By Grayson Hester
Sometimes ministry looks like five loaves and seven fishes. Other times, it looks like 72 gallons of milk.
First Baptist Church Asheville has become expert in that kind of ministry.
“We’re embodying the love of God. It’s becoming flesh and blood through these phone calls and notes and offers of help,” said Coordinating Pastor David Blackmon.
A creative church sitting squarely in the middle of a famously creative city, FBCA has long involved itself in community ministry efforts—for decades, even.
This historic experience has allowed the church ample creativity in truly chaotic times. And in a time of dire need, the congregation of FBCA has risen to the challenge.
Whether it’s a deacon delivering 72 gallons of milk to the Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry (ABCCM), a staff producing robust online content, or even congregants continuing to contribute to rooftop food markets at two assisted living facilities, the church is adapting to unprecedented circumstances in order to offer unchanging love.
“We have this wonderful gathering of laypeople. I can trust them so deeply, because they’re just so talented,” Blackmon said.
As Coordinating Pastor, he is in charge of directing the staff and keeping the ministry and its finances oriented towards the right things.
When, for example, the church continues to serve meals to people experiencing homelessness every Thursday, despite the risks and the decreased numbers, FBCA’s congregants were responsible for keeping it that way.
Blackmon also partnered with a church-wide network of Bible study leaders and deacons to check in on people daily.
“I’m following in the wake of excellence and getting credit for it,” he said, “and I’m trying to give credit where it’s due.”
Because of FBCA’s efforts, vulnerable and marginalized populations in the Asheville/Buncombe County area are receiving critical help at a crucial time.
And they’re certainly not alone.
ABCCM, which offers myriad services and necessary items to the Asheville area, was founded by downtown churches (of which FBCA is one) back in the 60s. It has only seen growth since then.
But it certainly hasn’t seen anything like this.
“This particular virus is like combining the perfect storm of not only medical crisis but also economic crisis,” said Scott Rogers, Director of ABCCM.
Rogers has been at the organization’s helm about as long as there’s been an organization to helm. And while the circumstances may be unusual, he said that the role of the church remains the same.
ABCCM fulfills this role in being one of the few organizations to remain open and at almost-full functionality during the pandemic. For everything from food to clothing to jail ministry to educational training, the group helps re-member those whom the city has forgotten.
And, yes, 72 gallons of milk donated at the same time they’ve run out plays a vital role in that endeavor.
Of course, organizations like ABCCM and churches like FBCA are not alone in this struggle. All around the world, faith-based groups are being forced to adapt to these panicked and historic times.
In other words, if the church can’t meet in a building, how can the Church still be the Body?
Towards this question, Rogers and Blackmon alike shared pertinent advice.
“We think this is the most important role for churches,” Rogers said. “Like in Esther 4:14 — for such a time as this — they can speak to the uncertainty and insecurity with the hope and confidence that Christ assures.”
Theologically, churches have a duty to speak resurrection in a time of screeching death. Even if community efforts aren’t feasible, for whatever reason, a church’s witness to eternal truths can make present and pressing truths more bearable.
But, when community efforts are doable, it is incumbent upon churches to do them.
“Every church has something within reach—perfectly fit for them, not beyond them. They should find that thing,” Blackmon said. “Some churches won’t do live services, won’t be as fit to do a particular kind of Bible study. There’s something that’s inherently needed that they can do. They can find that and not worry so much about what other churches are doing.”
For a time such as this, the church stands equipped. For situations such as these, each church, with its own makeup, orientation, and skill set, can do something. The body needs all its parts to function; the Body needs all its people to survive.
We don’t know how long quarantine will last—Blackmon estimates the peak arriving in North Carolina around May or June—or what really will happen.
But we do know that death may seem powerful and grim. But that it never, ever has the last word. That word belongs solely to resurrection.
And whatever the church does—whether it’s knitting masks or broadcasting online or simply praying real hard—it does to help make resurrection a reality.
“Churches are being wise in not gathering together in worship congregantly,” said Rogers. “But they’ve been equally wise in mobilizing their congregations to bring their loaves and fishes that are being multiplied in love and grace.”
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has created a resource hub for the benefit of individuals and congregations in these uncertain times. Bold Faith Resources features original and curated resources for children, youth, adults, worship, missions, prayer, spiritual care, Spanish speakers and digital ministry resources for churches. This hub also includes all COVID-19-related news and updates for the Fellowship. Learn more at www.cbf.net/boldfaith.