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28-year-old’s first trip to England answers church’s need for a pastor

STUKELEY, England (BP)–How did Doug Gathright, a young pastor from Arkansas, become pastor of an international Baptist congregation located an hour north of London, England?
At age 28, he still asks himself that question from time to time. But he also has a clear answer: “I felt like it was the Lord’s will,” he explained. “It’s pretty well been a miracle how we came here.”
Gathright, originally from Little Rock, sensed a call to ministry during his freshman year at Ouachita Baptist University. He had the opportunity to serve several Arkansas churches, including being associate pastor of First Baptist Church, Amity, and pastor of Unity Baptist Church Arkadelphia and Second Baptist Church, Pine Bluff.
After moving to California for a year, he returned to Arkansas and became a member of University Baptist Church in Fayetteville, which had formed a ministry partnership with Stukeley Baptist Church in England as part of Arkansas Baptists’ ongoing missions partnership with the European Baptist Convention.
Among the Stukeley congregation’s greatest needs was a pastor. Gathright was recommended to the church by staff members at University.
Noting the congregation had experienced “a tremendous turnover” in membership as many international churches often do, Gathright added “their heart’s desire was to have a pastor.”
Although he “had never been out of the country before except Canada,” he said the members of Stukeley “called me unseen.”
Emphasizing “I’ve had a real peace about it,” Gathright said he and his family — four children, age 7 and younger — “sold everything” to make the move.
“It was a scary thing to hop on a plane to somewhere you’ve never been before,” he acknowledged. After nearly a year and a half in his new ministry setting, however, “It’s been a good match,” he affirmed. “It’s such a privilege for me to be here.”
Even amid a continuing turnover of members as internationals move in and out of the area, the Stukeley congregation has nearly tripled in attendance since Gathright arrived.
“When I came, the church ran about 30 people; 90 percent American,” he said. “Over the last year, we’ve lost a ton of people but God has increased the number of English people.”
Gathright said some of the church’s newest participants include “two Anglican lay preachers who have been baptized and become members.” The church now averages about 90 people from six nations in worship services. Gathright has had the opportunity to baptize 10 adults.
How has the church been able to experience such growth? “We just preach the Bible and people are drawn to that,” Gathright responded. “We basically run the typical Southern Baptist program with Bible study and worship.”
H.D. McCarty, pastor of University Baptist Church, noted the Fayetteville congregation helps pay Gathright’s support. “We’re really proud of him,” McCarty said. “I know the work is tough.”
Citing the Arkansas congregation’s involvement with Stukeley, McCarty added, “If we do it right here, it builds our people’s interest and helps them get a new vision of the world.”
Even with the church’s success, Gathright and his family continue to face numerous challenges. “People’s attitudes about Christianity and religion are different here,” he pointed out. “It was a cultural shock to see how few people know Jesus.”
On a practical level, he added, “you miss all those things you take for granted living in Arkansas. The way you shop is totally different — there’s not a Wal-Mart — and we pay $5 a gallon for fuel.”
Looking toward the future, Gathright noted, “We came over here until the Lord moves us. My desire is to see God do a great work in England — there are only three EBC churches in England.
“My vision for the church is to continue growing,” he continued, “and there are so many places where churches need to be started.”
Declaring “I wish the Lord would raise up some people from Arkansas to come over here to serve,” Gathright said, “I’ve heard the people from England can’t be reached but that’s not true. They can be reached and we’re beginning to reach them.
“It’s been a wonderful experience for me watching the Lord move,” he said. “It’s hard to believe I’m here but it’s just like serving the Lord in America — you go where he calls you.”

    About the Author

  • Trennis Henderson

    Trennis Henderson is the national correspondent for WMU (Woman’s Missionary Union). A Baptist journalist for more than 35 years, Henderson is a former editor of the Western Recorder of the Kentucky Baptist Convention and the Arkansas Baptist News state convention newsjournal.

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