The SBC Cooperative Program (since 1925, one of the most successful mission sending vehicles ever created. Cooperative Program giving helps fund International and Home Missionaries, including our own West Virginia Convention work, as well as the six SBC Seminaries, and the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission)
- SBC International Mission Board direct giving to help bring the Gospel to the Kekchi People Group of Belize in Central America. This people group has been identified by the IMB as one of 3,800 unreached and unengaged people groups on the planet.
- Direct support for Filipino Church Planters of the Negros Southern Baptist Association of Churches (Visayan Baptist Convention SBC) in the Philippines. We have helped fund, construct, and furnish three new church buildings, and financially support one of the pastors and his family
- The Greater Huntington Baptist Association. We have reorganized and simplified the structure and ministry scope of our local association during this last year of transition, and we look forward to the coming year making a greater missions impact our our area than ever before.
It is also an area of pride to know that this church has produced many other individuals who have, and are currently serving as pastors and staff members in churches in West Virginia, and around the nation.
These last nine and a half years has been a real time of transition for Westmoreland Baptist. I have officiated 108 Funeral services since I have been here (not counting those done by other staff members during the same period). God is bringing new families in to replace the old, and the challenge before us is to make strong mature disciples, who can replicate themselves in other people through evangelism and discipleship.
Are we a "dead church" as someone once charged? Absolutely not! Are we dying? I think not. Are we as healthy and vibrant as we could be? Sadly the answer is no. We are not reaching our area for Christ as effectively as we could and should. We want to see more people saved and following our Lord in believer's Baptism. That will come as we focus on our three fold mission in this community and in the world. "Magnify God... Make Disciples... Minister to People".
A Sovereign God brought me to this place nearly 10 years ago. He matched us up as shepherd and flock, and I have no doubt it was of His doing. My prayer is today the same as it was then. "Lord, help me love them and lead them. And Lord, please do not let me do any thing to mess up your work here!
The best years are still ahead for Westmoreland Baptist Church. I pray that I can be a part of it as the His "undershepherd" here, until my ministry is concluded, or God calls me home.