Soccer pulls church into community ministry
    March 24 2011 by Norman Jameson, Associated Baptist Press

    The famous towel producer Charles Cannon built First Baptist Church in Kannapolis when Cannon Mills provided both engine and fuel for the aging textile town 27 miles north of Charlotte. He wanted a good church for his workers, so he had First Baptist constructed on the edge of the mill property.

    First Baptist celebrated its centennial in 2008 and has enjoyed its current red brick, columned building for 75 years. It is imposing and regal, but because of how Cannon provided the building, the church doesn’t own an inch of land outside the building’s footprint; not a single parking space.  

    The textile industry has fled North Carolina like water falls over Niagara, and in the past few years Cannon’s massive mills were converted to Pillowtex, then that company and 2,400 local jobs were erased as if they never existed.

    Billionaire buyer David Murdock rubbed out whole blocks of Kannapolis and on that clean sheet is building a futuristic research facility of Georgian-style red brick buildings. The buildings and the international workforce that is beginning to occupy them are changing the face of this small southern town.

    Tom Cabaniss, with 14 years in the pulpit of First Baptist Church, wanted to change the public face of his church, too. The church owns 11.5 acres of land a half mile away, on a main drag in town, and had architectural drawings in hand for a $20 million complex to be built in phases, including a new sanctuary. Then, at a staff retreat in the midst of an expository journey through the book of Romans, Cabaniss asked: “What if we became the place that people thought of when they thought of ministry in Kannapolis?” That question began to drive deacon meetings, staff prayer time, small groups and committee meetings within the church.

    It also ate like a boll weevil through the extravagant plans for a new facility and instead, prompted the church to ask the local Christian community ministries organization what it would build for its ministry to the area’s homeless and hungry.

    First Baptist has always sent money and people to distant lands, but they began to ask, “What if our mission field is Midway?” — that 11.5 acres of sports fields and bare ground the church bought in 2002. “What if God actually wanted us to ‘burst through the bricks’ and make a difference here?” said Haven Parrott, minister of spiritual formation.

    When they considered ways to engage the community, everything seemed to start with Midway. The fields are surrounded by easy access highway and a transitional neighborhood of modest houses once occupied by mill workers.

    The church bought the land strictly on the basis of opportunity and potential. They paid it off quickly and gathered their plans to build. Then the economy hit a brick wall and the answer to their prayers was, “Wait.”

    But “wait” didn’t mean “stand still,” and the compelling question of ministry continued to motivate the church. For several years they had sponsored a soccer league that developed into a comfortable, friendly, weekly get together at the soccer field for about 85 Christian children and their families.

    “That’s not outreach,” said Cabaniss. When the coordinator had to drop out the church went a different direction. They passed out flyers in each elementary school — all of which are Title 1 schools with a high percentage of poor students. The church “charged” just $5 but easily overlooked even that “dignity fee,” and 200 rambunctious, excited children flooded the field.   About three dozen church members volunteered as coaches and organizers, and other members came as cheerleaders for whatever team needed some that day.

    Long after the church had decided to scholarship the entire program if necessary the Cannon Foundation responded with a $15,000 grant because the six-week effort would contribute to healthy habits of children and their families.

    Participants 4 years old through fourth grade had one practice during the week and games on Saturdays. Families received information about the church and church members led devotions for the families. Coaches led devotions for their teams.

    A big season-ending carnival followed a recognition service in the sanctuary. Parrott said families had to attend the service to participate in the carnival, but the purpose was to break the barrier of intimidation that often keeps strangers from braving entry into a large, imposing, traditional church building.

    Cabaniss said the soccer ministry gave his members a chance to do something bigger than themselves. It connected them with people different from themselves, gave them a chance to serve their community and helped them grow in their own faith as they saw God at work and prayers answered in a neglected part of town. They saw seeds planted that they intend to nurture and to see God harvest “in His time.”

    “What we do is relational,” Parrott said. “We didn’t go into it thinking we’re doing this to get new members. We did it to be a presence in that community, whatever that meant, but we knew it meant getting in their back yard.”

    Now Parrott is the “soccer lady” in the local grocery store and the church gets calls all the time about a new soccer season. The church is holding three Saturday skills and devotion clinics in April.

    If things progress on their current track, future soccer teams will play in the shadow of an 11,000-sqare-foot, $1.6 million ministries building that will serve the homeless and hungry in Kannapolis. It will be the simple, functional building First Baptist Church builds for others rather than the new complex for itself it was considering. It will have a basketball court, kitchen, a sleeping area and space for feeding and a clothes closet.

    First Baptist will hold Bible school there and have activities, “but it is such a far cry from the really pretty building we were going to build,” Parrott said. “We will build it for others, not for ourselves.”

    (EDITOR’S NOTE — Jameson is reporting and coordinating special projects for ABP on an interim basis. He is former editor of the North Carolina Biblical Recorder.)

    (SPECIAL NOTE — Thank you for your continued support of the Biblical Recorder site. During this interim period while we are searching for a new Editor/President the comments section will be temporarily discontinued. Thank you for your understanding and patience in this. If you do have comments or issues with items we run, please contact or call 919-847-2127.)

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