By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
DELLROSE — Like many churches throughout Tennessee, Wheelerton Baptist Church in Giles County was hit hard by COVID-19 last year.
Just the year before, the church, with the assistance of deacon Keith Bennett and others, guided the church through a construction project that doubled the size of Wheelerton’s facilities. For the most part, the church did not get to enjoy the new building until this year. Members were poised for growth.
And, while it was delayed a year by the worldwide pandemic, the church is beginning to see results.
In 2019, the church baptized four people and added two more in 2020. Through June of this year, the church has baptized 15 and has at least nine more scheduled to be baptized on Aug. 8.
All the baptisms now take place in the Elk River, said pastor Paul Mason. He recalled how that has become a tradition at the church. In 2017, a young boy, Bo Lewter, came forward to accept Christ as his Savior and announced that he wanted to be baptized “today.”
After talking with Bo’s parents, Mason arranged for the baptism to be held in the Elk River that afternoon. “To my knowledge, the church had never baptized in the river before,” Mason said.
Mason shared that Bo later came down with meningitis and nearly died but by God’s providence and the medical team at Vanderbilt Medical Center, the young boy recovered.
“His salvation, sickness, recovery and river baptism were tied together in our hearts and, out of thanks to God for his recovery, the church adopted river baptisms as our norm, weather permitting,” Mason said.
In June, the tradition continued when 11 candidates went to the river to be baptized. A crowd, some who had been camping, was sitting on the sandbar, Mason recalled. “The Holy Spirit urged upon the need to make an appeal for salvation and baptism,” he said.
Four adults, who had no previous connection with the church, came forward to be baptized, making a total of 15 for the day.
The nine scheduled for baptism were a result of the church’s recent Vacation Bible School. Last year the church held an outdoor VBS for about 20 children, said Jodie Lewter, VBS director. This year, the church saw 80 children and adults involved in VBS.
“We are now experiencing tremendous growth,” she said. “The seeds we have planted over the past few years are now producing so much fruit,” said Lewter, who has served as VBS director for 15 years and also teaches a preteen class and leads the children’s department.
“I was saved in VBS in the eighth grade,” she said. “VBS is my favorite ministry. It brings fun to the church,” she said. “I love to shine the light that church isn’t just for ‘old people’ and is not a stale building.
“We are an old, Southern Baptist church and I strive to make it attractive for young families,” she added. “When my daughter, Addie Jo, was born, she was the only child in church. I prayed that God would show me the way to make church a place she looked forward to going to and serving at. We now have 30 children in church,” she said.
Her desire and focus is to love and serve families first. “Once they know how much love I have for them and am willing to serve them, I can then begin to teach them and be a light for Christ,” Lewter said.
Mason said the church has embraced the desire to grow. He noted he was at church recently and encountered Jeanie Moore, an elderly widow whose husband, Donnie, died of COVID last year.
“She told me, ‘Bro. Paul, I’ve been here all these years and I love a small church,’ but she also acknowledged that the Lord ‘has told us we have to reach others,’ ” he shared. “Her statement was an affirmation of our church’s priority of reaching people for Jesus.”
“The purest priority of Christian faith is sharing our faith and reaching others,” the 82-year-old pastor affirmed.“The happiest that a pastor and a church can be is when someone is walking down the aisle to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. That’s the apex of Christian faith.”
Mason said he heard a pastor say once, “Christ’s last command (the Great Commission) should be our first concern.” He has made that a priority of his ministry.
“Whatever priority a pastor takes — if he loves his people and they love him —the church will take on that priority. The members of Wheelerton are embracing that priority,” he stressed.
Lewter agreed. “I attribute our increase in membership to the leadership of Bro. Paul. He is an amazing pastor. The Lord has gifted him with the ability to relate to so many people.” B&R