December 2020- January 2021
Passing the Faith
What a Ride!
By Edward E. Moody, Jr.
Chloe and I pulled out of LaGrange, North Carolina, early on August 31, 2019. A brown dachshund who thought she was the protector of our family, I couldn’t help but wonder how she would handle the trip. Passing Raleigh, I decided to stop one last time at my favorite coffee shop: Cup A Joe. The shop had just opened when I began to visit as a new student at North Carolina State University 27 years earlier. I’d stopped there many times while making the trip to North Carolina Central University in Durham. I often made final adjustments to my Wednesday night Bible studies there. I got my coffee, and Chloe and I were set.
It was the first time I’d paused over the previous weeks. My mind wandered back to my last day as pastor of Tippett’s Chapel. We had already said our goodbyes, but our last day fell on Wednesday. We continued our regular activities, and I concluded the final lesson for our adult Bible study series.
Earlier that day, I had visited the UNC Burn Center to see a church neighbor who had been severely burned. It was like everything had come full circle. Early in our ministry, I had tried to interact with him and there, in those last hours, we were talking about Jesus. I had started at Tippett’s Chapel on a Thursday. Nineteen years and two months later, I ended on Wednesday. As we rolled west, I thought about the ups and downs, and the way God worked. I looked over at Chloe (pictured below) and thought, “What a ride!”
It was hard to believe how everything fell into perfect place. We packed our home, closed on one house, and bought another and moved almost simultaneously. Chloe stayed with my parents while Lynne set up the house in Nashville, and Mitchell moved into the dorm at Welch College for his freshman year. After a weekend in Nashville, I caught a plane back to North Carolina and spent a final week in Chapel Hill, finishing up my work at North Carolina Central University.
On my last day at NCCU, students and faculty kept coming by the office, and I felt there was so much more to do. I just couldn’t get things wrapped up. Finally, a long-time faculty member and close friend remarked, “It will never end until you go.”
So, I said my goodbyes and walked out the door, almost 24 years to the day since I had begun my work there. Much happened during those years. I had a role in hiring most of the faculty in the School of Education. We developed new programs, and I was privileged to work with many wonderful students. I hoped I had been salt and light. As we rolled toward Nashville, I looked over at Chloe and thought, “What a ride!”
Over the course of a ten-hour trip with a dachshund who requires frequent bathroom stops, you can process a lot. I thought about the trip from Tennessee to North Carolina 29 years earlier when our truck broke down in the mountains. As we approached Nashville, I recalled the time I made the trip from North Carolina to Nashville to become a new student at then Free Will Baptist Bible College. After hours of pondering, we finally pulled up to our new home. I looked over at Chloe, and her expression seemed to be saying, “What a ride!”
It was Labor Day weekend. On Labor Day, we met Keith Burden and his wife Debbie at the National Offices Building. They helped Lynne and me get acclimated. As I moved into the office, I immediately noticed the Free Will Baptist logo on every bookshelf. My mind went to Dr. Melvin Worthington. It gives me a deep sense of responsibility to know the kind of men I followed into that office. The next day, it was off to Oklahoma City with our team to plan the 2020 National Convention. I watched Brother Keith interact with the officials and noted the important relationships he had developed over the years. I would understand how important those Oklahoma City relationships were a few months later.
September sped by, and soon Keith and Debbie said their goodbyes. Suddenly, the traveling began: the D6 Conference followed by a service with Pastor Jim Christian in Florida. (I’m so glad I was able to be with him before he passed away.) Then it was off to North Carolina (twice), Arkansas, West Virginia, back to North Carolina and a service in Tennessee, followed by the Leadership Conference and the holidays. Between trips, we recorded podcasts and videos, and developed new resources our churches could utilize.
The New Year kicked off in Florida, then back to Oklahoma City and up to Michigan. Snow covered the ground when I met with Jimmy Lawson and our pastors in Michigan, but I left them for sunny Florida and several blistering hot days in Cuba. I found myself drawn to Florida again in February, then South Carolina, and Georgia. When I got home, I learned that Chloe had become very ill in my absence. She died the afternoon of March 2. That night, historic numbers of damaging tornadoes rolled through Tennessee, but Lynne and I were so exhausted, we never stirred. Chloe would have awakened us.
Those devastating tornadoes allowed us to see our churches in action, as hundreds partnered with The Donelson Fellowship to help. On the Wednesday after the tornadoes, I drove their path along I-40 to Cookeville FWB Church to meet the Disaster Response Team from South Carolina. Other teams came from Florida, Illinois, and only Ken Akers or Chris Dotson could tell us where else. Today, nine months later, that recovery work goes on. Samaritan’s Purse still has offices at Sylvan Park FWB Church, and every weekday, a team goes out to rebuild homes in East Nashville.
The following weekend, Lynne and I returned to North Carolina, to Bethel FWB Church in Kinston, where I grew up. When we returned to the office, we hosted a church coaches training led by Dr. Danny Dwyer, partnering with North American Ministries to turn Dr. Dwyer into a “coach of coaches” to greatly expand our efforts to create healthy churches.
After such a hectic schedule, I realized I did not feel well, perhaps a bit run down. I went to the doctor but did not improve. About the time I was scheduled to arrive in Arizona that weekend, I found myself in a hospital in Nashville. As the doctors were treating me, we spent a great deal of time talking about COVID-19. Those conversations became very valuable in the days and weeks to come.
On Sunday, March 15, I was at home when I received the CDC recommendations regarding COVID. I quickly forwarded them to my friend Harold Koenig, a Duke University medical researcher and asked, “Does this mean what I think it means?” His response made it clear that everything was about to change.
On Monday morning, Moderator Tim York and I called an emergency meeting with state leaders and shared what we knew. We all were very worried for our churches and our people. We began to work with our churches to point them toward technical assistance to help them get online. Before long, we officially shut the National Offices Building down, but we continued to run the mail and get those IRS letters out on the day we received the request.
Despite the social restrictions and growing pandemic, I sensed Free Will Baptists were going to be okay on March 22, when it felt like every Free Will Baptist church in North America sent a picture of their pastor conducting an online service. Prior to COVID-19, evangelical churches and denominations (including our own) were under great duress. When I finally went to bed that night, I felt an overwhelming sense of joy. Our pastors were trying hard to minister to their people, and our people were proud of their efforts. Hope in the Darkness!
Our team worked to produce resources to help our people. Though we did this during COVID, most of the resources developed will remain applicable post COVID. The relationships previously developed in Oklahoma City helped us as we worked with local officials to determine whether it would be possible to have a convention in Oklahoma City.
My first service after the onset of COVID was at Ozark Family Church (MO) on May 31. What a relief to speak to people in person! The next day I joined Missouri for a pared down state meeting. As I drove away, I thought how great it felt to be around people once again, that perhaps we were getting back to normal. The following week, when I traveled to South Carolina for a television interview, I was reminded COVID was still with us. A cameramen had lost an uncle to COVID, and the interviewer’s mother was battling COVID. In many ways it felt we were taking two steps forward and one step back.
Throughout much of June, we were busy getting ready for the General Board meeting and the virtual convention. Sometimes, I wondered if it were more difficult to have a virtual than in-person convention. As the date approached, COVID cases in Nashville spiked, and COVID began to impact many of our departments. We still held the General Board meeting. It is a testament to our people who carefully followed recommended guidelines; otherwise, we undoubtably would have had people become ill. As I drove away that Tuesday after the meeting, I thought of what had happened in the previous few months and said, “What a ride!”
In August, we began talking with state leaders and coaches about what has become the Jeremiah 29 Initiative. We believe we will continue to be impacted by the pandemic for another year, possibly longer. We were reminded that Jeremiah instructed the exiles to build, plant, and pray. We have encouraged our people to do the same through Bible reading and prayer time with family and small groups, and focus upon community. I sometimes wonder if God isn’t actually using COVID and the social unrest that surrounds us to return our focus to Him and His Word and the needs of others.
In 2021, we will focus on the 3 for 30 Plan adopted at the General Board Meeting. In a nutshell, the plan is to reach people for Christ, train our people to minister (and reach others) and to give all of our resources (money, talents, spiritual gifts) in service to the Lord.
The Executive Office plans to equip our people to fulfill these goals by promoting our agencies and educating our people about how to more effectively utilize their services. We hope to equip our people by providing written resources and training (podcasts, webinars, seminars) and coaching (Refresh with NAM). If we effectively use the resources the Lord has provided, we can increase the health and retention of our churches and pastors. It is our hope when we reach 2030, Free Will Baptists will look back, see that God helped us meet these goals, and exclaim, “What a ride!”
About the Writer: Edward E. Moody, Jr., Ph.D. is executive secretary of the National Association of Free Will Baptists.