FROM THE STATES: Virginia church holds community prayer service; Louisiana Baptists remain faithful amid pandemic
By Timothy Cockes
ROANOKE, Va. (BP) -- First Baptist Church of Roanoke, Va., hosted a night of prayer and worship for the local community Sunday (June 7) in response to the recent events in the nation.
The theme of the night was "Together," and the keynote speaker was Allen McFarland, pastor of Calvary Evangelical Baptist Church in Portsmouth, Va., and current president of the SBC of Virginia. McFarland is the first African American to hold that position.
The service featured a diverse group of participants including Roanoke-area pastors, law enforcement representatives and government officials. Notable speakers included Roanoke City Chief of Police Samuel Roman Jr. and Roanoke Mayor Sherman Leah Jr.
Bryan Smith, the pastor of First Baptist of Roanoke, said he is proud of the response of the local community amid recent hard times.
"We're so thankful for our leaders as well as our neighbors in the way that we have handled these difficult, challenging days," Smith said. "It's rare to see a city our size that can come together as closely, personally and compassionately as the city of Roanoke."
The service was held in First Roanoke's Faith Chapel because of the sanctuary's history. Built in 1929, Smith said for many years the building had the largest seating capacity in the city of Roanoke. This allowed First Baptist, in conjunction with a local African American Church, to host a community prayer service after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 52 years ago.
Smith said some church members still remember the impact of that long-ago prayer meeting.
The first portion of the service Sunday night included a time of praise and worship as well as specific prayer times led by area pastors. Each guest at the service was given a card with a topic, including prayer for the family and friends of George Floyd, for wisdom for leaders and law enforcement and for the end of systematic racism and oppression in the country.
McFarland brought a message encouraging those gathered to look to the Bible to see how to overcome in a spiritual battle.
"We need to help people realize the spiritual battle that they are in," McFarland said. "This world's system is not a friend of grace, but the Bible tells us how we can be difference-makers in this world's system."
McFarland spoke from Revelation 12 about how Christians can overcome and make a difference for Christ through the blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony and loving the Lord and their neighbor more than their own lives.
"People need to know they are sinners and need a Savior," McFarland said. "You want to march, go ahead and tell people about Jesus. Get involved if you want to, but be a witness for the Lord and you cannot be a witness for the Lord if you don't know His Word. We have to show our overcoming spiritual victory to others. We do this by showing love through devotion, determination and demonstration."
The service ended with everyone singing "Amazing Grace.” Smith said just as with the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. many years ago, these challenging days can be a source for spiritual renewal for the nation.
"Wouldn't it be great if out of riots across this nation there would be revival?" he asked. "It could happen. Wouldn't it be wonderful if it happened starting here tonight?"
Louisiana Baptists remain faithful during social, economic storm
By Brian Blackwell
ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP) -- While many Louisiana businesses have been hit hard by coronavirus-related closings or reduced operations, a number of Louisiana Baptist congregations have reported remarkable faithfulness by members in financially supporting ministries across the state.
Stacy Morgan, an associate with the Louisiana Baptists communications team, said he has spoken with nearly 400 pastors since mid-March, and most have reported few or no significant financial hardships.
He said creative measures taken to continue worship services and to offer online giving platforms, as well as extra efforts by pastors to touch the lives of their congregants despite social distancing and stay-at-home mandates, have made a difference.
"Church members are seeing firsthand how much their pastors care for them," Morgan said, "and the pastors are really desperate to find any way necessary to reach their people. Many churches are concerned about the coming months and the prospect of jobs returning.
"However, God's faithfulness thus far has fueled their hope for the future. The recurring theme has been the faithfulness of God and His people."
First Baptist Church in Pineville, La., saw receipts finish ahead of monthly budget needs by $1,100 in April and by $20,000 in May, according to Pastor Stewart Holloway. When Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards issued the first stay-at home-order, which went into effect March 16, Holloway was unsure how the church budget would be impacted. But he said members have faithfully given tithes and have continued to contribute gifts to reduce the debt incurred from building renovations.
"I am so proud of how our people have maintained faithful, consistent giving," Holloway said, "ensuring that ministry continues here at the church and that our missions support continues being forwarded beyond us through the Cooperative Program and our regional ministry and church-planting partnerships. Some people have told me they have given a little more to make sure things continued, while others, who had income decrease due to the pandemic, have told me they were committed to giving at the same level as before and trusting God to provide."
Western Hills Baptist Church in Shreveport, La., reported a 32 percent increase in giving since mid-March, and saw the largest single Sunday of receipts collected during a drive-in worship service March 22, according to Pastor Joey Ketchum.
"With so many folks out of work and such, I had concern how we would manage through these troubled waters," Ketchum said. "Then God told me, 'You take care of being you, and keep studying and looking for ways to spread my Gospel, and I will take care of the rest.' And take care of the rest he has. Our giving is up, and we have moved full steam ahead into this digital and drive-in church platform."
Tithes and offering may be down by 3 percent at Grace Memorial Baptist Church in Slidell, La., but according to Pastor Jerry Smith, the congregation's mission to share the Gospel with the community is strong. Members have bought groceries for the homebound, prayed with others and issued invitations to online church meetings.
"Their faithfulness and benevolence has been amazing," Smith said. "As has been said in several ways, the church is actually 'being the church,' getting outside of our holy huddles within our walls and taking the mission and message to the neighborhoods and beyond. How exciting."