Parsonages are not yet a relic of a bygone era, but many pastors now prefer to own their own home.
Many church-owned houses, as well as other buildings, are now under-utilized or simply left empty as a result.
This was precisely the situation at Ardmore Baptist, a 1,000-plus member church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where, to quote their website, “Ministry matters!” and every member is encouraged to find their calling.
So, the congregation was determined to put their empty parsonage to good use.
For a time, it was a home-away-from-home for families in town while a member was being treated at a local hospital. But when a similar facility opened – one sponsored by the world’s largest fast-food chain – it was back to the drawing boards. Literally.
On March 22, 2020, Pastor Tyler Tankersley and Minister of Missional Engagement Amy Gallaher attended a conference of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina (CBFNC) where they learned of Welcome House, whose purpose is to provide temporary housing to refugees awaiting permanent resettlement.
Gallaher, an ordained minister, says she and Tankersley looked at each other and knew they had found their new mission.
Two weeks later, the COVID-19 virus slammed the U.S., and it wasn’t until 2021 that Gallaher began to lead the church in a prayerful discernment process that would create the unanimity of purpose that she knew would be necessary for the new mission to succeed.
In January 2022, the church formally adopted the Welcome House model as their own. May 1 is the target date for welcoming new residents who will likely be Afghan.
The project is bringing church members together in the same way it hopes to draw refugees into the community.
The house needs significant remodeling, which is being completed by youth group members and adults, in some cases whole families working together. Currently, the work involves pulling out nails and knocking down old cabinets, and it will soon include installing new flooring and appliances.
Gallaher says that Matthew 25:35 guides the ministry: “For I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger, and you welcomed me” (NRSV).
As she tells it, this brought her life full circle.
She grew up in Hungary where her parents worked with Roma, but says she told God that she didn’t want her vocation to have anything to do with missions.
However, when she returned to the U.S. and graduated from college, she attended seminary and was called to Ardmore Baptist where she is now the pastor for missiology.
Gallagher sees similarities between her parents’ work and her church’s ministry to refugees who, like the Roma, are seen as outsiders.
The Welcome House Community Network (WHCN) is a collaborative effort of CBFNC, CBF Field Personnel Kim and Marc Wyatt, and a variety of agencies. The Ardmore project, for example, works with World Relief, an international Christian humanitarian organization.
Marc Wyatt explains that, though the more than 30 projects operate within guidelines that prevent proselytizing, this does not mean the message cannot be shared. Christmas and Easter presents may include, along with toys and gift cards, the story of Christ’s birth and resurrection in the recipient’s language.
As for how the mission of spreading the gospel may be accomplished more broadly, he emphasizes that they are not operating on their own schedule. He describes the provision of housing and hospitality as a holistic approach which reflects the kingdom of God at work in the world.
After speaking with Gallaher and Marc Wyatt, I visited my favorite editing spot – the local Dunkin’ Donuts – to review my notes as I considered how to communicate their dedication to providing hospitality and their hope that it will continue to spread.
I looked around the space, crowded on a Saturday morning. The television was on mute and Valentines were dangling from the ceiling, when I saw Matthew 25:35 in bold on a gray background.
Matthew 25? It was written on a sweatshirt worn by a man paying for his order at the cash register. He finished his transaction, turned and walked by my table.
Of course, I got his attention, and he was happy to tell me that he had been rescued by a church that took him in when he had nowhere to go. Now his mission is to bring that hope to others.
Ardmore Baptist Church, WHCN and the Wyatts, have the same purpose. Their ministry is their mission, and it speaks for itself.
A recent graduate of the Yale Divinity School looking forward to a career in religious journalism, she was a Good Faith Media Ernest C. Hynds Jr. Intern for the spring 2022 semester.