Location change has led to new ministry opportunities
Editor’s Note: Baptist associations are the emphasis on the Southern Baptist Convention calendar Oct. 20-26. Tennessee Baptists have 65 associations across the state. Here is a look at Big Emory Baptist Association based in Harriman.
By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
HARRIMAN — Three years ago, Big Emory Baptist Association moved from the site it had occupied since 1969 to a new location on South Roane Street, not far from Interstate 40.
It has proven to be a huge boost for the association’s ministries and the association is still growing into its space, said Randy Roper, director of missions for Big Emory Baptist Association since 2015.
The association bought three former storefront buildings adjacent to each other and divided their project into three phases. Phase one consisted of the office facilities. The building now in use was completely gutted and remodeled, Roper said. The association moved into the new offices in 2016.
Phase two consisted of a conference center which has greatly benefited the churches of the association, Roper said. He noted the Great Commission Center opened about a year-and-a-half ago, providing the association with space it never had before. The association can now host large meetings and conferences, seating up to about 150 people, the DOM noted.
The conference center also is available for churches, especially smaller congregations with limited space, to use for their major events. “It has been used a lot,” Roper affirmed.
The biggest boost the conference center has given the association is the ability to hold larger training events, Roper observed. The association recently hosted a deacon training event led by Steve Holt of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board that drew participants from Big Emory churches as well as two neighboring associations. “We could not have done that in our previous facility,” he said.
The new space on South Roane Street provides a total of about 6,000 square feet of space for convention ministry, compared to about 2,000 square feet at the old site. “It served us well but it was time to relocate, said Roper, who also credited former DOMs Bill Bargiol, David Acres and Mason Goodman in laying the groundwork for the need to relocate at some point. “I just happened to be the guy who came along when it was time to do this,” he said.
Now, the association is beginning to focus on phase three which will renovate one of the adjacent buildings into the Roane County Storehouse Ministry. The association currently has a Morgan County Storehouse Ministry in Wartburg.
The Morgan County ministry is meeting needs in their community by providing food and clothing as well as furniture and household goods on a limited scale, Roper said. The ministry in Wartburg is open by appointments on Wednesday and Saturday and is directed by Mary Simpson.
The success of the storehouse ministry in Wartburg has helped Roane County churches see the need for a similar ministry, Roper said, noting the churches have done well in meeting local needs but many of them have indicated a desire to support one ministry dedicated to community benevolence ministries.
The association is sponsoring a harvest offering this fall to collect funds needed for the renovation of the building which will house the storehouse ministry. The desire of the association has been to fully fund each phase without going into debt and that has been the case thus far, Roper said, crediting the churches. “God has really blessed us here.”
He said the association’s goal is to open the new storehouse ministry by the spring or summer of 2020. “It hinges on our harvest offering. We’re praying for that.”
The association is comprised of 55 churches on 56 campuses in Morgan and Roane Counties with a couple of churches in adjoining counties. The majority of the association’s churches are fully supportive of the association and its ministries, Roper affirmed.
He noted that the churches believe in cooperation. “This association does a great job of working together.”
Roper noted that everything done as an association has to positively answer one question, “Is it relevant for our churches in fulfilling the Great Commission?” If the answer is yes, “we try to make it happen,” he said.
The association has several ministries, in addition to the storehouses, that are helping churches fulfill the Great Commission, Roper noted. Among them:
- Rebuild Ministry. The association has a group who builds handicap ramps according to codes for residents in Roane and Morgan Counties, Roper said. Each ramp costs about $800 and is funded by gifts to the association. The ramps are free to those in need. “That’s a big ministry here,” Roper said, noting they always have a long waiting list for ramps.
- BCM at Roane State Community College. The association primarily supports the BCM, led by director Travis Harmon, with some assistance from the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, Roper said. Churches provide a meal to students on Wednesdays for $3. Funds raised are used for BCM missions projects. Southern Baptists are the only denomination with a presence on site, across from the campus, Roper said. The BCM provides Bible studies and Christian activities throughout the week.
- YEC. The association holds its own Youth Evangelism Conference each spring in Pigeon Forge. Between 350-400 youth participated in this year’s event, Roper said.
- Church revitalization. Roper said church revitalization is a focus of the association. He noted that between 12-14 pastors meet at the association’s conference center each month to share ideas on how to keep their churches vital and how they can help each other. “It’s one of the most effective groups we have meeting right now.”
A former pastor in the association, Roper knows God led him to the position. “I feel I’m in God’s will helping our churches and pastors,” he affirmed.