Community love, CP expand W. Va. church's reach
The 130-year-old church draws about 190 people to Sunday morning worship and allocates 15.5 percent of undesignated income to missions through the CP.
"This is a community-oriented place," said Rodney Hale, now in his 18th year as pastor of First Baptist Ceredo. "When the Lord blesses, we're supposed to give back.
"We were giving 10 percent [through the CP] and then in 2013 or 2014 we began edging it up," Hale told Baptist Press. "We think it's a wonderful system to be able to build God's Kingdom, to win people to the Lord. The Lord just continues to bless us, and we continue to give."
Giving to missions through the CP is a way of being part of the global community of Southern Baptists, and First Baptist Ceredo likes being part of a community, Hale explained.
West Virginia is the only state that is completely within the 12-state area known as Appalachia. Ceredo, a town of fewer than 1,400 residents beset by unemployment, sets on the south bank of the Ohio River.
"The best way to reach Appalachia for Christ is for churches to come together to provide money, prayer, people and resources. A three-fold cord is not easily broken," he said, referencing Ecclesiastes 4:12. "Few churches are large enough to support a church plant on their own. Most of us, it would tax our budget to the extreme."
Putting its money where its mouth is, the pastor said, First Baptist Ceredo is a partial sponsor of Abundant Hope Church in Barboursville, W. Va., 30 miles east of Ceredo.
First Baptist Ceredo reaches out to elementary school students, families, recovering addicts and senior adults, and partners with other churches, the Greater Huntington Baptist Association and the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists.
"We want to keep on doing the things God has called us to do," Hale said. "My folks love the Lord with all their heart. We just go about doing what we can to build God's Kingdom."
Backpacks stuffed with school supplies are a standard late summer ministry to elementary students. Backpacks stuffed with weekend nutritional snacks are handed out each Friday throughout the school year, in a partnership with other churches in the area. Every Sunday and Wednesday evening, First Ceredo leads a Children in Action group for up to 35 youngsters.
At Christmas the church's Crafters for Christ group organizes an opportunity to give gifts to community families "who might be struggling," the pastor said. The school provides the names of youngsters. The Crafters put each child's information on a Christmas tree decoration, so gift-givers know sizes and interests.
"Our ladies do a good job," Hale said. "They're outstanding that way." He also gave strong words of praise to the church's children's director, Amy Robinson. Many families have been reached as a result of her ministry first as a volunteer and now as a full-time staff member, he said.
About 30 teens are part of the church's youth group, led by the pastor's son, John K. Hale. One of the group's ministries takes place at Ceredo Manor, a senior living center. The teens visit the seniors and perform small labor projects as needed, such as flipping mattresses. The church routinely visits, performs maintenance and supplies special-occasion gifts for area residents confined to their homes.
Larger projects such as wheelchair ramps are now too strenuous for the church's aging membership to complete, Hale said. "I find this hard to think about sometimes. All our people who were in their 50s and 60s when I got here are now pushing 70.
"We're trying to sometimes think outside the box and reach people different ways," the pastor noted. "We're trying new things. It's wonderful when it works. If it doesn't, we go back to the drawing board. We do our best to reach people."
Grief Share, one of the church's newer ministries, meets each week. "Our church is a very compassionate, caring church," Hale said. "We want to help people who have lost loved ones."
The church began a faith-based 12-step program in April, following the request of a member who had gone through a similar program elsewhere. Addictions proliferate in an area without much employment but with ready access to mind-numbing illegal drugs and alcohol, Hale explained.
"He's doing a wonderful job," the pastor said of the program's leader. "He's doing something different. Our guys go to court in Ceredo and [nearby] Kenova, and we reach out to them [people with court appearances] right on the spot." The courtroom outreach is unique to the tri-state area of Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio, Hale said.
The judges themselves ask defendants if they'd like to enter First Baptist Ceredo's program, Hale said. The group meets Saturday evenings.
People have come to the church and to Christ as a result of the 12-step group, outreaches to elementary schools and other ministries often conducted with other area congregations.
"One of the challenges I see is being able to get through to people how important their relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ is," Hale said. "I'm always looking for the right key to use to unlock God's Kingdom. I think all pastors are looking for that key."