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Revitalization on a dead end street

 

Gerald Harris/Index

Left to right, Willie Edmondson, Stacy Dyer, and Aaron McCullough are filmed for a Georgia Baptist Convention promotional video. Edmondson is pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in LaGrange and Bethlehem Baptist Church in West Point. Dyer serves as GBC state missionary in Church Revitalization while McCullough is director of missions for Troup Association.

LAGRANGE — In a recent meeting hosted by Troup Association Director of Missions Aaron McCollough at Antioch Baptist Church in LaGrange, local pastors and Georgia Baptist state missionaries heard a plaintive cry for help from W.T. Edmondson. The plea came on behalf of Antioch Church, which weeks ago was hanging in the balance between extinction and revitalization.

Antioch Baptist Church is located at 129 Sunset Street in LaGrange. Actually, nothing could be more terminal that being located at the extremity of a dead end street named “Sunset.”

Four months ago Antioch had no money. The lights were out. The utilities had not been paid. The roof was leaking. The flooring in the Sunday School classes was perilously unstable. There was no one left who was able to teach Sunday School. So, the Sunday School had been suspended.

The church had two pianos in the worship center, but they were inoperable and beyond repair. The walls and the ceiling in the worship center were giving evidence of serious water damage. The church had not had the Lord’s Supper in five years.

That is when Willie T. Edmondson entered the scene.

The eminently capable Edmondson has served for 30 years as pastor of the thriving Bethlehem Baptist Church in West Point, located 15 miles southwest of LaGrange. Edmondson is also a LaGrange city councilman, chairman of the Health Department Board, member of the Chamber of Commerce Tourism Board, and the owner of Lakes-Dunson-Robertson Funeral Home.

But Edmondson grew up in the Antioch community and was groomed to become a God-fearing Christian. With a deep resonant voice, Edmondson explained, “I came to Jesus on the ‘mourners’ bench’ at Antioch on Thursday night at the August meeting in 1959. I also felt the call of God upon my life at Antioch and served that church as an usher, pianist, organist, and deacon.

"We are going to take the church from the four walls to the streets. We will go door-to-door to reach the unchurched. I believe this church can become a leading church in LaGrange."

Willie Edmonson

“In 1982 I joined First Baptist Church Fannin Street in LaGrange, where I was called to preach and six months later I became pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church.”

But four months ago Edmondson was called back to Antioch to address the congregation. He said, “There were four adults on the right side of the church and three children on the left side of the church. They wanted to know how to sign the death certificate and bury a church that was in its last stage of life.

“I was not willing to pray the final benediction and pronounce that the church was dead. I can remember when the church was flourishing and when it had influential members – teachers, doctors, businessmen, and senators.

“So, the people asked me if I would come and help them. I told them I would come, but that we had a 9 a.m. and an 11a.m. service at Bethlehem with 1,000 people in attendance in the two services and I could not come to preach until 2 p.m. on Sunday. I thought that would convince them to do something else, but they jumped at the idea and so we have been meeting on Sunday afternoon.

"I was not willing to pray the final benediction and pronounce that the church was dead."

Willie Edmondson, pastor
Antioch Baptist Church

“I told the people at Bethlehem that I needed 50 of them to come to Antioch to help with the revitalization of my home church, but more than 50 have been coming. We have filled up the church building on Sunday afternoon.

“The first Sunday we received an offering of $1,100 and the next Sunday $1,400 was given. We have solved the lighting problem. We have paid the utility bills. We have cut down the weeds and painted the outside of the church and we are moving forward. I even purchased a keyboard so we could have music in our worship services.”

Edmondson is also beginning to implement at Antioch some of the outreach ideas that have made Bethlehem a great church. They recently had a block party on the church property with lots of food and inflatables for the children’s entertainment. More than 200 children came to the event and many of them and their parents have started coming to the church worship services.

There is a housing project behind the church with a significant amount of drug trafficking taking place. Some suggested that the gate to that property be locked to prevent those people from coming onto the church property.

Gerald Harris/Index

Stacy Dyer looks on as his daughter, Lindsey, films a video of Pastor Willie Edmondson, GBC state missionary in Associational Missions Stuart Lang, and Aaron McCullough in Antioch Baptist Church, LaGrange. Lindsey Dyer is a sophomore at Truett-McConnell College.

Edmondson said, “No! We are looking for lost people. That is the gate to the Promised Land. We are going to reach those people and God is going to change their lives.

“Initially I thought I had come to help these people at Antioch, but they are helping me. They are so appreciative of anything you do for them. I just want to be their pastor long enough to help them establish a strong ministry so a new pastor can come in and do well.

“We are going to do the key things we have done at Bethlehem to insure growth and good health. We are going to take the church from the four walls to the streets. We will go door-to-door to reach the unchurched. I believe this church can become a leading church in LaGrange.

“The church property needs a lot of work. This building is not what God wants for the people in this community. God and His temple deserve our best. That is what I want for this church.”

Edmondson has served as vice moderator of Troup Baptist Association and plans to bring the Antioch church into the association as well as the Georgia Baptist Convention, just as he did with Bethlehem Baptist Church.

► To attain a list of needs of Antioch Baptist Church, contact Pastor Edmondson (706-645-2415) or Aaron McCollough (706-884-1975) for additional information of how you or your church can help.