Rural church closes, but its ministry continues

Iglesia Bautista Calvario in Kress received the pews from First Baptist Church in Spade and made a donation to the Caprock Plains Baptist Area mission fund in appreciation. (PHOTO/George Henson)

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Email

SPADE—Like many other rural congregations, First Baptist Church in Spade recently closed its doors. Thanks to the foresight and generosity of its members, however, the congregation’s ministry continues.

fbcspade griffin425Les Griffin, director of missions for Caprock Plains Baptist Area, points to a mural removed from the baptistery at First Baptist Church in Spade. Once the painting is restored, it will be displayed at the area office in Plainview as a tribute to rural churches. (PHOTO/George Henson)The congregation donated more than $50,000 to Wayland Baptist University to establish two endowed scholarships and $20,000 to Caprock Plains Baptist Area to create a permanent missions fund.

Also, First Baptist made everything inside its building available to other churches. That included the pulpit, pews, stove, refrigerator, carpet, air conditioners and sound equipment. In the end, only an extremely heavy piano remained.

Iglesia Bautista Calvario in Kress received the pews and made a donation to the Caprock Plains Baptist Area mission fund in appreciation, as did several other churches. In addition, the Kress congregation asked permission to give the now-vacant church a thorough cleaning from top to bottom.

Les Griffin has served three years as director of missions for Caprock Plains Baptist Area, comprised of the 86 churches of the Caprock Plains, Staked Plains and Llanos Alto Baptist associations. Previously, he had been a pastor 37 years—the last 30 years in the Panhandle.

“Some people—including myself—thought being director of missions was similar to being pastor of a lot of churches, but it is not really anything like being a pastor,” Griffin said.

A vision for the future

Much of his job involves equipping churches to determine a vision for the future and take steps to make the vision a reality.

For some rural churches, though, that is more difficult.

“Since our rural areas are for the most part declining, some of the smaller churches are down to 12 to 15 people,” he said.

“I have gone to a church with as few as five people showing up for the meeting with the intent of closing the church. That’s why they invited me—‘Help us close the church.’ That’s a sad thing. They got to thinking about all the details of it, and they decided to keep going.”

The real reason some congregations decide to keep meeting goes deeper.

fbcspade chapman425Belinda Chapman attended First Baptist Church, Spade, all her life. Although it was hard to see the church close its doors, she is glad other churches will benefit from its fixtures, and its assets will establish two endowed scholarships at Wayland Baptist University and create a permanent missions fund for Caprock Plains Baptist Area. (PHOTO/George Henson)“It’s hard for a church to die, because the people have so much commitment to each other and the community in which they serve,” he noted.

When the Caprock Plains area was settled in the 19th century, each community followed a typical pattern, he said.

“The very first thing they built was either a school or a church, and sometimes those two things happened almost simultaneously. Then, if they were lucky, they would have the railroad, the mercantiles and maybe a bank,” he said.

“As these little communities die, many things go away, but the community will remain as long as the school still is there. And thinking about Spade, they lost their school a few years ago. And then I’ve noticed the last organization to go is the church. It’s the first to come and the last to go.”

Even when a church closes, a desire to minister remains, he observed. Griffin recalled two congregations whose buildings later housed other churches.

Closing a church

“A lot of time, when they close that church, they want to do something with the property, the assets,” he said. “Generally, the thing that pushes this toward a tipping point is an older gentleman who has been preaching there or leading a Bible study who retires or gets sick, and they realize they can’t bring someone else in. So, they basically call me in to close the church.”

The condition of the Spade church’s facility impressed Griffin. The congregation completely renovated the sanctuary just over a decade ago, and they maintained it well. Many congregations would love such a facility; it simply is in the wrong location. The congregation dwindled to a half-dozen members.

fbcspade sign425Belinda Chapman attended First Baptist Church all her 62 years. She remembers in the 1960s when the church was the center of the community with monthly church fellowship events, Vacation Bible School and a full Sunday school.

“It was very hard thing, but when Les told us what all we could do with church, it eased the pain. We felt better about what was going to happen,” she said. “There may not be any more Sunday morning here, but there is a part of it that continues to live on.”

Although the Spade congregation owned the building, they did not own the land it occupied. A local farmer allowed them to build on a corner of his land but never deeded the land to the congregation. The building now belongs to the third generation of that farmer’s family.

Its other assets will continue to be used in ministry, however.

“One of the things that excited them, both with their donations to Wayland and our area, was that, ‘Long after we’re gone, those funds will still be helping the kingdom of God.’ People can catch that vision. People want to leave a legacy,” Griffin said.

Rescuing a mural

The church’s legacy included a mural hung in the baptistery. Hand-painted on canvas in the 1940s by an artist who painted murals for numerous churches, it had been hung with a frame tacked around it.

“I started looking at this, and I wanted to take that mural down and mount it in the area center as a tribute to rural churches,” Griffin said.

Some of the paint flaked while it was being taken down, so it is being restored in preparation for display at the area office in Plainview.

“We will frame it and mount it with a plaque and dedicate it to the rural churches who are the foundation of the area ministries we have now,” Griffin said.

The mural depicts a river scene.

“Whether that is the River Jordan or someplace in Mississippi, it represents the kingdom of God growing. It represents the kingdom of God moving, like a river does,” he said.

The Kingdom of God survives

A congregation should remember the kingdom’s forward movement during a discussion of a church’s closing, Griffin added.

“I think it is good for us to remember, lest we get too discouraged: There is no church in Ephesus that Paul founded. There is no church in Colossae. There is no church in Corinth. Those have all gone. Churches come and go; the kingdom of God survives,” he said.

“The fact that a church no longer exists does not diminish what it did while it was there, nor does it mean that the church doesn’t bubble up in other forms in different places.”

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Email

Care to comment? Send an email to our interim opinion editor, Blake Atwood. Maximum length for publication is 250 words.