Luter's visit to rural church spurs excitement
OLMSTEAD, Ky. (BP) -- Louise McIntosh rushed to get to Dripping Spring Baptist Church in time for the 7 p.m. service, having heard on the radio that quite a good preacher, Fred Luter, was delivering the sermon.
It was 6:30 p.m. when the 75-year-old realized the hour. She rushed great-granddaughters Justice and Kelly Norris, 9 and 5, to get dressed and in the car for the short drive from nearby Russellville, Ky. They took a seat among the 600 worshippers in time for the medley of such old-time favorites as "Nothing but the Blood."
Luter, unanimously elected in June as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, touched McIntosh's heart as he spoke about the consequences of choices in his sermon "The Importance of Having a Renewed Mind," based on Philippians 2:5-8.
"I heard him and Bro. Jeff (Dripping Spring pastor Jeff Noffsinger) talk on the radio," said McIntosh, who was baptized at Dripping Spring at age 13 and now attends nearby Post Oak Baptist Church.
Congregants as well as visitors who drove hours trekked to the vibrant Kentucky church among the parched cornfields on Watermelon Road in rural Olmstead to hear the SBC's first African American president during the Fabulous Friday service.
Among the visitors was 83-year-old John Southerland, a member of Southern Heights Baptist Church in Russellville who said he believes Luter will usher in a new era in the SBC.
"I'm hoping and praying that we will all get a different look at Christ," Southerland said. "I believe ... it's the beginning of a new era. We've been on the verge of it for several years."
Southerland, who sat with two black men during the service, said he values the enthusiasm African Americans have in worshipping the Lord.
"We [whites] are a little bit more reserved and timid. We want to ... but we don't turn loose and do it," Southerland said. "We have a desire for it. We need to learn how to do this. They just turn loose and worship. We hold back."
Noffsinger had scheduled Luter's visit last year to the rural farming community where corn, wheat and tobacco fields are the livelihood. By sight, only the farmland and the adjacent cemetery mark the church as a rural congregation. Nearly 300 regularly worship in the modern, attractive and spacious auditorium.
"The Lord worked this out and I'm glad that He did," Noffsinger told Luter. "And I'm thankful for this opportunity tonight and I'm grateful for you being here. It's an honor. It's a joy. It's a privilege. It's a blessing to have you here this evening."
Luter, ever humble, encouraged worshippers to pray for him in his new position.
"This has been a month yesterday since I've been elected president of this wonderful convention. And people ask me all across the places that I've been ... 'What can I do for you?' One thing you all can do, you all can pray for me," Luter said. "This is new territory for me. I'm raised in the Lower Ninth Ward of the city of New Orleans and ... now to have this amazing privilege to be president of this wonderful convention is just a great honor. And I just want to do everything I can.
"I don't want to mess it up. I want to honor my family, honor my church. I want to honor this convention and most of all, I want to honor God," he said. "Pray for me for wisdom. I need wisdom."
Luter said he received a congratulatory call from President Obama shortly after the SBC election.
"He said, How does it feel to be the most popular president in the United States of America?" Luter said, as the crowd roared with laughter.
In his sermon, Luter encouraged believers to renew their minds to allow God to use the church in these turbulent days.
"I believe God wants to use this Southern Baptist Convention to bring about spiritual revival and renewal in America. I believe that with all of my heart," Luter said. "We need spiritual renewal in America. But in order for that to happen ... there must be a renewal among the people of God."
He referenced 1 Peter 5:8 in calling on believers to be sober and vigilant.
"The question of the hour is, 'How can we as believers stand in the midst of these attacks of the enemy so that God can use us to impact our community, our city, our state and our nation to the glory and honor of God?'" Luter said. "How can God use the messengers and the members of the Southern Baptist Convention to impact the darkness in this world? How can God use the messengers and the members of this convention to be lights in a dark world, as salt in a low-sodium society? How can God use us to attack what the enemy is trying to do in destroying our families, in destroying our ministries, in destroying our churches?
"The answer is you must have a renewed mind."
Many SBC leaders were in attendance. Kentucky Southern Baptist Convention President Adam Greenway attended, joined by Curtis Woods, an African American newly elected as associate executive director for Kentucky Baptist convention relations and communications.
There was also 87-year-old James Cox, the oldest active member of Dripping Spring, who joined the church in 1939 when his parents moved to Olmstead. He has maintained his membership since age 14 and is active as a deacon and Sunday School teacher.
Cox remembers when the church customarily got its water from the lone spring in the woods behind the building. "It just dripped," he said of the spring. "It didn't run a stream. It just dripped."
Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' staff writer. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).