By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector

William Burton, church planting strategist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board and volunteer church planter at Esperanza Church@ Harpeth First Baptist, speaks during a recent worship service. — Photos by Lonnie Wilkey

FRANKLIN — Missions and helping new churches have been a way of life for Earl and Violet Newcomb since the mid-1950s when they helped start the first of six churches at what is now Cross Keys Baptist Church in College Grove.

Earl Newcomb served as song leader while operating a business in Franklin and Violet served as pianist and church treasurer.

Their mantra has always been, “Lord, open the door and we will go.”

In 1975 the couple helped begin their last mission (beginning church) that would become Harpeth First Baptist Church in rural Williamson County near Franklin. The couple actually bought the property (which included the old Harpeth Community School that met from 1914-74 before closing) and later sold it to the church.

The church peaked in attendance in the 1990s before dropping off, said William Burton, church planting specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.

By 2014, the Newcombs were the only members who attended regularly. Their faithfulness to give, however, kept the doors open and provided for an interim pastor to preach once a week, Burton said, adding that the church continued to give 10 percent of its offering through the Cooperative Program and 5 percent to Nashville Baptist Association.

“They kept it going like that for two years,” Burton said, noting that the couple had approached the TBMB at one time about donating the property for a church start and that other churches had approached them about helping them revitalize. “The timing was not there,” Burton recalled.

Three of Earl and Violet Newcomb’s seven children recently attended a worship service with them at Esperanza Church@Harpeth First Baptist. Standing, from left, are Elaine Newcomb, Sherrie Kennedy, and Debbie Hicks.

“We were not discouraged,” said Mrs. Newcomb. “We left it in God’s hands as people walked away (from Harpeth FBC).

Daughter Debbie Hicks acknowledged there were “a few dry years” at the church and noted she asked them, “Why don’t you go and join another church?” Her parents per-
severed and ­re­-
­­­­­­fused to give up on the church they helped to begin.

In the meantime, approximately 684 Hispanic households had moved into the Spring Hill/Thompson’s Station area near Harpeth First Baptist Church.

“We prayed about it and God opened the doors for a Hispanic congregation to come here,” Mrs. Newcomb recalled.

That congregation was Iglesia Bautista La Esperanza (Hope Baptist Church). A merger of the two churches began in November of 2015 and today it is known as Esperanza Church@Harpeth First Baptist.

Burton, who is working with the congregation as a volunteer church planter, said it is not the traditional Hispanic congregation as it is a Spanish-English church.

Burton noted that the merger combines the best of both church revitalization and church planting. “There is not a model quite like this,” he acknowledged.

The Hispanic congregation has taken off, Burton said. Since last November the church has baptized nearly 50 people.

“We knew the Lord wanted to plant a church here,” Burton said. “We just didn’t know it would occur in the manner that it did,” he added.

When the Hispanic church began meeting, the sanctuary was in disarray and there were even snakes in the attic, Burton recalled. The church received some grants to help with the remodeling and church members have done the work. They are now constructing an addition to the sanctuary that will increase seating to about 180 people, he added.

Since the merger, the Newcombs have maintained their membership there. “They have adapted so well to the change,” Burton observed.

What’s more, the Hispanic congregation has “adopted” the couple who are seen as “grandparents” by the entire church, Burton said. “They love the Newcombs.”

Daughter Sherrie Kennedy noted that her mother related how loving and caring the Hispanic congregation is. “They gave Mom and Dad a peace that they had done the right thing.”

Burton said the experience with the merger has especially been good for the Hispanic congregation as “they have inherited a missional heritage from Harpeth First Baptist Church, a heritage that we hope will continue and influence other ethnic congregations as well as the generations that come through giving through the Cooperative Program, the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions, as well as other Southern Baptist missions offerings.”

Participating in the worship service of Esperanza Church@Harpeth First Baptist are, from left, Debbie Hicks, Violet Newcomb, Howard Hicks, and Earl Newcomb (seated).

In addition, Burton noted that the congregation has seen “a World War II-era couple (Newcomb received a Purple Heart after losing his leg in the Battle of the Bulge) lovingly embrace them and welcome them into the church,” he continued. “It’s incredible what God has done.”

The Newcombs have seven children and they all are aware of the commitment of their parents, made even before some of them were born. “When they entered the ministry, they never looked back,” Kennedy said. “They sacrificed for the ministry. They knew they wanted to impact lives for Christ.”

“They just wanted to serve God,” Hicks said.

Daughter Elaine Newcomb agreed. “It’s always been for His glory, not theirs.”