Central Baptist Church is approaching its 100th year of being "our Father's House," and the many 'mansions' inside it offer many different Gospel ministries and partnerships to the Riverview and Kingsport community.
"Central Baptist has always been a shining beacon of light," says the Rev. Kenneth Calvert of Shiloh Baptist Church. Shiloh's congregation was born from Central 80 years ago.
"Today we are grateful to still be family, to still worship together," says the Rev. Calvert. "Among our most important fellowships is sharing the annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday side by side with all of Kingsport. Along with different faiths, it's proven that positive spiritual outreach transcends the walls of the church building. It's one of several community programs we do together."
"Names will never separate us."
FOOD FROM HEAVEN
'Manna' is defined as 'food miraculously supplied to the Israelites in their 40-year journey through the wilderness,' as related in Exodus. Every week Manna Meals are delivered to Central Baptist members who are elderly, disabled and less fortunate. V.O. Dobbins, Jr., and Paul Montgomery have administrated the program along with about 15 volunteer crew members for the past 30 years.
"Right now, we serve anywhere from 125 to 150 people a week," Dobbins says. "As children of God, why not do this? Feeding the hungry is one of the most important missions of a church."
"We also provide ministry to them during our visits. Sometimes, the visit is as important as the meal."
It's that personal visit that Central church member Jean Clark looks forward to each time.
"They'll stop by with my meal," she says, "and they'll always ask me 'Mama Jean, how you doing, are you all right... is there something around the house that needs doing?' I appreciate them just seeing about me."
But then, there's the good food. "It's God-sent," she says. "It says right there in the Bible, 'Jesus fed the thousands with just a few loaves of bread."
AND A CHILD SHALL LEAD THEM
In 2008, Central Baptist opened its doors as a temporary home for the Riverview Boys' and Girls' Club, which had been forced out of its home in the Riverview Apartments that were being torn down. The temporary home in the old sanctuary lasted two years.
"Central has a long history of involvement with children," remembers Johnnie Mae Swagerty, whose New Vision Youth group now meets for fellowship and Bible Study at Central every Wednesday. "The kids just love it. The Rev. Stuckey and the Rev. Pearson always take the time to answer questions and relate the Bible to their everyday life."
A SHOULDER TO LEAN ON
All of the churches in the Riverview neighborhood offer benevolence to the families of deceased loved ones who don't have a specific church home. "For example, we can reach out to Central and make the difficult call for the bereaved family," says Mitchell Clark, the manager of R.A. Clark Funeral Chapel and Cremation Service. "The people of Central are good stewards showing the benevolence of Christ to say 'we are here if you need us.'"
CHURCHES OF A COMMON SPIRIT INTO THE FUTURE
Central's church partnerships, like the one with Shiloh, also extend outside the boundaries of the African-American community. At the Ft. Robinson Baptist Church, Pastor Dustin Almond says he felt a heavenly tug on his heart right after the tragedy at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, three years ago.
"Our grieving hearts at Ft. Robinson brought us to a memorial service for the victims at Central one night," he remembers. "Once I met Pastor Stuckey and we talked about the goals we share, we knew we needed to partner with this church on community programs. We do some things well at our church; they also do some things well at their church; and together we can outreach the benefits into the entire Kingsport community."
The Rev. Almond says that partnership helps provide food for Central's Manna Meals program and mentors for Ft. Robinson's Vacation Bible School. Block parties are being planned, along with smaller group ministries in homes in the two church families.
"It's just the right thing to do to partner with each other to achieve spiritual goals together."
The Rev. Calvert echoes that sentiment, also quoting the letter addressed to early Christians in the Bible.
"In Ephesians, we're taught to worship 'one Father, one Faith and one Baptism," he says. "It's the programs that we do TOGETHER that enrich our lives and unite us under God's Holy Banner."