First Baptist, Stockton helps meet needs in Maine
BATH, Maine – Last fall,David Barker was praying, crying out to God to send someone to help revitalize the struggling church where he was interim pastor. God answered his prayer immediately, with a phone call from Barker’s home pastor, Ron Foley of First Baptist in Stockton, more than 1,700 miles away.
Just two days after Barker, who is a member of the Mission Service Corps (MSC), arrived in Bath, a Nor’easter blew through the small coastal town and physically tore apart an already spiritually depressed church. Part of the steeple was ripped away, the roof was damaged, and parts of the 150-year-old auditorium were water logged. They limped through the summer but insurance money was slow to come.
“Financially, there was a real bind because so many things needed repair before the storm damage itself could be repaired,” Barker said.
“He and his wife asked that God would prove Himself powerful and faithful to the church, and my call literally interrupted their prayer,” Foley said. “Then he asked if I wanted to take a vacation and swing a hammer.”
Foley was up to “swinging a hammer” but was concerned about the distance from southeast Missouri to the northern tip of the United States.
“It was 25 hours and 1,700 miles to drive,” he said. “We’d spend two days getting there and two days getting back. But I couldn’t let it go.”
Six days later he was recruiting six others willing to pay to fly, which made the trip a go. Less than six weeks after the Barkers asked God to send a solution, the crew from Stockton arrived.
They painted the interior of the 250-plus seat auditorium and repaired plaster, thus paving the way for the insurance company to release funds for the rest of the repairs. After a love offering gift from First Stockton, the church needs only $10,000 to finish the repairs that were estimated at $150,000 just a few months ago. But according to Barker, the physical repairs were just the beginning.
“More importantly, this was a faith-growing experience for the people of Bath,” he said. “The present generation of members had not experienced faith-based answers to prayer to this extent before.”
Although it is more than 200 years old, First Baptist Church, Bath, has only been a Southern Baptist church for five years. They were previously American Baptist. With about 40 members, it is one of only 13 Southern Baptist churches in the entire state. That’s one SBC church per 100,000 people in the state. In Missouri, there’s 33 times that. There is only one Baptist association in the state. In the Show-Me State there are 64.
Barker said most people are simply unchurched, but Catholicism or Congregationalism is the religion of choice, if they have a preference.
“Ninety-five percent or better are not Evangelical,” he said. “It’s an old state, and ‘religion’ there does not mean a personal relationship with the Lord. It’s a pretty tough nut to crack.”
This was Barker’s third summer in Maine. A retired director of missions, he became heavily involved in disaster relief before he and his wife, Evelyn, were appointed to the MSC. Since then, he’s served as interim pastor in churches in Oregon, Alaska, Michigan, and British Columbia, Canada.
“We were there trying to help them transition to a mindset of ministry outside their walls,” Barker said. “They were used to people buying things from the church bake sale and help from the community, when they needed to be reaching out, not expecting everyone else to come to them.”
“They appreciated having the helping hands of a sister church to come alongside and give them a much-needed boost,” he said. “It was a different experience for them. I’d been telling them that Southern Baptists do a lot of this kind of thing, but it was new stuff for them. Since then, they’ve become more active in reaching to their community. They’re getting it.”