Church rehabs home for ministry outreach
First Baptist Church, Tallahassee, rebuilds home for urban missionaries, offering a glimpse of "the renewal of the church," pastor says.
By Jeff Brumley
Gary Montgomery recalled the first time, a couple years ago or so, he laid eyes on the foreclosed, rundown house a bank had donated to his Tallahassee-based prison, ex-offender and family ministry.
“The bathtub fell into the crawl space,” he said of the two-bedroom home in the low-income Griffin Heights section of Florida’s capital. “You could just smell the pot in the air.
It was a much different scene Saturday as some two dozen volunteers from First Baptist Church in Tallahassee swarmed over the structure with hammers, crowbars, saws and other tools. Their mission is to rehabilitate the home so Montgomery and his wife, Josephine, can use it as a residence and a base for their non-denominational community ministry.
He described the volunteers as a godsend to Living Stones International and said they are proof of God’s involvement in the project. He also admired their work ethic. “They’re like that (Energizer) bunny,” Montgomery said as the sounds of table saws and power drills echoed through the neighborhood.
But it is the Montgomerys and their in-the-trenches style of ministry that is the inspiration, said William Shiell, the senior pastor at First Baptist.
The stately, big-steeple church is no stranger to outreach and hard work, Shiell said. But helping this couple move into one of the city’s toughest neighborhoods will expand the congregation’s reach, as well.
“Our church is the biggest benefactor,” Shiell said. “We get to participate in transforming a neighborhood in Tallahassee and be involved with a real-life missionary in the city.”
The relationship between the Montgomerys and First Baptist didn’t start out that ambitiously.
‘Basically it was a dump’
The two came together thanks to a church member who was aware of Living Stones’ ministry at Wakulla Correctional Institution in nearby Crawfordville, Fla. Church volunteers helped with the initial cleanup at the home site two years ago, removing debris and clearing the way for later work.
“Basically it was a dump — a foreclosed-on dump,” Shiell said.
The couple eventually received a $45,000 grant from the city — and administered by the church — to rehab the home.
“We had done something similar in another part of town,” Shiell said. “We had a track record of doing the block grant thing.”
Serious work on the Montgomery property began in November when the most skilled volunteers from the church gutted the home, laid new floors and raised part of the roof 12 inches. Saturday was the first all-hands volunteer day of what will be many until the spring.
From the couple’s perspective, it’s felt like First Baptist has become a ministry partner. “They adopted us,” Montgomery said.
Josephine Montgomery, who also goes by J.C, said that’s no easy task.
Griffin Heights is notorious across the city as a drug- and gang-infested area, complete with high unemployment, devastating poverty and the largest percentage of ex-offenders in Tallahassee.
Initially, the plan was to use the donated home as transitional housing for homeless people and inmates transitioning back into society, she said. But she and her husband then felt called to move into the 1,000-square-foot home themselves.
The plan is to live as examples of Christ to the very population they’ve been serving in and around the prison system. Gary Montgomery said they will be providing chaplaincy and pastoral care to their neighbors.
“By us moving here, it sheds light on the problems that are facing our communities,” he said.
Helping people with that kind of calling makes back-breaking work much easier, said Bill Smith, a First Baptist member and volunteer coordinator for the rebuilding of the Montgomery home.
“You gotta realize who you’re doing it for,” Smith said. “You’re doing it for God, and we’re equipping these missionaries to do their job, and I believe in what they’re doing.”
‘Surrounding and supporting them’
Many of the Baptists rehabbing the Griffin Heights home on Saturday were regulars in other construction-outreach efforts, Smith said. They were the same people who helped rebuild Alabama churches after the 2011 tornado outbreak.
Working on the Montgomery home feels the same way those projects did, Smith said. “In this day and time everybody needs everybody.”
Shiell noted the mixture of ages, gender and ethnicities at the worksite and said the construction scene is an image of what it means for Christians to live Christ-like lives.
“This is what the renewal of the church will look like,” he said.
It’s also a reminder that while not all are called to be urban missionaries living in gritty neighborhoods, the church is called to help those who are, Shiell said.
“If Gary and J.C. are willing to do it, then we ought to be surrounding and supporting them.”
© 2014 Associated Baptist Press, Inc.