Belmont Baptist Church creates long-term change in Charlottesville, Va., with CBF grant
By Rickey Letson
In 2006, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship launched a program called It’sTime. The eight-week study challenged churches to embrace a more missional perspective in their congregational life focused on purpose and passion, particularly as it related to their calling to meet community needs. It’s Time also gave churches the opportunity to apply for grant funds that would provide seed money to bring new ministries to life which were the direct result of the work done through the study.
One of the congregations that participated in It’s Time is Belmont Baptist Church in Charlottesville, Va. Belmont began to engage with the study in 2008, focusing on the It’s Time material in both worship on Sunday mornings and through Wednesday evening conversations.
Greg Anderson, who has served as pastor of Belmont for the past 17 years, remembers that an intriguing part of the conversation for the church at the time was the possible grant funding that was connected to the study. The church was focused on the discernment process the material highlighted to discover how God desired to use their congregation in the community. Yet, a clear motivating factor was the idea that as they learned how and where they were being called to serve, there was a strong possibility that funds would be available to help get the ministry started.
As Belmont was completing the It’s Time study, leaders from the congregation heard a presentation from a local ministry organization. An unexpected gleaning was a comment made about the number of people in the Charlottesville community who lived a very transient existence. It was shared that as these frequent movers transitioned from one temporary residence to another, they often left most of their clothes behind. Puzzled, the Belmont leaders discovered that there was a simple reason for this. It was easier and cheaper to pick up new clothes from one of the area clothing closets than it was to wash the clothes they already had. The basic act of washing clothes that is easily taken for granted was a luxury that was far too expensive for a significant number of individuals and families in the Charlottesville area.
The work of Belmont with It’s Time and the serendipitous conversation between the church and the local ministry about the inability of some in Charlottesville to wash their clothes created the needed intersection between passion, purpose and need. Ultimately, Belmont Baptist chose to apply for and use It’s Time grant funds to create a ministry called Loads of Love located in a church-owned house on the back side of its property. Loads of Love provides a place for people to wash their clothes in an environment that is safe, family-friendly and affordable.
In 2009, Belmont received a $25,000 grant from CBF to support Loads of Love, and the ministry opened in the summer of 2010.
The church does not charge people to use the facility that is equipped with five washers and dryers, as well as detergent, fabric sheets and other needed supplies. Loads of Love also has an area for children to play, read, do homework or watch television. A kitchen area offers families space to share a meal while washing clothes or gives an adult space to catch up on paperwork while their children use the area created specifically for them in the adjacent room.
Each guest family is hosted by a church member as an act of hospitality and relationship building. This also provides the opportunity for sharing about the church, faith and the chance to be a compassionate presence in the life of the visiting individual or family. As clients continue to return and use the facility on multiple occasions, deeper relationships naturally form. These experiences are equally transformational for the hosts who learn about the lives of their clients, their struggles and challenges. Clients and hosts sometimes even become prayer partners.
One of the many inspiring stories connected to Loads of Love is about a regular client named Ms. Johnson. Likely the longest active client, Ms. Johnson used the resources of Loads of Love from the time the ministry opened in 2010 until the start of the pandemic in 2020. For much of the time, Ms. Johnson worked with the same member of Belmont Baptist who regularly served as her host. Over the course of a decade, they built a special friendship with each other.
During the pandemic, Ms. Johnson’s long-time Belmont host died unexpectedly. At her graveside service, Anderson remembers looking up and seeing Ms. Johnson in the crowd of folks who had come to mourn this dear saint’s passing. It was a powerful sign of the deep relationship they had built with each other over the years.
Loads of Love has also made an impact on other churches and community organizations. These local groups help Belmont to both finance the ministry and connect with potential clients. A Disciples of Christ church in Charlottesville holds a Loads of Love Sunday event each year with donations used to offset the ongoing expenses of the ministry. Local schools have become aware of the resource and often help students and their families know about the opportunity. The same ministry that first enlightened Belmont Baptist about the need for affordable laundry still plays a pivotal role as the primary local agency that recommends most of the people who ultimately become the beneficiaries of Loads of Love.
One of the critical distinctives in the life of CBF that resonates with many and is the key cornerstone of our mission and ministry is the idea of “long-term presence.” Through being a part of the life of both communities and individuals over the long haul, relationships are built that bear witness to Christ’s love with the mutual transformation of our own lives and the lives of others. For 12 years, through a basic, yet profound act of hospitality and a welcoming place to do laundry, Belmont Baptist in Charlottesville, Va., has embodied these ideas. It is a marvelous story of the ongoing, weekly meeting of basic human needs and a commitment to sharing of God’s love, one load of clothes at a time.
This article first appeared in the Winter 2022 issue of fellowship! magazine. Check out the issue and subscribe for free at www.cbf.net/fellowship.