In November 2007, Billie and I came to what was left of the New Covenant Church of God in Perry. We immediately recognized it from having driven by it while traveling to Warner Robins and Macon for our dates while living in Americus. We met everyone during our interview at the first of the month and I preached a message I believed the Lord gave me for the church. A couple of weeks later, we were voted in as the pastors of what would be a complete reclamation project.
On the first Sunday of December in 2007, we had our first service and counting me and Billie, there were 12 present. That was up from the average of 5 to 7 the church had been running since around September. It would be an uphill climb from start and to now finish, but God strengthened us, blessed us, provided for us, and showed His glory on a constant basis. At first arrival, we made up our minds that if it was solely up to us, we would do our best to stay here our whole ministry.
In 2008, the church started seeing rapid growth and by the summer of 2008, services were averaging 40-50. With the larger numbers came problems, but the good kind of problems that accompany growth. We began running out of space pretty quickly. The sanctuary only sat 110 and was getting close to being halfway full. We only had three Sunday School rooms and the small Social Hall was having to operate as a social hall, kitchen, children's church, and youth room. We were having to lead the church as pastors, music leaders, children's pastors, youth pastors, and teachers. Our AC units went out in '08 and our front porch started falling in one Sunday morning as people tried to come into church. The rain would drip inside behind my head as I preached for the first few months. Walls needed repairing and some new coats of paint. While money wasn't there or budgeted to accomplish these things, God always provided.
In 2009, the church had over 100 in morning worship for the first time in its history for a regular Sunday morning worship service. We didn't know it then, but once the church topped 100 in August of 2009, it would continue averaging at least 100 each month until the summer of 2012. After a month break in the cycle, the church resumed averaging 100 until March 2013. The church enjoyed many Sunday mornings with 125+ in the house with our highest regular service ever being 163 in attendance. To be blunt, we flat ran out of room. Nevertheless, we saw miracle after miracle in about every facet of our lives and the church.
To keep up with the growth, we started and finished many projects. Over the little more than six years that we have been privileged to serve this church, we stayed busy. In 2009, we completely remodeled the sanctuary by blowing out closet walls on the stage to enlarge the stage for our music program. We installed a projection system for worship and media. We put down new carpet, sold the pews, and bought new chairs. We patched up and closed in old doorways and roof leaks and patched the 30+ year AC units again and paid for all of it. In 2010, we stepped out and built the Education Building which houses offices, children's church, and the youth room. It was an almost 2900 square foot building that we mostly built with our men at the church. We were able to completely replace the roofing on the old buildings and buy new AC units. In 2011, we purchased 10 acres of land adjacent to the church property and later in 2011, we paved a brand new parking lot and driveway for the church. We paid it off not even a year later. We also purchased a large storage building and paid for it. In 2012, we replaced all the doors in the old building with new glass commercial doors and installed another AC unit for the foyer and paid for all of it as well. In 2013, we finished what became a complete building reclamation and remodeling project by installing new carpet in the classrooms and foyer, constructing a brand new nursery, designing a new hospitality room, laying new tile in the social hall, remodeling the kitchen, installing a video system to stream services and events, and remodeling the classrooms one last time. We also constructed a baptistry and had the church's first ever baptism on campus. By October 2013, practically everything that the church looked like in November 2007, when we came and preached for the first time, had changed. One of my largest regrets will probably always be having finished the complete overhaul and refurbishing of the buildings and not being able to be here to pay the rest of it off and enjoy it.
Of course these are the amazing memories I'll remember. I'll never forget all the souls that were saved over six years of ministry. I'll never forget the disciples that were made and the growth that was so very evident in so many lives over our time. In six plus years of ministry in Perry, we didn't do everything right; not by a long shot. There are plenty of things I'm sure I would do differently if I had the chance. I guess that's part of learning and growing. Coming to be a pastor at age 27 and leaving about six months shy of turning 34 can explain a lot of the changing. I've always had a strong personality. It has seemingly become stronger and stronger the more I've been in ministry. Maybe that's a sign of me toughening up from experience. It probably is to some extent, but I'd also like to think it's from me finally recognizing who I am in the Lord, what my purpose is, what my strengths and my weaknesses are, and what I'm supposed to be doing. With a strong personality comes the inevitable: fights and disagreements. Without a doubt, we've made friends in Perry that have basically become family to us. I know we'll never be too far away that at a moment's notice we could drop in as if we've never left. I'm sure there's also some folks that would just assume we stay on the interstate and skip over exits 134-138 from here on. I guess that's part of the process.
Ultimately, we can't control how people feel. History tends to unearth a lot of things that allows us to see situations and even people a lot clearer than we once did. That's what posterity is for. Sometimes it takes a while to step back and look at something with fresh eyes and a healed heart to truly understand things. While I always didn't make the right decisions, I'd like to think one thing that could emphatically be said is that I strived to do what I felt was right for the church and ultimately the people who called me pastor. My heart was always to serve the Lord, protect the church, and do what was right. That put me in many tough places over six years, but through them I've learned and I've grown. I've tried to make amends where possible. I've tried to do my best for the Lord and for the people.
With a heavy, yet hopeful, heart, we announced tonight that our ministry at the church will be coming to a close as we move to a new church. We have heavy hearts for many of the reasons I've already written about in this piece. We have a history here. We have "extended" family here now. We've literally sowed blood, sweat, tears, and money into rebuilding this church. We've made memories that will last a lifetime. Our hearts are heavy because things will be different. We won't see the familiar faces each Sunday. We won't enjoy the special events and celebrating God's blessings together on a regular basis. Though we'll never be too far, we also know we won't be present like we have been. Thus our hearts are heavy.
Our hearts are hopeful however both for us and Free Point. We believe the church is strong and solid. While space and situations finally trumped the record setting growth and brought us back down some, the church nevertheless is on a solid foundation with strong core leaders, future plans and goals, and the fiscal, visionary, and spiritual means to accomplish them. There's no reason why Free Point cannot become everything we envisioned it becoming while we were at the lead. Leaving with my vision only a quarter of the way fulfilled is most definitely tough, yet my prayer is that if nothing else, we have been able to set the church up for greater success in the future.
We're also hopeful because of the opportunity we are moving to. "Who says you can't go home?" After almost 16 years after graduating from Jeff Davis High School in 1998 and some 14 years after entering into ministry and mostly working and living outside of Hazlehurst, I'm going home. It'll be great to be in my hometown with friends I grew up with and especially my parents, my sister, my nephews, aunts and uncles, cousins, and other relatives. It'll be a culture shock to a large degree. Leaving Perry and what is called the Macon metro area, Hazlehurst will definitely be different. We are excited for the opportunity to serve the Bell St. Church of God and I'm excited to see what God will do. We're believing, expecting, and envisioning major things and we can't wait to get to work and begin forming new friendships and partnerships to do the Lord's work.
So with all that said, we're left to say "good bye." They are the two words we never thought we would say, but time and life are sometimes friends and sometimes enemies. With all of our heart and soul, we love each and every one of you at Free Point Church. You have loved us and partnered with us for six years and we have been on one fantastic ride. I won't even begin to name names, but many of you have become second grandparents to us. We've inherited new brothers and sisters in more than just the Christian context. We will always love you. Our hearts will always have a soft spot for Perry and we will look forward to the opportunities in the future that life may afford us to come together again and celebrate all the Lord has done in our lives both specifically and together as a whole. We wish all of the Lord's blessings upon each of you and this church. May it rise to the heights in which we envisioned it. May you not grow weary in well doing. May your hearts not faint in the days of adversity that life is destined to bring. May you endure until the end for as the old song says, "when this life is over, we shall get a crown."
I'll close with two passages of scripture that I think are fitting:
14 When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, 15 the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. 16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit.17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. 21 Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.
And finally, Numbers 6:24-26:
24 May the Lord bless thee, and keep thee: 25 May the Lord make his face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: 26 May the Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.
God bless each of you and thank you from the bottom of our hearts for everything.