Pastor With Cancer Walks 100 Miles Carrying Cross
SALISBURY, Md. (BP) – The importance of time carries a particular weight for Richard Pope, pastor of Canvas Church (CC). It’s not something to be taken lightly and not something he has a whole lot of.
For him, it also places particular weight on numbers. There’s three, as in the third cancer diagnosis he received earlier this year, the one doctors told him was terminal. There’s two – the number of weeks he received that diagnosis prior to launching CC. And there’s one, pointing to a singular hope in Christ he has preached with an elevated velocity since then.
“The news changed the way I did ministry. We all know that our time here is limited, and the gospel should be the most important thing, but often we don’t live like it, myself included,” he said. “Now I see time a little bit differently. It’s made the gospel more of a priority.”
His doctors estimate he has three to five years left to live because of a form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Pope, 24, said he wishes he could say he took the news well, but he didn’t.
A North American Mission Board SEND Network church, CC was supposed to launch two times before a little thing called COVID-19 got in the way and delayed it until Easter of this year. He would love to have a long pastorate on this earth, planting other churches along the way. He wants his wife, Payton, not to be a widow before she’s 30. And although he loves their two dogs, he desires to have kids.
To be clear, Pope trusts that God is more than capable of providing all those things. He works within the parameters given, though, and with that mindset, a different set of numbers has made CC one of the rarest of five-month-old churches. This year the congregation has seen 30 people come to faith, baptized 14, and is about to add a second service.
Consider this as well: although its launch was delayed, the church’s core group continued to witness and minister – 10,000 hours’ worth, by Pope’s estimation – throughout the community. It led to Pope’s accepting the 2020 Jefferson Award, which recognizes local community leaders.
People heard the gospel and were saved over that time. When Easter 2021 and the official launch arrived, 15 new believers joined the group.
The most recent example of CC’s community work came last month when Pope led a 100-mile walk that ended at the church to raise awareness for suicide prevention and share the gospel, as shown by the cross he and others carried throughout the walk. Each day for five days, Pope, his wife, and church members Desiree Sampson and Debra Reynolds covered at least 20 miles.
Others joined the Hope100 Walk at various times. Salisbury mayor Jacob Day, a major in the Maryland National Guard, went 15 miles in his combat fatigues and a rucksack. On the last day, around 25 members of CC walked alongside Pope. Just as many came from other churches and the community.
The Hope100 (technically, it went 101 miles) brought media attention for its address of mental health and was done in honor of Salisbury police officer Aaron “Bull” Hudson, local resident Joseph Fabber, and Pople’s cousin Michael Smith. All three lost their lives to suicide.
Scott Barkley is a national correspondent for Baptist Press.
Cover photo: Richard Pope, along with members of his church and community, carried a cross for 100 miles to raise awareness for suicide prevention and to share the gospel (photo submitted).