The future didn’t look bright for Churchwell Avenue Baptist Church when the Rev. Ken Link arrived two years ago.
“There were 15 people there. They were discouraged,” said Link, a Carson-Newman graduate who has been a minister and a police chaplain for 30 years. “They wanted to reach out to the neighborhood, but they had been led to believe they were never going to be able to do it,” he said.
Two years later, things are looking up. The little congregation has a plan. Link announced it on the Oakwood Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association Facebook page last month:
“WE ARE TIRED OF TALKING!
“Hello all, my name is Ken Link and I am the Pastor at Churchwell Avenue Baptist Church – 501 E. Churchwell Ave.
“We believe in community at our church. But it seems that most well-intentioned churches can get distracted with talk and never produce any fruit for the people around them.
“We don’t do religion; we do relationships at Churchwell, so we would like to introduce a new emphasis for our community called, ‘Do Church Well.’”
The plan was simple – reach out to neighbors who could use some help.
“The Bible says we are to take care of the widows and orphans and all the people in need,” Link said.
He got a map of neighborhood demographics from the Tennessee Southern Baptist Conference that listed all the older widows who live alone and “orphans,” which are defined as single parent families. (“I don’t want to insult anybody. It’s just a designation, not a judgment.”) There were no available listings for veterans.
He originally asked for maps showing numbers within a one-mile radius of the church but found so many people in need that he called back and asked for a half-mile map. He found 200 people.
Because his church is too small to pay him full-time salary, Link calls himself a “bivocational pastor,” and he spends his weekdays in a van, making deliveries around the area. This gives him a lot of time to think and to plan. He is excited by the strong response from his neighbors, and in the next few days, a crew overseen by a church member will rebuild a neighbor’s front stairs. She’ll buy the lumber; they’ll tear out the old stairs, build the new ones and haul away what’s left.
On July 2, he took to the OLPNA Facebook page again:
“We have liftoff!
“The “Do Church Well” effort to help our neighbors has launched and is beginning to pick up steam.
“The week of July 22-27 Churchwell Avenue Baptist Church will be hosting a youth group from the Nashville area. This will be a great time to assist neighbors that have a need.
“Painting, yard work, small jobs are what we are looking for. If you are a senior, a single parent, or a veteran/first responder we would like to help you in some small way.
“And, as always, we invite neighbors to invest a little time into assisting us meet these needs. Several have come out to work with us and we have had a blast!
“To share a need or to inquire about helping please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
“Together we CAN make a difference.
“Pastor Ken Link”
Link said there’s new energy in his congregation, which has doubled in size and conducts a weekly service at Oakwood Senior Living just down the street. They’re also hearing from others who want to pitch in.
“We’re about helping people that need the help and don’t have other resources. We’re not trying to redo the whole neighborhood or start a handyman service. We’re just doing what churches are supposed to be doing, and if we can’t meet the needs within a half mile of the church, it doesn’t make sense to be talking about reaching out to the world.”
Link is excited about the church’s new mission.
“We’ve had a phenomenal response. One lady said she’d just lost her job and rather than feel sorry for herself she wanted to come to work. We haven’t heard one negative.
“If our church is going to die, we’re going to die doing something rather than sitting around waiting for the death angel to come.”