A visit to one of Scotland County’s Baptist churches, Stewartsville, was on my agenda last Sunday.
The Rev. Dr. Ben Pierce, the senior pastor (the one with red hair and beard) was not in the pulpit, but the preaching was all in the family on this Sunday anyway. His father, the Rev. Dr. Greg Pierce, director of missions for a Baptist association in Arkansas, delivered the message.
He captured my attention from the moment he put on a blue robe, with pomegranates and bells around the hem, like the one described in Exodus 28 and worn by Old Testament high priests leading worship in the Tabernacle. (Go back and read this chapter again. After that you won’t ever think Episcopal clergy is over dressed.)
The Holy of Holies, also called the Most High Place, was the inner sanctuary of the Tabernacle as the Israelites wandered through the wilderness looking for the promised land. Later, in the temple in Jerusalem it was where the Ark of the Covenant, said to contain the Ten Commandments given to Moses at Mt. Sinai, was kept.
The Most Holy Place was not accessible to run-of-the-mill worshipers, the preacher explained as he moved about the podium with bells tinkling, but was protected by a heavy curtain, described in the Scripture as a “veil.” Only the high priest could enter.
You may recall that right before Jesus breathed his last on the cross, the veil in the temple in Jerusalem was torn down the middle, presumably an act of God. A symbol proclaiming the access of all believers to God’s presence.
Theologically speaking, the preacher said this is called the Priesthood of Believers in Christian churches, including Southern Baptist. This means believers can do their own praying and have no need of a priest or a bishop or any other holy man or woman to intercede for them.
The preacher made a good case for this idea, citing the New Testament verse in Hebrews 10:20 to support this aspect of Baptist belief. From church history, we learn that this is also a very important Reformation idea held by other churches as well.
In conversation this week with Pastor Pierce, he was quick to say that it’s not only a Reformation idea, but is “in the Bible,” a nice way of reminding me that Scripture holds top billing when it comes to Southern Baptist churches, like Stewartsville.
All that said, I have to confess. I did not call ahead or check the church’s website and made the assumption that worship would begin at 11 a.m. Not so. Sunday worship is at 10:15 a.m. So I missed the music, one of my favorite parts, and the time of fellowship in the order of service when folks roll out of their pews and shake it up with friends. Thus, I have no read on whether or not this is a singing and joyful congregation, but I can report that it is friendly.
Arriving after 10:30, I took a seat at the very back so I could view the whole sanctuary, a beautiful space that looks like its pews would seat 700 to 750. About 200 were there last Sunday.
After the invitation (described as an “altar call” in some churches) during which the congregation sang “Softly and Tenderly, Jesus is Calling,” the service ended and I wondered if anyone would notice a visitor in their midst.
Pastor Pierce told me later the church has a welcoming group at the front door to greet people, something I missed. In my opinion, assigned greeters may be important, but not nearly as important as a friendly congregation. When you’re new in town and looking for a friend, there’s no better place to find one than at church.
Before any older women contemporaries saw me as a fellow traveler, a couple of men engaged me in conversation about the church.
One was Brooks Baines, who the pastor said is considered the repository of church history at Stewartsville.
In a phone conversation on Tuesday, Brooks said the church was a plant from First Baptist and was organized about the time he came here in 1967.
If Brooks, a CPA in Laurinburg, is a typical member of the congregation, it is indeed blessed. In talking about service and ministry, it became apparent that he takes his Christian identity seriously. For him, it’s not about using a lot of Jesus talk and making cliche comments about God, but about action.
He pointed to the large impressive church campus located at 10401 McColl Road. All paid for, he said. No fund-raising in the community, only tithes and offerings of dedicated church members. He also noted that Christ the Cornerstone Academy will open for its sixth year on Aug. 18.
Brooks is a deacon serving on a nine-member board, a group that does not do administrative work in the church, but engages in service and ministry.
On the day of our conversation, he spent his lunch hour at the bedside of a dying friend.
“Christianity is not something like a suit that you put on,” he said. “It’s an everyday thing.”
Contact Flo Johnston at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 910-361-4135. She responds to emails and returns phone calls.