New church has room to grow

March 07, 1998|By CLYDE FORD

by Kevin G. Gilbert / staff photographer

see the enlargement

New church

MIDDLEWAY, W.Va. - The newly-opened Heritage Free Will Baptist Church could probably hold four times as many as the 100 parishioners who gather each Sunday in the sanctuary.

The Rev. Russell Wright wanted to make sure there was room to grow.

Wright moved to the area in 1992 to build a Free Will Baptist congregation, a denomination that was once part of Jefferson County's history, but had died off more than 100 years ago.

He knew only a couple of families when he started, but went door to door spreading the word.

Since then, Wright's seen the congregation grow from about a dozen members to more than 100.

"Our growth hasn't been rapid, but it's been consistent," he said.

For years, they rented an abandoned church in Leetown, W.Va., but decided to build a new one rather than buy the old one that they began to outgrow, he said.


The growth does not surprise him.

"People today are still responding to traditional values," Wright said.

Now the $400,000 church will hold the West Virginia convention of Free Will Baptist churches this spring.

Church members helped in the construction work and donated money. The national office of the denomination also loaned money for the construction.

The congregation moved into their new church about two months ago, he said. The building has about 8,400 square feet and church members are currently working on a multi-purpose addition for the back.

The church spent $27,000 on the pews alone, which are fanned out across the sanctuary.

Wright said that is to keep church members close together.

When he came to the area, he already was experienced at building a church in Lincoln, Neb.

He was leading a congregation in Arkansas when he said he "felt led by the Lord" to return to his home state of West Virginia.

"You just never know if things will go this well," Wright said.

There are about 189 Free Will Baptists across the state. The denomination once had churches throughout the area and had ties to the historic Storer College in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., he said.

Free Will Baptists tend to be "blue collar workers" and many had moved out of the area years ago when jobs were scarce. Most of the Free Will Baptists in West Virginia are still in the coal mining communities.

The faith is a fundamentalist one.

"The Bible never goes out of date," Wright said.

Wright said his long term plan is to build five Free Will Baptist churches in the Eastern Panhandle.

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