By Lance Hickey
Weaverville – In the rolling, often snow-capped, mountains of northern Weaverville, a local community of Christians have gathered to worship for more than a century while working to help others reach their full potential in life.Locust Grove Baptist Church began serving the Weaverville and Mars Hill communities nearly 130 years ago.
The church, located minutes from the Madison County line, was established by two area mother churches, Flat Creek Baptist Church and Gabriel’s Creek Baptist Church as a more convenient church located between the two.
For this week’s edition of our Where We Worship series, I attended Locust Grove Baptist Church. Since its founding, Locust Grove saw instantaneous growth, creating the opportunity to impact many who live in the outskirts of Buncombe and Madison Counties and eventually abroad.
In 1991, the church’s former pastor, Dr. Walter Ponder, began to lead the church in a new missional direction, to Brazil. Since that year, Locust Grove and its members have built chapels for churches in Brazil every year. The Pantanal Project continues today with the goal of establishing a local church in every village in the area.
The church has now built more than twenty churches in Brazil and a seminary (built in 2002), according to church officials. Pastor Ben Whitmire now leads Locust Grove, following Ponders’ resignation to head into full-time missions work in Brazil in 2006. Parishioners packed the sanctuary as they eagerly greeted one another.
The music team stepped forward as service began. White chandeliers hung from the ceiling. Stained-glass windows with portraits of Jesus covered the walls of the sanctuary. A baptismal pool with a mountainous-painted backdrop sat at the back of the stage.
A music leader welcomed the congregation as the music team played the first hymnal of the day. In a harmonious roar, the church sang “It’s a “Grand and a Glorious Feeling.” The team followed by singing “Higher Ground” and “Yes, I Will” before transitioning into a contemporary melody. They sang “Living Hope” by Phil Whickham. Parishioners lifted their hands passionately while singing the melody. The time dedicated to music and worship appeared unique as the service proved to be captivating for audiences of many generations, with a definite mix of traditional hymns and contemporary Christian music.
Following the moments designated for worship, a folk composition group stepped forward to play a musical rendition during the church offering. Animated as the folk group was, the congregation matched the group’s enthusiasm, relaying their satisfaction with roaring applause.
Pastor Whitmire stepped forward to present his weekend message as the congregation sat in the pews. Using creation in a theological context, he focused on the power of leaving old mindsets and prejudices behind. Whitmire seemed to connect with the audience as they listened intently to his free-form, yet instructional, presentation. As service came to a close, Whitmire gave a final invitation before a commencing hymn played and service dismissed.
Service at Locust Grove Baptist church was both traditional in its presentation while yet contemporary in other contexts. The church seemed to demonstrate its value of helping all generations and all people, a value many in the community embrace.