A smaller Baptist congregation takes strength in tradition

Saturday, October 25, 2003

There are some things that remain the same at First Baptist Church in Jackson: The choir still sings, offerings still get collected and a pastor still preaches the Sunday sermon.

What's changed is that this Southern Baptist congregation isn't headed by the same pastor as it was a month ago. And its membership roster is shorter.

Nearly 300 members and the former pastor left in September to begin Crossroads, a contemporary church. While those who left were excited about the prospect of something new, there has been heartache and hurt for those who stayed behind.

The membership is full of people with mixed emotions. But the bottom line, said the Rev. Carter Frey, is that each group remains supportive of the other's work.

Frey, minister of education for the congregation, is preaching at First Baptist until a commitee can hire an interim pastor. He's helping to guide the church through uncharted territories.

A team of church committee leaders meets regularly with Frey to consider the church's needs as they arise. Business meetings are held every other week to keep members abreast of changes.

Ministries continue as usual, and members still gather for worship on Sunday and Wednesday. In this interim period, there is only one Sunday morning worship service instead of three.

The combination of worship services has been the biggest adjustment for Scott and Brenda McQuay. The couple usually worshipped at the 8 a.m. service but now attend at 10:30 a.m. each Sunday.

They've lost friends to the new church, but that hasn't meant the end of their friendships.

"They're just people that we don't see on Sunday, but that hasn't hindered our friendships," Scott McQuay said. Tonight, the McQuays will entertain three other couples who attend the contemporary church.

"We're looking at it as two churches with two different methods. It's not theology," he said.

Patrick Tankersley, a church member who is filling a role as youth minister during the transition, says the days ahead are ones filled with enthusiasm, energy and opportunity.

First Baptist will continue to offer a place for traditional worship and will do things according to the traditional method in Baptist churches, but the church is being progressive and has recognized that its community is changing, Frey said.

Sermons have been about things relevant to the congregation's mood -- a lesson on learning to love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ and one about the variances in denominational life today.

Few of the leaders in Sunday school classes have left, and people who felt called to lead have come forward to fill vacancies, Frey said. "It's been amazing how God provides people for ministry areas."

Sometimes it's so easy to get caught up in how the world conducts its business that people forget the spiritual aspect of the church or their calling. "If we trust him for whatever we need, then he'll take care of it," Frey said.

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