By Ben Brown
Fred’s is the old haunt on Main Street downtown. It’s a staple in a town like Franklin, Virginia. Styrofoam cups are stacked behind the bar, and the breakfast special of Eggs Frederick for $8.95 is being advertised. It’s dinner-time now though, and most patrons are finishing their plates of fried chicken and nursing a beer.
There’s a burst of laughter from the upper room, and a young professional stops and hugs an older couple. All three head upstairs together. What kind of group is meeting above the bar?
It’s the first Thursday of the month, and the Baptists are meeting upstairs at Fred’s for Faith on Draft. The Rev. Dr. Charles Qualls is the senior pastor of Franklin Baptist Church, where the idea of Faith on Draft emerged from a visioning process at the church.
“Faith on Draft regularly includes about 40 people from three different generations,” said Qualls.
The idea was “brewed” out of discipleship goals and a desire for the people of Franklin Baptist Church to meet in the community and engage more deeply in discussions about scripture, theology and Christian faith. The group met for the first time in November of 2018, and participation is growing at the crossroads of a pub menu and faith conversations.
“There are always people from the town who meet with us and are able to get at the stuff that can’t be delivered in a sermon or received at Sunday school,” said Qualls.
Visioning sessions are still generating dreams for the people of Franklin Baptist Church. For example, Franklin Baptist formalized a partnership with Franklin High School to provide needed and willing volunteers to help with the concessions stand at football games. The partnership then grew as administrators noticed more and more kids could not afford to purchase adequate winter coats during colder temperatures.
“We worked with their guidance counselors, keeping it all anonymous, to help clothe 40 students. We wanted to answer the question, ‘Who’s in our community and what do they need?’” said Qualls.
This was not the first time that Franklin Baptist Church provided for community needs.
In 1999, Hurricane Floyd flooded downtown Franklin. A Verizon building behind Franklin Baptist was unusable due to the high waters, and Verizon asked the church if they could temporarily set up telecommunications at the front corner of the church. The church agreed, and Verizon later asked if Franklin Baptist would like to purchase the building and the parking lot.
“While they couldn’t give it to us, it’s almost just as good. So, for almost 20 years the building has been a warehouse for youth yard sales and a staging location for cooperative ministries donations,” said Qualls.
While this has been good use for that building, in 2018 Franklin Baptist Church began a visioning process through which they were inspired to turn the once-damaged property into a blessing for the community. Ideas bubbled up and enthusiasm began to spread.
“What if it were an incubator for worthy nonprofits—a place for an organization to get on its feet,” wondered Qualls.
Franklin Baptist Church is currently in conversation and planning with a hospital foundation to house community efforts for nutrition, mental health and education. There are plans to add a counseling center with group meetings for cancer support, Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous. The Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia would use this as their hub in Franklin, and local community partners could use the office space for meetings and training events.
The people of Franklin Baptist Church are committed to their community, and this newly-adapted space would adjust their mindset and mission and add a physical touchpoint for community use. While there is much to be done to complete this effort, Qualls and the church are hopeful and ready to begin.
“Our first impulse is charity, and we do lots of things. But we’re moving into empowerment for people,” said Qualls. “Empowerment fits our mission and hope.”