Luther Rice's cooperation continues at church
NORTHBOROUGH, Mass. (BP) -- In the birthplace of acclaimed missions pioneer Luther Rice, there was wisdom in naming a church after him.
From their first offering in 1961, Rice Memorial Baptist Church in Northborough, Mass., has given at least 10 percent to missions through the Cooperative Program.
This year the church is giving 12 percent. CP is the way Southern Baptist churches work together to support mission causes in state conventions and throughout the world.
"The Cooperative Program is a way for a little church like us to be able to support missionaries and reach out with the Gospel message where we could never reach on our own," Stephen Georgeson, the church's pastor, said. "It's a way for our 40 people to reach to the ends of the earth."
Georgeson is a Massachusetts native and has been a member of Rice Memorial since 1993. He has been the church's pastor since 2006.
Luther Rice had a vision for something like the Cooperative Program more than 100 years before it existed. He had been a missionary in Burma and was sent home in 1813 to raise financial support. Rice came to believe his calling from the Lord was to raise money for others rather than going to the mission field himself.
Baptists in America at the time were at best loosely organized. Rice had a vision of them coming together and supporting missions causes at home and abroad. He was 53 when he died in 1836, just nine years before the birth of the Southern Baptist Convention, and 89 years before the birth of the Cooperative Program.
Rice Memorial, located about 40 congested miles from downtown Boston, has a steady history of personal as well as financial involvement in missions. Both date to the church's founding in 1961 as a home Bible study organized by a couple who became Christians, and Southern Baptists, while on vacation in Florida.
Rice Memorial -- now located on property across the driveway from the Luther Rice home site, owned by the Baptist Convention of New England -- became one of the first five Southern Baptist congregations in New England. Its start was sponsored with Cooperative Program dollars and the Screven Memorial Baptist Church in Portsmouth, N.H.
The group grew from six to big enough to start a church. The first purchase: offering plates. The second: hymnals.
"I really believe our giving is the result of our legacy. Our predecessors just created that culture," Georgeson said. "We've just always had a belief in tithing as a church in the same way we ask our members to tithe."
Rice Memorial is a multiplying church. It started First Baptist Church in Sudbury, which started Grace Baptist Church in Hudson, which started Hope Chapel in Sterling; all much larger in membership. Rice Memorial also started five other churches in New England, including a Korean and a Quechua Indian church.
"The membership of Rice [Memorial] continues to look forward to God doing mighty things through the local church, and by His grace, we will continue to be part of that work," according to the church's website, www.ricebaptistchurch.org.
Despite a dearth of youngsters in the church body -- the congregation consists mostly of empty-nesters -- Rice Memorial has a Sunday afternoon AWANA chapter that draws about 40 children between the ages of 3 and 12 from other churches as well as the unchurched in the community.
For the past 14 years, Rice has sent out youth and leaders to participate in World Changers service projects throughout the Northeast; to Prince Edward Island, Canada, and to Kentucky.
Other ministries include Disaster Relief, a monthly worship service at an assisted living facility and providing a community meal about 10 times a year.
Georgeson is an active member of the Massachusetts Baptist Association and the Rotary Club, and he involves the church in community ministry as opportunities arise.
"We're having the discussion within the church these days about the different ways we can connect with the community, to break down barriers and open doors," the pastor said. "This town is overwhelmingly Catholic and many are churchgoing Catholics."
A luxury apartment development recently was built in Northborough that houses about 400 families.
"If God opens the door, that would be a wonderful opportunity," Georgeson said. "God has placed Rice Memorial here for a reason, and we are attentive to His leading. Maybe we're here to minister to seniors and older folks, and that's OK. We beat ourselves up sometimes because we're not a 'growing church,' but I see a lot of evidence that people are growing deeper in their faith.
"They're demonstrating strong faith when life throws difficult things at them. They're reading their Bible more, memorizing Scripture more," he said. "It's very encouraging to see the church grow deep in the faith. We'd love to grow in numbers too, but to see people grow deep in the faith -- that's indisputable evidence of God working in and among us."
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.