Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

May 18, 2014

Final service: Dwindling congregation ends more than 100 years for Calvary Baptist Church

BLUEFIELD — Church services are always special to the faithful, but Sunday’s service at the Calvary Baptist Church on Highland Avenue was joyful while being a little sad for some of the congregation. After more than 100 years of meeting spiritual needs, the church was conducting its last service.

The church’s congregation gradually dwindled to about a dozen members as its  members grew older and children moved away to find work in other cities and even other states. Almost 50 people including former members of the congregation and former pastors joined in Sunday’s early morning service to celebrate the church’s contributions to the community and to remember that a new chapter was opening in its history.

“This is the final service for Calvary Baptist Church in Bluefield,” said Allan Thompson, director of missions for the Mountain State Baptist Association, who had been serving as the church’s interim pastor. “This is not a death today. This is not a funeral. This is a transition.”

The opening hymn was “The Church’s One Foundation,” followed with the pastoral prayer and the hymn “Rock of Ages.” James Richardson, who started coming to Sunday school in 1943 when he was 8 years old, and was saved there in 1947, spoke of his life with the church.

“I can’t stop serving the Lord,” he said from the pulpit. “I’m glad all of you came to celebrate Calvary Baptist Church. I was in third grade here and my teacher was Miss Altizer.”

Richardson said his three daughters and son were also saved at the church. Calvary Baptist Church had been an important part of the community and of his life.

“I love my church and all the many people the Lord has put in my life. I thank God for my life and my family. I can’t ask no more. I pray for the resurrection of Calvary Baptist Church, not just Calvary in Bluefield, but all churches.”

In the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper, three former pastors came to the pulpit where a loaf of bread shaped like a cross and cups of grape juice were waiting. Thompson said other churches were ready to welcome Calvary Baptist Church’s members.

“You are not being abandoned,” he told the congregation. “You are not being set adrift.”

Pastor Jim Milam of First Baptist Church in Bluewell recalled how students from neighboring Wade School came to church for classes after their facility caught fire.

“God didn’t put this place here by accident,” he said. “God planned this from the beginning of the world, and He’s not done yet, He’s not done yet.”

Pastor Gary Pennington of Calvary Baptist Church in War said serving at the Bluefield church, working with the deacons, and serving the congregation helped him “grow tremendously.” He recalled the story of Noah and the ark and how God’s work was preserved.

Finally, Pastor Jim Davidson of Riverside Baptist Church in Bramwell recalled how his time with the church went back to the 1930s.

“To see this event, to be part of it, is special. I walked down this aisle to receive Christ with my dad, I got baptized here, I got married right here. There are many, many memories of rededications, of people being saved.”

For many members of the congregation, saying goodbye to the church was saddening. Thompson said later that the church’s facility and assets would be placed with the Mountain State Baptist Association. The hope is that a church ready to meet the needs of the immediate neighborhood could be established in the same location.

“I grew up in this church,” said Chrissy Richardson, a former member of the congregation. “I grew up here on Highland Avenue. I was in this nursery. I got saved here by Jim Davidson in 1993, and then my son, Garrett, got baptized and saved here last year, and was the last one to be saved and baptized in this church. I live in North Carolina now. I visit my parents here. This church and West Virginia will always be my home.”

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