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Step by step, Vt. Church reaches out to community

MACEDONIA, Vt. (BP)–Macedonia Baptist Church, stretching beyond the “Come-and-help-us” Macedonian call of Acts 16, has begun to provide a free Thursday night dinner to 100 people, plan a block party for next summer and make preparations for a concrete slab for a new recreation center.

There’s more. Giving has increased substantially. Members have started talking about the difference Jesus Christ is making in their lives.

But there’s a down side. Much of the population suffers from the area’s depressed economy, limited sunlight due to tall trees and short days, and free-wheeling environment that can lead to substance abuse, multiple marriages and poor self-esteem.

Besides that, it’s Bob Butler’s first senior pastorate. He was a minister of music before taking on Macedonia. He’s bivocational, working 20 hours a week at Wal-Mart. Also, Vermonters are private people; they shy away from outsiders who want to get close.

Macedonia Baptist, founded in 1978, is stop No. 13 on Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch’s national bus tour to kick off “The Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism” — setting forth a goal of “Witness, Win and Baptize … ONE MILLION!” by SBC churches in one year. The church was started as a youth group Bible study and led by a succession of short-term pastors until Butler and his family — wife Margie, sons Daniel and Bryan — arrived on Palm Sunday in 2000.

To start at their beginning, Butler and his wife decided a pasta dinner would be an inexpensive, easy to make, filling hot meal when they first contemplated a solution to the resistance they were feeling from people in the community as well as people in the church. Fifteen people came the first Thursday night. That was March 2002.

“Now we’ll have 85 to 100 and do a midweek prayer service after that,” Butler said. “We’re not pushing anything, not forcing people to stay afterward, and not charging them, but we’ll have 35 people on average stay for prayer.”

Butler learned he could get food for 14 cents a pound from the state food bank. His wife enlisted a half-dozen women to help her cook. Unexpectedly, private donations fund the ministry — sometimes from a Vermonter, sometimes from churches in the South.

“Especially in this area, it’s easier to invite someone to a meal than to church,” the pastor said. “It’s taken us about a year to get some people in because [the meal is served] in a church building and they weren’t going to darken the doors of a church.”

Parking has become a welcome challenge, the pastor said.

“The Thursday night group is a total different group from Sunday,” Butler said. “We’ll do some praise and worship; Southern gospel has been well-received. This meal has really opened up a lot of people.”

With his background in music, Butler began working with the singers and instrumentalists in his church. He then added musicians from two other Southern Baptist churches in Vermont. The triad performed a mini musical called “In God We Trust” in various churches, at a mall and an assisted living home during the summer.

“It was a great step of joint outreach through music,” Butler said. “We got some good, positive results from that and look forward to doing it again.”

Macedonia Baptist also got good results when they joined this summer with a missions group from Pickens County, Ala., to organize a block party in the village square that drew 250 people for a free barbecue meal, Christian clowns and evangelistic games. Seven people made a profession of faith at the block party, and three children prayed to receive Jesus at a day camp the next week.

“Our people were shown how to do it,” Butler said. “Next year we’re going to budget it and plan on leading it ourselves.”

Teens are another area of interest.

“One long range vision for me is to see us build a gym and call a sports minister to draw people in and open the facility to the community,” Butler said. “We’ve even got a guy who has volunteered to pour a foundation slab for us.”

The area schools hold basketball-playing teens captive, with practices every day and games on the weekend, the pastor said.

“This is something we want to see the church take back, take His day back,” Butler said. “We’re seeking to grow dynamic individuals and families. We’re focusing towards that and to some extent we’re seeing the promise of that. We’re seeing God work in the family unit and in turn, that’s building a stronger church.”