Wednesday, April 22, 2015

New Ministry In An Old Location

I had driven by it several times. The weathered sign out front says "Valence Street Baptist Church".

It is located in the picturesque Uptown neighborhood of New Orleans.  Located on the corner of busy Magazine Street (with its many eclectic businesses)  and quiet, residential Valence Street.

It had stood in that location since an unknown date (at least unknown to me) in the second half of the 19th century.  It had been designed and built by the noted southern architect, Thomas Sully, who had also designed and constructed many landmark buildings across the south, including the (3rd Street) St. Charles Hotel in New Orleans, the Vicksburg Hotel (in Vicksburg, MS) the Charity Hospital (formerly known as Confederate Veterans Hospital) in Shreveport, and the Caffery Sugar Mill in St. Mary's Parish.

I understand that Valence Street Church  is the second oldest Baptist Church building standing in the Crescent City today.  Although beautifully crafted, inside and out, and full of rich history, it had come very close to closing it's doors forever.  The congregation, which had dwindled to less than a dozen elderly people, could no longer afford to pay the bills and take care of needed maintenance issues, had some tough decisions to make. Faced with  bringing nearly a century and a half of ministry to an ignominious close, they were nearly without hope.

An existing church planter in the New Orleans area had approached the congregation, wishing to take over the building and add it as part of their existing multi campus ministry, but for one reason or another the aged pastor and the small congregation just didn't feel led to move in that direction.

That is when they contacted Jack Hunter, the Missions Director of the Baptist Association of New Orleans. Jack met with the congregation, and they expressed the desire to "sign the property over" to NOBA, if they could feel assured that the Association Administrative Team would make every effort to "replant" and seek to revitalize the dormant ministry in that well known business and residential neighborhood.  Jack discussed possibilities, surveyed the existing facilities, brought in expert contractors for estimates of necessary repairs and updates of HVAC and other systems. (Presently there is no working air conditioning in the building - and that is a MUST in New Orleans, in any season other than winter).  There is also no existing off street parking for the church as it is somewhat land locked in one of New Orleans most well known and vibrant neighborhoods.

Satisfied with Jack's proposals, the title was transferred to NOBA, and the process began to find God's man for such a time as this and for this particular set of challenges and opportunities.

I have long had the opinion that healthy churches (not associations and conventions) plant other churches. This, however, is a bit of a different situation.  I'm sure that the leadership of NOBA is not interested in simply owning church or other ministry properties, but they are looking to be used of God to serve as good stewards of existing properties, helping to locate just the right people to connect and bring new life back to a place where hope has been fading. I thank God that NOBA leaders are looking to do just that.  In the last year they took an existing property that the North American Mission Board had vacated, and thought outside the box enough to use that property as a new ministry, bringing needed doctors and a health clinic to a depressed neighborhood in the city, where they were gravely needed.

My son, Jay Adkins, who serves as pastor of First Baptist Church of Westwego in suburban New Orleans, is also presently serving as the moderator of NOBA, and I have been quite impressed with what he has shared with me regarding the work of NOBA under the capable leadership of Jack Hunter, and the Christ centered progressive thinking of the Administrative Team and many other NOBA pastors.

Last Friday, as Jay was driving me to the Louis Armstrong International Airport for my flight home, he needed to stop by the Valence Street Church property for a quick meeting.  A young couple from out of state were in town to explore the possibilities of becoming the missionaries who would seek to lead in the "restarting" of the old church.  We met the young couple there, along with Jack, and Dr. David Crosby, pastor of First Baptist Church of New Orleans for a quick walk through of the property. The missionary couple had been in town for a couple of days and had already met with much of the NOBA leadership team, now they were actually looking at the church property itself.

As I said earlier, I was just along for the ride, but I thank God for the opportunity I had to be there.  It was good to see the cooperation and leadership of the NOBA organization, as they sought to work for the Lord in bringing new life to a tremendous place of opportunity for ministry.  I was inspired by the young man and his wife, who were seeking the leadership of God and His direction for their lives.  I thrilled at hearing their testimony, and witnessing their willingness to be available for whatever God has in store for them.  While the interested parties took a tour of the facilities, discussing possibilities and the obvious challenges that may lie ahead, I took my own little walkabout, snapping images of the inside and outside of the old building.

My mind raced with thoughts of the history of the ministry that had been headquartered on that corner of one of America's great cities - which is also one of America's great mission fields.  Generations come and go. Ministries rise and fall. Churches are born, and sometimes churches die.  But our God is eternal.  His mercy is everlasting, and His Grace is endless.  Tears welled up in my eyes as I thought of a former grand old church coming very close to closing its doors forever, and yet God had put the vision in the heart of its aging pastor and dwindling congregation to "let go, and let God" open a new chapter of ministry and evangelism there.

I share these thoughts today to ask you, our friends, to join us in prayer for this particular revitalization project, and the many other, once vital churches, across our land, who are beginning to face similar situations at those faced by the folks at Valence
Street.  Pray for this young couple - or whomever else God may choose to send there.  Pray for the congregation to whom they will minister, and for the thousands of lost people Uptown, and all over the rest of New Orleans who desperately need to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ.