FORT GAY, W. Va. (BP) — Chris Wilson the undertaker knows a good bit about life and death. Chris Wilson the pastor does, too, but also the importance of what happens in between, the good soil that leads to growth.
For instance, Saltpetre Community Church is relatively new at nine years old, the mix of older and younger congregations. Wilson, whose family owns a funeral home, became the new congregation’s pastor. Part of that process was the church looking through new eyes for how to reach its community.
It became an organic process, to see the blind spots to those in the community.
One example: What to do with the church’s old building that sat practically on top of Saltpetre Road. They voted to tear it down, till the dirt and plant some seeds.
With an evangelistic plan in place, they also decided to make a garden.
Rows and relationships
“It’s open to anyone in the community,” Wilson said. “Church members do the planting and maintaining the rows. Others come to it and pick what they need.”
The garden led to conversations and relationships. One young couple became familiar with church members. In times of tragedy, they didn’t grieve alone.
Both were also servers at a nearby restaurant frequented by church members, who provided a car seat and gift basket when the couple became pregnant.
The husband began studying the Bible. He had questions and began to talk to Wilson about them.
“He was trying to figure out where he stood with Jesus,” Wilson said. “In that conversation, I thought of how much I’d love for him and his entire crew at the restaurant to attend our Easter services.”
It gave Wilson a crazy idea. He went to the restaurant’s owner, a “super-kind, gracious man” named Gabriel, with a question and proposition.
How much would the restaurant typically make on Easter Sunday and, if the church paid that amount, would he close up for his employees to be their guests for worship?
Like so many other churches, Saltpetre Community isn’t a congregation with massive amounts of expendable income. This was a step that could only be prompted by the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, the owner hadn’t been to church since he attended with his mother in Mexico.
“My family was there eating one day and his wife, who’s from around here and had been to the church, came over,” Wilson said.
She said she had enjoyed visiting and wanted to come back. Wilson shared the offer he had made to her husband.
“She went over and talked to him for a minute,” Wilson said, “then came back to us and said, ‘Yeah, we’re coming.’”
A witness to growth
They had been talking about closing the restaurant down for Easter anyway, she explained. Regardless, Wilson offered to pay the amount he had previously discussed, but the owner refused.
In preparation, Wilson reached out to Eric Ramsey, executive director for the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists, for help getting an interpreter since many of the restaurant staff speak only Spanish. A case of Bibles in Spanish was also made available.
Only a few of the restaurant staff didn’t attend. Spiritual discussions began almost immediately, including one with a couple who wanted to be baptized.
Several guests with children also bode well for the church’s vacation Bible school this summer. Plans are already underway to purchase an abandoned school building in town that has ball fields.
The Gospel’s impact was felt that day. As Wilson looked around, he saw seeds planted.
“What really stuck out to me was that no one left the church for about 20-30 minutes afterward,” he said. “People were just hanging out.”
He walked over to the restaurateur, Gabriel, who extended his hand.
“He looked me in the eye and said, ‘Thank you. Thank you for doing this,’” Wilson said.
The moment reminded him of something a woman once told him about growth. You can take the steps, such as putting to work several church members who happen to be master gardeners. But you can’t force the harvest. That comes from God.
“She was part of an organization,” Wilson recalled about the woman. “One that worked with widows and orphans around the world.
“‘You know, Chris,’ she told me, ‘the best things grow organically.’”