By Connie Davis Bushey
News Editor, Baptist and Reflector
WILLISTON — Thankfully the wait wasn’t 40 years, a popular biblical period. It would have been more tolerable if the wait had been 40 days, another common biblical period.
Instead Williston Baptist Church here waited about five years to begin to use its new building.
The situation developed because of a misunderstanding on building regulations.
While the congregation tried to work out the problem it began to dwindle, and the chance that the building regulations could be worked out seemed to be disappearing. At one point Williston Baptist had only about 12 people gathering for worship each Sunday morning.
The next blow that came was expected — the small congregation struggled to pay for the new building. Thankfully the land was paid for.
The period was filled with “torment,” recalled Pastor Rickey Burns.
Yet, each month the members gave sacrificially to pay the building note and saw God provide, he added.
Their path to this situation was not that unusual. Their old building was built in 1926 on a small, landlocked lot in an old part of a small town. Parking was a problem. When the congregation grew, people struggled to park their cars and then left, reported Burns, who has served the church for 24 years.
At one point, Williston Baptist transported folks from a gathering point to the facility by bus but that was not successful either.
Of course, the property wasn’t big enough for many outside events. Also, both the church building and parsonage had persistent sewer problems.
So in 1998 the congregation decided to relocate and soon bought eight acres on Highway 76 which is a good location with plenty of room for parking and facilities, reported Burns.
After the land was paid for in 2006 the church was able to build a pavillion there and then began planning a metal building for a gym for its growing number of
children. A building permit was secured and several weeks later the gym was almost complete when a fire marshall got involved.
A fire marshall wasn’t called in initially because Fayette County, where Williston is located, didn’t have any building code regulations at that time except for sewer and electric, explained Burns.
The pastor began trying to work out the problem with the building seeking consultation and then a lawyer as months and years passed.
The situation made him think of his call to the ministry, recalled Burns. He was a well-paid sewing machine mechanic in West Tennessee when he was called to the ministry by God. So he and his wife, Sissy, and their children followed God’s call to Clear Creek Baptist Bible College, Pineville, Ky.
“I went but I did not want to pastor a church,” said Burns.
That was 30 years ago and after God changed his mind. “There have been a couple of times I’ve laid my Bible down and said I’m not going to do this anymore,” he admitted, referring to serving as a pastor. At least one of those times was during this relocation struggle.
But God and his wife kept encouraging him, said Burns.
“My wife, … she is very strong when it comes to things like this. … She kept saying, ‘We’ll get into it. We’ll get it done. … We’ll see this beautiful building up on that property one of these days.’ ”
Of course, he not only struggled to solve the problems related to the new building. He also grappled with reaching new people for the church. He noted outreach in this area has changed. People living here now often don’t welcome visitors in their homes, he observed. They may even live behind gates. Nearby Somerville is a suburb of metro Memphis.
Today pastors and Christians must build relationships with folks before they “can talk to them about the Lord,” he explained.
Then the Lord brought some people into the situation, including Charles Pratt, director of missions, Fayette Baptist Association, based in Somerville; Mike Watkins, a builder in Somerville; Arnold Smith, music director of Morris Memorial Chapel Baptist Church, Moscow, who is a licensed commercial contractor; and Ellen Wadley, an architect for Fleming Architects of Memphis.
A solution was found which was — of course because God was involved — better, reported Burns. Instead of a gym, the new building includes a 270-seat sanctuary, education space, and, amazingly, a paved, spacious parking lot.
Pratt helped by leading churches in the association to become involved. Five small churches gave about $2,650 to the project. He also led the landscaping of the new building.
On Oct. 25, 2015, Williston Baptist met in its new building. Interestingly, the date not only marked the completion of the facility, it coincided with the 191st Homecoming.
About 125 people gathered!
Since then Williston Baptist has continued to grow, noted Burns. The church is adding two used, portable buildings from a local school.
“It’s been a long haul. … There were so many people who helped,” said Burns, adding that the faithful, long-time members have been key.
“The Lord always knows what to do. He always knows what’s best,” stated Burns. “And His timing is always right,” added Sissy Burns.