WATERTOWN, N.Y. (BP)–It was a “horrendous” business meeting, said Tom Fanning, a member of New Hope Baptist Church for less than a year when the membership wrangled in 1996 over their inability to meet the church’s budget.
“It was quite an uproar,” said Fanning, a former electrician who now works with Southern Baptists’ summertime World Changers community outreach. “Some people wanted to know why we were sending money to ‘this Cooperative Program thing’ when we needed to pay the bills. The pastor got up and said he’d take a cut in pay, he’d get a part-time job, but we had to keep giving to missions. Less than three weeks later, we got checks from members who had moved away and hadn’t connected with another church yet — these were their tithes — and we’ve been moving forward ever since.”
“Missions is important,” said Stan Gillcash, pastor of the Watertown, N.Y., congregation. “If you want God to bless your work, you have to have balance not just here at home but all across the Acts 1:8 spectrum. And you can’t force it. You have to let God lead you to it.”
About 60 people were members of New Hope during that critical business meeting in 1996 when the church took its stand for missions.
“It was just one of those things churches go through,” Gillcash said. “Soldiers were deployed [from nearby Fort Drum]; giving was down for whatever reason. It might have been a test of God to see if we were going to keep missions our focus. Since then, God has blessed us both fiscally and with people.”
New Hope’s commitment to giving 10 percent of the church’s offerings to missions through the Cooperative Program undergirds its multiple ministry activities in Watertown, population 27,000, and at Fort Drum in western New York, home to the 10th Mountain Division — one of the Army’s most deployed units to Iraq and Afghanistan. The church’s outreach also extends across New York state, New England and eastern Canada and, through Southern Baptists’ cooperative missions, to Haiti and other parts of the world.
“The Cooperative Program helps keep our missionaries doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” Gillcash said. “I know people who were in other programs who had to spend more than half their time raising funds. With the Cooperative Program, our missionaries can spend their time witnessing to people — which is why we send them — rather than trying to raise money to keep themselves there.”
New Hope was started in 1990 by a church planter supported through Cooperative Program gifts. When Gillcash, a retired Air Force explosives specialist, was called in 1994 as the church’s first full-time pastor, the 40 people who comprised the fledgling congregation had just completed a 7,000-square-foot building.
During Gillcash’s 16 years as pastor, New Hope has gone through three additions, the most recent being a 14,000-square-foot educational wing that opened the way for a 50 percent growth in Sunday School attendance. Today, nearly 500 people regularly participate in New Hope and its ministries.
In giving 10 percent of its offerings to missions through the Cooperative Program, Gillcash said New Hope seeks to set the example of tithing.
“It’s a biblical principle,” Gillcash said. “If we ask our people to give to God — and I believe in the biblical 10 percent — then we as a church must set the example and give to God that 10 percent….
“We just remind people to give — it’s a very gentle reminder — not just to give financially but to give yourself,” he noted. “Put yourself in that plate,” the pastor said. “I think when you look at giving as a whole, it’s easier to give financially.”
New Hope members give of themselves in 23 organized ministries, “but it’s mostly one-on-one,” Gillcash said. “Each person connects with others. It’s just pretty much everyone caring for everybody.”
“God has just worked fantastic in our church,” Fanning said of the church’s expanded outreach since that 1996 business meeting. “People caught the feeling of missions; they could see how missions were working in other people’s lives. And when we started seeing people’s lives changed, more people got involved.
“Once you get the church involved, it’s not hard to get them excited about missions because they can see what God is doing,” Fanning said. “It’s working at New Hope!”
The first initiative New Hope became involved in after Gillcash was called as pastor was at a nursing home where they ministered to residents and to their families.
Steadily the church became known as a contributor to the city — and the fact it was a Baptist congregation in a Catholic region didn’t matter. Especially when New Hope brought World Changers to Watertown.
An outreach of Southern Baptists’ North American Mission Board, World Changers fosters a personal commitment to missions among youth and adults through servanthood projects to meet the physical and spiritual needs of communities, often involving home renovation projects.
Gillcash and Fanning traveled in 1999 to Kingston, Ontario, at the request of a Canadian pastor to participate in that city’s first World Changers week of ministry. Returning home, the two men discussed the possibility of bringing World Changers to Watertown, and they didn’t stop there. What they started in 2000 spread from Watertown to other communities in New York, New England and back into Canada.
World Changers “helped the community to see we’re not here to be fly-by-night,” Gillcash said. “We’re here to minister to this community…. There’s no rocket science to being Christian…. It’s hard to tell somebody Jesus loves them and not help them.”
World Changers came to Watertown for the 10th time this summer. Fanning was so impressed by the World Changers efforts in Ontario that he took early retirement to become a Mission Service Corps (MSC) missionary to work full time with the ministry.
MSC is another Cooperative Program-funded initiative of the North American Mission Board. MSC personnel are self-funded, church-commissioned, NAMB-endorsed missionaries assigned for at least four months to NAMB-approved ministries. Fanning and his wife Judy have been MSC missionaries for 10 years.
New Hope also has a crew of six disaster relief-trained volunteers who have helped in mud-out and chainsaw ministries in New York, New England, New Orleans and other deployments. The church also has completed 20 construction projects over the last 16 years in New England and eastern Canada.
“I grew up in construction with my dad, and did quite a bit of it in the military on the side,” Gillcash said. “We have several men in the church well-qualified in construction, in building.”
Gillcast and a Haitian-born physician who is a New Hope member put together a volunteer team of nurses, doctors and others from Watertown’s medical community to travel to Haiti after the massive Jan. 12 earthquake there. “They came together under the Southern Baptist umbrella,” the pastor said. “We were there for eight days in February, and treated 1,600 people. That was five weeks after the earthquake.”
With Fort Drum so close, it’s a given that New Hope ministers to soldiers and their families. About 40 percent of the congregation is military; as many as 52 soldiers from the congregation have been deployed at one time. So Gillcash’s Air Force background gives him an understanding of the issues.
“They’re away from their families and things they know, so it’s nice to have a place like the church where you go and create a new family,” the pastor said. “We try to recreate that [family] atmosphere here … to fill that caring need and be ‘your family away from home.’
For everyone, family is important, the pastor said.
“Our vision for New Hope is to be the best we can be with God’s help in ministering to families,” Gillcash says on the church’s website, www.newhope-ny.org. “With the traditional family under attack as never before, we must do all we can to strengthen the family’s foundation. The One who created the family, God, is the only one who can hold the family together. We strive to strengthen family relationships to each other and to God.”
Among the church’s ministries is a spouse-led support group, “Heroes at Home,” for the families of those who are deployed. The church also has each soldier make a list of his/her favorite snacks before deployment, so personalized care packages can be sent.
“It shows them the love of the church, but it also gives them encouragement,” Gillcash said. “In these days of e-mail and phone cards, it’s still nice to get something in the mail, a package with your name on it.”
Locally, New Hope contributes financially and with volunteers to CareNet, a crisis pregnancy center. It consistently gives to the local food pantry; youngsters at Vacation Bible School contributed 947 items this summer.
“Another thing we do is that we help out by building handicap ramps for people,” Gillcash said. “There are so many little things; they’re small but over time they add up. We’ll help clean their yards, for example. We’ll see seniors raking and we’ll stop and help them.”
Mary Hooker, New Hope’s missions leader, is in the process of also becoming a Missions Service Corps missionary. In addition to reaching out in the Watertown community with kids’ Bible clubs, Hooker takes teams of New Hope members to the nearby Watkins Glen International auto racetrack for outreach to the spectators.
New Hope, with so many of its members related to the military, faces major leadership turnovers every two to three years.
“We’re always in a training mode of new leaders,” Gillcash said. “We’re going to more of a mentorship type of training where we will bring in new disciples to spend time with the person running the ministry, and learn from them and eventually they can carry on the ministry. It’s an apprenticeship, really.
“It’s a biblical model; that’s what Jesus did with His disciples,” the pastor said.. “He would explain it, demonstrate it and let them do it on their own…. This is God’s church. It doesn’t belong to any of us, and He’s not going to let His church fall. As long as we look to Him I think we’re going to be all right.”
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.