By Shannon Baker
BALTIMORE—A long-time established church recently decided to share its long legacy of Christian service and witness with a younger church plant—ultimately deciding to share its building and members—to better continue its effort to share Christ with its community.
Facing the challenge of a dwindling congregation, Temple Baptist Church reached out to the Baltimore Baptist Association (BBA) to help them discern God’s next step for their congregation.
Organized in 1899, Temple had a long history of ministry in their neighborhood and wanted to see that legacy continue. The church met and prayed for several months with BBA leaders, with whom they entrusted to find a suitable path forward.
The Association connected the dots with Freedom Church, also in Baltimore, who had existing small groups on the west side of Baltimore and were praying for a facility. Accordingly, they invited Freedom to launch a new work with those from Temple who would like to remain.
As a result, Temple Baptist and Freedom Church announced in their Sunday mornings services on April 29 that a legacy partnership had been established. Representatives from the two churches and from the BBA met together at Martin’s West to celebrate the partnership.
At the celebration, Michael Crawford, pastor of Freedom Church and state director of missions for the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, shared a testimony of his experience early in the life of Freedom.
“I know the aches and the pains and the doubts and the frustrations and what’s going to happen,” he offered, explaining that after meeting in temporary spaces, Freedom Church was afforded the opportunity to move into the building formerly occupied by Hazelwood Baptist Church in Eastern Baltimore.
Crawford shared how after planting Freedom in 2010, he heard the news that Hazelwood was going to dissolve and the former BBA director called and asked if they were interested in meeting there.
“We had looked at over 60 buildings. We had saved up over $70,000 and had tried to get into another building and God slammed the door. We were all depressed, and this opportunity came, and we haven’t regretted being in Hazelwood and being able to meet some of the sweet people there and just seeing God work and do exceedingly abundantly above all we can ask or think,” Crawford said.
“Now being on the property and seeing the things that God has done is just mind-blowing! Of all people to be standing before you, I’m so unworthy to even play a role in this,” he said.
Crawford invited Freedom member Heather Cates to come share her perspective of the changeover.
“I was sitting right where you’re sitting,” Cates shared with Temple members. “I was sad and upset because I had been a member of Hazelwood for over 30 years. This was my church. I served there in all kind of capacities.”
She shared how thrilled she was to be at the church but for those last five or six years, “the parking lot had eight cars on it on Sunday mornings… We were just down to the bare bones, and we prayed for those five or six years every single Wednesday, ‘Please, God, move.’”
And He did.
But at first, because He decided to move by bringing Freedom Church to the building, Cates said she was “very sad and resentful. I was upset because this is my church home, and it was like somebody came in my house and started moving stuff around.”
She laughed, “This is the way we always did things, and I’m an old person, and you know how people are. I’m here to tell you that God can use old people and can change their mind! When Freedom came, they were so kind and caring.”
They even gave us earplugs, said Cates, who now serves on the praise team and has even been known to “throw down some rhymes” and rap!
“I just want to assure you that God is bigger than all of us,” she told the Temple members. “And if we want to serve Him, we’ll be ready to do whatever He calls us to do. I’ll pray for you that you’ll be ready for whatever He has in store.”
“We have no excuse not to follow their exemplary model of humility and godliness and Kingdom focus,” agreed Crawford, applauding Temple for their willingness to follow God, “because a day may come when it’s time for us to relinquish our stewardship to someone else.”
Crawford said, during the past several months, Freedom has been praying and searching for a second location. He recently told his core group that he sensed God was going to give them another building.
“We just started praying, and the next thing I know, we’re here,” he said. “God just does what He does in His own timing and His own ways, and our desire is to simply continue the legacy.”
Expressing thanksgiving for the growing partnership, BBA Executive Director Tally Wilgis said the BBA will serve as caretaker and support system for both churches until the transfer is complete.
“Temple Baptist Church chose not to sell off the property. They chose to be stewards of the faith instead and to pass on the property to another church who is honoring and respectful of them. And the future is yet to be written,” Wilgis said, explaining that he wants to show the value of the continuing legacy of churches, helpful associations and honoring, respectful church plants all working together “because we all stand on great shoulders of the past.”
In his remarks, Wilgis pointed to Matthew 16:18, where Jesus says HE will build His church.
“We are all here to worship the Worthy One, and it’s so important that in that stewardship posture that we make sure that He who is worthy gets all of the praise,” Wilgis said, sharing that oftentimes, when Jesus is building His church, sometimes it doesn’t look like what was in the master plan.
“He’s building His church. That’s what’s happening here tonight around these tables. He’s doing the building,” he said.
“What we’re celebrating is that two groups of people from different sides of the town, who didn’t even know each other, had one God at work in both of their lives at the same time.”
View more photos of this celebration dinner on the BCM/D’s Flickr page.