KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–A woman in her mid-30s, formerly a member of the congregation led by Nigel Baynes, approached him at a church softball game and prodded, “Why didn’t you tell me your wife was black?”
“Would it have made a difference?” Baynes replied in his British accent.
He and his wife, Calixthe, both moved to the United States from European countries. Baynes hails from England while Calixthe (pronounced ka-LEEK) is a French national from Cameroon. “We feel very accepted as a couple,” Nigel said.
But being from Europe, Calixthe said she does not see people as black or white. “Some cannot place me because I talk funny and act different,” she said. “I act like my color doesn’t matter.”
In June 1998, Baynes filled the pulpit at South Platte Baptist Church, Parkville, Mo., where 50 to 60 members regularly attend. He was invited to serve as pastor one month later. Concerned the church would not accept him and his wife, Baynes consulted Mark Coppenger, president of Kansas City’s Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; Tony Preston, assistant professor of pastoral leadership and director of diploma studies; and Alan Tomlinson, assistant professor of New Testament and Greek. The three men assured Baynes the church would accept him.
Because Calixthe was still teaching in Wichita, Kan., the congregation did not meet her until July.
“My jaw dropped,” admitted Donna Ware, a member of South Platte Baptist who served on the pastor search committee. “But she was his wife so I accepted her right away.” While being interviewed by the pastor search committee, Baynes asked if the church had a problem with mixed-race marriages. When the committee answered no, the subject was dropped.
Ware and other church members feared the older members would not accept the couple. But Calixthe said, “My transition here has been fine. The kids accepted me almost instantly and many of the older members did, too.”
After getting settled at South Platte Baptist, Calixthe said a youth told her, “Never let anyone make you feel like you don’t belong here.” And she hasn’t, she said, explaining, “You can’t please all the people all of the time.”
“If you’re a Christian,” her husband added, “how can you harbor hate?”
Since accepting the pastorate, Baynes has seen the church undergo major changes, including accepting 23 new members and nine baptisms.
The couple noted many ministries within the church have been reinstated. Calixthe, known by the church members as Di, started a women’s support group in which members are committed to “working hard to improve themselves.” The men’s prayer group, led by Baynes on Wednesday nights, discusses and prays about concerns within the church.
Baynes also discussed a class for new members taught by Midwestern Seminary master of divinity student Jeff Fisher. By reinforcing the Baptist Faith and Message, participants are left with “no doubts about what we believe in or how to serve God,” Baynes said. Also, the youth group has been divided to start an older youth/college and career class on Sunday mornings.
“My wife and I are here to mend wounds, repair hearts and strengthen bodies,” Baynes said.
Since the couple took the church, a small group of internationals has joined as well. Last fall, a high-spirited all-black choir from the Wichita area performed at South Platte Baptist. “The church was changed,” Baynes said, with his wife adding, “The congregation expressed happiness and joy.”
“Different nationalities are embraced by the congregation now,” Baynes said, crediting also the church’s missions involvement. This year, for instance, the church exceeded its Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for international missions goal by $100.
“She’s [Calixthe] made a good influence in the church,” Ware said. “We are more open and accepting of different races and colors, and we’re excited about the differences.”
Aldridge is a student at Union University, Jackson, Tenn., who served a two-week internship at Midwestern Seminary. Her name was incorrectly spelled “Andrew Aldredge” in the by-line in the BP story dated 1/26/99, titled, “Foot-stomping jam session draws faculty & students at Midwestern.”