BROWNSVILLE — The final notes of “Wherever He Leads I’ll Go” fluttered through the sanctuary of Calvary Baptist Church on Dec. 31. After 49 years as church pianist, Jan Prine closed her hymnal and turned off the light on the piano. She had played her last song for the congregation she has been a part of since age 14.
Church members on this Sunday had sung their final song as a church. They had listened to their last sermon together and gathered one last time as a congregation.
The Dec. 31 Sunday morning service marked the end of 70 years of existence for Calvary Baptist Church.
Earlier this year, the church voted to close its doors and donate its property to the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board for use in its BlueOval City Initiative that will seek to start four new churches each year over the next decade in a seven-county region in West Tennessee.
“I’m thankful that a church can come here and grow and reach many souls for the Lord,” Prine said. “That’s the whole reason behind it.”
Haywood County will soon be home to Ford’s BlueOval City, the nation’s largest automobile plant, where it will manufacture electric trucks. The plant is expected to employ about 6,000 people and spark a population increase of about 90,000 people in the region.
Danny Sinquefield, Harvest Field One team leader for the TBMB and coordinator of the BlueOval City Initiative for the TBMB, said the Calvary property will likely house the first church plant of the BlueOval City Initiative.
Sinquefield addressed church members in their Dec. 31 service, thanking them for their generosity and promising that the TBMB would be a faithful steward of Calvary’s gift.
“The legacy and the influence of the ministry of Calvary Baptist Church cannot even be compared to the future fingerprints that this church will have on the kingdom yet to come,” Sinquefield said. “These facilities, and this gift, in my opinion, is one of the most beautiful and unselfish things that I’ve ever seen in ministry.”
Calvary Baptist Church began in 1953 as a church plant of Brownsville Baptist Church. Jan Prine said at its height, nearly 200 people attended the church, with lots of children and a thriving bus ministry.
But Bob Connerley, retired pastor of Brownsville Baptist Church, said the demographics of the surrounding community changed over the years, and Calvary fell into a period of decline. The church hasn’t had a pastor for about four years as membership dwindled to less than 10.
“Through the years, it’s been a good, strong church in that area,” Connerley said. “It’s a church that has contributed to our association faithfully and been a strong part of the community.”
Earlier in 2023, former Calvary pastor Ron Davis sent David Prine, Jan’s husband and a Calvary deacon, a copy of the Baptist and Reflector with a story about the TBMB’s BlueOval City Initiative. That sparked some discussions among church members who were wrestling with the congregation’s uncertain future.
“It was explained to us that if we waited until we had to close the doors, this would possibly not be a church anymore,” David Prine said. “It could be a McDonald’s. And we didn’t want that to happen.”
Sinquefield met with church leaders to discuss the possibility of them giving their property to the TBMB. Sinquefield then connected them with other TBMB leaders to discuss the legal process, and TBMB attorney Jim Guenther assisted with that.
Sinquefield preached at Calvary a few weeks after that meeting and attended a question-and-answer session following that service.
“The church family shared many emotions but also demonstrated a strong resolve to follow this path with a sense of the Lord’s leading,” Sinquefield said. “It has been an honor to walk along with this church family as they have made a significant gift to the Lord’s work for the exciting season ahead.”
In the Dec. 31 service, David Prine addressed the congregation a final time.
“If one person is saved after they open this church back up, it’s all worth it,” he said. “And that’s what we’re praying for.”