Despite the fact that church starters are constantly adding new skills to their repertoire—accountant, chef, marketing director, coffee connoisseur, even plumber—Carrie Jarrell Tuning never dreamed of adding “pothole fixer” to hers.
But Wayne, a homebound resident of Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, needed help getting to dialysis treatment. Because of degenerated bones in Wayne’s back, emergency medical services must transport him to the dialysis clinic every other day on a stretcher. Road damage at his apartment community, however, increasingly threatened the safety of both Wayne and the paramedics, Tuning explains. Eventually, one paramedic even fell into a pothole, twisting his ankle. What’s more, medical personnel were habitually leaving Wayne’s apartment unlocked to allow for regular entry, leaving him vulnerable to Roanoke Rapids’ unusually high crime rate.
So, he dialed his friend and pastor of Hope Christian Fellowship Baptist Church, Carrie Jarrell Tuning, who took photos of the potholes and demanded that the landlord arrange for repairs. Furthermore, Tuning convinced the landlord to install a lockbox at Wayne’s door so EMS workers could come and go, keeping Wayne’s home secure. Tuning herself would use the lockbox monthly to deliver food and to serve communion to Wayne, one of the many ways she extends hope and hospitality to vulnerable people in Roanoke Rapids.
“The people who gravitate to Hope Christian Fellowship are people whom others have basically given up on—older people and people who feel they don’t fit in at other churches, people who want to move past their past,” Tuning says.
“Once I made up my mind to accept the call to be a pastor, I went full force and I’m happy that I did, because a lot of people in Roanoke Rapids have no voice. I preach and teach the Word, but I do most of my work out in the community. I’m an advocate for people, many of whom aren’t even members of my church.”
In June 2016, Carrie Jarrell Tuning was commissioned by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship as a church starter in Roanoke Rapids, but not before wrestling with her call, she explains. At the time, Tuning had served in her local church and a prison ministry for 21 years. She relished her new position with the Veterans Affairs Learning University in Washington, D.C. She had spent 18 years growing up in Roanoke Rapids. How could she give up her plush job and return to such a familiar and complicated community? Eventually, God made it all too clear, Tuning says, and she couldn’t fight anymore.
Now in its fourth year, Hope Christian Fellowship continues to gather and worship in the SureStay Plus Hotel by Best Western in Roanoke Rapids, where many congregants have temporary residence in nearby hotels with housing vouchers. For those who can’t attend worship on Sunday mornings, Tuning leads a conference-call Bible study each Tuesday at 7 p.m., to which people as far away as Tacoma, Washington, tune in. On the second Tuesday of the month, Tuning concludes Bible study with a Q&A session, in which listeners can ask candid questions about theology or their own faith journeys. But Hope Christian Fellowship also takes time to simply celebrate one another, Tuning says.
“Because we’re a small setting, we recognize and give gifts to the individuals having birthdays that particular month, celebrating them,” she says. “By doing this, I found out that many of our people have never had their birthdays celebrated. But it’s small gestures like that that help people rebuild.”
On Thursdays, Tuning spends most of her time in local assisted living centers, where she brings meals and serves communion to homebound residents like Wayne. That’s one of the gifts of starting a church in your hometown, she says—lifelong friends become part of your congregation, whether or not they actually attend worship. Ironically, however, as Hope Christian Fellowship establishes a more confident place of belonging in Roanoke Rapids, it tends to reduce its own ranks, Tuning explains. “You spend a lot of time with people, helping them, and once they get to a point where they feel good about themselves, they want to leave and go to those places where they weren’t accepted before. Now they feel as though they fit in,” she says.
“It took me a while to come to grips with the fact that maybe at this point in my life, as a pastor, God has me positioned to help people and to plant that seed that helps them get to the next level because, in actuality, all people belong to God. They don’t belong to me, even if they come to a church that God called me to start. They belong to God and maybe God is moving them in a new direction.”
To learn more about CBF’s New Church Starts Initiative or to explore your own call to church starting, visit cbfchurchstarts.net.