The little church that could and does
May 17 2002 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

The little church that could and does | Friday, May 17, 2002

Friday, May 17, 2002

The little church that could and does

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor

HEATHSVILLE - The little church called Antioch sits on a back road running through the cotton fields of Eastern North Carolina. The population growth that fuels expansion of many N.C. churches remains far removed from the crossroads community of Heathsville, where most new residents are migrant farm workers who live in nearby camps.

Antioch Baptist Church is 161 years old, and many of its members are aging, too - but its ministries are multiplying. The church's pastor, Joy Heaton, dubs it "the little church that could."

The church recently began an outreach to developmentally delayed adults. While Antioch's regular attenders fit easily into three small Sunday School classes, the fellowship hall overflows with the new "Smiles Class."

Class members are developmentally delayed adults from group homes and families in the community.

Charles Jack works with LIFE, Inc., a company that operates 30 residential care facilities for developmentally delayed adults in Eastern North Carolina. He was delighted when Heaton came to him, looking for ministry opportunities with residents.

"Usually I have to go out and hunt places and ask if we can come," he said, "so we very much appreciate the ministry offered by the church."

On an average Sunday, a dozen residents, accompanied by several caretakers, make their way to the Smiles Class, presided over by Carolyn Vick. It was Vick's interest that led to the formation of the class, Heaton says. Vick has helped with the Baptist State Convention's "Happiness Retreats" at Caraway, held annually for developmentally delayed adults, for more than 15 years. She has a special passion for the ministry, in which she is assisted by son, Dean, who is mildly affected by the condition. Tommy Wrenn, Hope Carter and others also assist. Church member Ernie Vick, oldest son of Carolyn Vick, occasionally dons biblical costumes to tell illustrated Bible stories.

The youngest class member is 23; the oldest is in her 50s. Some are Caucasian, some are African American. The church has opened its arms to both.

A typical class begins with coloring, which some members enjoy more than others. One member, who colors with great vigor, snaps one crayon after another. "All broke!" he says, with a smile.

The class always includes a time for singing as joyful as it is off-key, and often includes hand motions. There are Bible stories, refreshments, and crafts - a typical curriculum for children, who in this case happen to reside in adult bodies.

Before Antioch began the Smiles Class, residents occasionally visited other churches, but had no regular place to go or targeted program of religious education. Volunteers who work with the class find that blessings work both ways. As Vick puts it, "They've done our hearts so good!"

What Heathsville lacks in year-round population, it makes up for in Sunday smiles.

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5/17/2002 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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