By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Correspondent
TIMONIUM, Md.—God is using a former Baltimorean with a passion for the city, a historic church willing to sacrifice their own comfort and leave a spiritual legacy, and bold churches willing to step out and partner with a new work to reach a struggling city.
Captivate, a church operating in two locations, Timonium and East Baltimore, under the same leadership umbrella, for an urban-suburban connection, will officially launch on Sept. 13.
“What we’re creating is a city church model, where suburban affluent and urban inner city people on fixed incomes can worship, fellowship, learn, grow and be discipled under the same church,” explained Tally Wilgis, Captivate’s planter and senior pastor.
The Baltimore site is called East Baltimore Baptist Church (EBBC), formerly Second and Fourth Church. The suburban site in Timonium will provide EBBC funding, staff, technology, material and whatever else it takes to make it a thriving living entity. East Baltimore Church will provide Captivate Church members an opportunity to serve with and through a city church to reach the lost in East Baltimore and beyond.
The church is well backed. Partnering with Embrace Baltimore, Captivate is supported by First Church of Woodstock, Ga., Cross Pointe Church, Duluth, Ga., and The Church at Severn Run.
One of the unique strengths of Captivate is Wilgis’ background. The 31-year-old Wilgis grew up as the son of a 17-year-old single mom living in the Baltimore O’Donnell Heights housing development, standing in food lines and living off welfare in the 1970s and 80s.
“I am a product of Baltimore City,” Wilgis said.
He’s spent half his life in the city and half in the suburbs. He understands the struggles city church pastors face and lack of resources they must deal with. He also understands the needs and desires of suburban churches. He sees the gap and he has a passion for bridging the great divide.
Amazingly, the same church God provided Wilgis for Captivate’s Baltimore connection is the same one he was saved in.
Wilgis was just a young teen, hanging out on the streets in Armistead Gardens with his friends when Don Huffham, a member of Second and Fourth Church, pulled up in his Mustang and asked the boys if they knew where they’d go when they died. The question stuck with the young Wilgis.
Huffham returned later to see the boys and even rented out a local recreation center for them to come play basketball.
A dozen or so young teens, including Wilgis, showed up to enjoy the fun and even play some games with Huffham and his friends. After about three months, Wilgis said “Mr. Don” made the boys a deal. He would keep the recreation center open to them, if they came to Sunday school at Second and Fourth Church.
Wilgis was one of the boys who took up the challenge. Shortly after he started attending, Wilgis made a confession of faith in the basement of a row house on Luzerne Avenue, which the church was using at the time for classes.
He preached his first sermon when he was 16 years old during a youth night. Later he served in a Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board) Sojourner’s program, attended Liberty University, served on staff of church planting teams as a student pastor and eventually led a church plant in Virginia Beach with his wife, Kristy.
In 2008 the staff of Embrace Baltimore, a Strategic Focus Cities effort of the North American Mission Board, was looking for quality church planters to start new works in the city and was referred to Wilgis.
Wilgis submitted a strategy plan and told how he wanted to see an urban and suburban church joined, working as one to spread the Gospel.
“As he expressed his dreams and his desire for this kind of church, I thought, this is something I wanted to see,” Troy Bush, Embrace Baltimore director of church planting, said.
“We’re thrilled with the idea of a church engaging the suburbs with a vision for engaging the inner core heart of the city,” Bush said.
A month after signing on with Embrace, Wilgis came home. He was awed at God’s hand moving when he heard Second and Fourth Church could be a possible Baltimore church location for Captivate. The historic church had been wrestling with the idea of closing their doors but had no peace about it.
Wilgis met with Mark Hudson, a church trustee and the son of Second and Fourth’s long-time pastor Calvin Hudson, to discuss Wilgis’ vision.
When the congregation discussed Wilgis’ plan they unanimously agreed to turn the church over to their beloved street kid turned church planter. They had a celebration service on the last Sunday of 2008 and dedicated the church to God to continue as East Baltimore Baptist Church.
Wilgis is honored and humbled.
“I view my role as an ambassador for my generation, to honor the legacy of those who have gone before me,” Wilgis said.