Tending a Tiny Flock 

A Baptist minister serves a small South Side congregation.

But Southampton Baptist's members — many of whom were around when the church was founded in the early '50s — are now in their late seventies and eighties. Most no longer drive, some are disabled and many must live with relatives or in assisted-living facilities. As a result, attendance at Sunday services seldom exceeds 30, and the classrooms and fellowship hall are rented out to another congregation to help make ends meet. The church, on Comanche Drive near Chippenham Parkway and Forest Hill Avenue, has no families with children among its membership, and no teenagers. Only one child — a 5-year-old daughter of friends of the associate pastor — attends Sunday school. By herself.

Style Weekly talked to Rev. Jenkins last week and asked him about his plans and hopes for his church, his flock and the future.

Style Weekly: What is significant about your particular congregation?

Rev. Jenkins: They have struggled to maintain this church and to keep it alive, and they deserve a tremendous amount of credit for not giving in. I believe this church is here for a reason and that it has a purpose for its existence.

What challenges do you face as pastor to a congregation of this kind in this situation?

It's a challenge to be able to respond to the needs of people who have spent their lives here, in the same place, and now face a situation where things around them have changed. They now face a challenge about how to reach out to the changing society. Worship needs to be meaningful for each person. And finding meaning in new ways of doing things is difficult. That's just human nature. We all resist things that are new and different from us.

It's also challenging to be able to grow a church that is as old as the members are here. When you don't have any children or teenagers, it limits the attraction for families that do have children and teenagers. There are also limits to what the congregation can physically do in terms of reaching out and meeting the needs around us of those we would like to serve.

Do you have a particular project in mind?

I would love for the church to be able to attract persons from the community who are a lot like we are. The fastest growing segment of the population in the United States consists of people over 55 years of age. All around us, in a two-mile radius of this church, over half the households are one or two-family households. Which means there are a lot of empty nesters or retired people living right nearby. And many of them do not go to church. I would love for us to be able find ways to reach out to them and to help them so that worshipping with us would become something meaningful and helpful in their lives.

We all face, to greater or lesser degree, some sense of isolation in our lives. Especially as we grow older. Our abilities might diminish. Our circle of friends might get smaller. Our children have moved out and made their own lives. It may be a time when making new friends and finding new activities is a challenge. Both spiritual and personal growth and development can happen through the church. And in reaching out to people like this, we are using our strengths to respond to God's purpose for us.

Just as I believe God has a plan for each one of us, I believe he also has a plan for each congregation. This is his plan for ours. I also believe that all of us want to be involved in something greater than ourselves. We want to give something to other people. There is no better place to gather to do that than a church. And it's what God has called us to do. To help one another. S

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