MARIETTA — “Bloom where you are planted” is a quote attributed to Mary Engelbreit, writer and designer of greeting cards and children’s books.
For Marietta’s Milford Baptist Church Engelbreit’s quote is far more than a shrewd statement or clever cliché. It's a firm commitment, an avowed purpose and way of life.
So often when a community begins to go through a demographic shift and residents head to the newer, more affluent suburbs churches choose to follow the flight of the faithful rather than adjust to the needs and demands of a changing community, but not Milford Baptist.
In 1970 when many established churches were flourishing, Milford was a strong, family-oriented church in a vibrant middle-class community. Good attendance, stable finances and a full-orbed ministry characterized the church.
Then it began to happen. Perhaps imperceptibly at first, but families and churches began to migrate to the suburbs. Businesses dependent upon the patronage of those migrating families began to struggle to survive. Eventually many of those businesses closed.
Consequently, Milford became a community in transition, putting the church at a crossroads. They asked themselves, “Was it time for fight or flight?” The choice was made. They decided to continue to fight the good fight of faith in the community where they had served since 1872. They decided to bloom where they were planted, to brighten the corner where they are.
Chad Williams, chairman of the deacons at Milford, commented, “God planted Milford Baptist church in this community 144 years ago to serve this area. Even though the community has experienced many changes, the core principles of Milford have remained the same. We are here to win the lost and serve the people.”
Clarence Howard, the pastor at Milford, explained, “We recognized that if a community church was going to survive the answer was pretty simple. We would need to reintroduce ourselves to the new members of the community as a church who cared. That would require some creative thinking and major adjustments.
“So, in 2012 we established what we call our C3 Ministries. The three C’s stand for Christ, Community, and Compassion. These three emphases have become the catalyst for the church’s ministry and outreach.”
The cornerstone of the C3 effort has been the food distributions, which take place on Thursday nights and Sunday afternoons. Approximately 200 families are aided each week. One box of food generally weighs about 50 pounds. Last year the Milford church distributed over 750,000 pounds of food.
However, the focus of the ministry is not just about physical needs. At each food distribution there are testimonies, a Gospel message, and interaction between church members and those who are the objects of the church’s love and concern.
The church also seeks to intercede for those who come to benefit from the food distribution efforts. Freida Edwards, the church’s prayer ministry leader, remarked, “The one thing I have noticed from the time the ministry started is that although people come for food, they are just as intent on having the church pray for their needs.”
Since its inception other ministries have been started under the C3 umbrella. There is the mobile food drive, which takes place once a month supplying fresh fruits, vegetables, and other items for people in the community. The student ministry at Milford also delivers 75 boxes of food each month to a Senior Center.
In the summer the Milford church becomes home to hundreds of teens in cooperation with another ministry. Camp counselors are based at the church throughout the summer. Additionally, there are 40-50 campers who make Milford home while they do inner city ministry in the city of Atlanta.
Nothing is stagnant at Milford Baptist Church and plans are being made to remodel the gymnasium in order to accommodate a community sports program this fall. A large number of participants are expected and many will have their fees subsidized through private donations and the C3 Ministries.
The outreach of the church is remarkably effective, but how does a relatively small church in a declining community carry out a ministry of such proportions?
“Volunteers play a huge role in the ministry, " Pastor Howard commented. "People are needed to drive trucks for pickup, unload shipments, and pack boxes.
“Then there is need for the personal element. Guests need to be checked in and volunteers are required to help transport groceries by shopping carts to the cars of those being served. Each contact point provides an opportunity for members to share the love of Christ.
“Church members are the backbone of the ministry,” avowed Howard. “However, other volunteers come from various sources. We are privileged to cooperate with DUAL, a Cobb County drug treatment program as well as with the Work Release program of the Cobb County Probation Office. Interestingly, some of those who receive assistance, come back to volunteer.”
Brenda Maynard, Milford member and director of the C3 Ministries, testified, “It is an absolute joy to see the interaction between church members, community volunteers, and those in our community looking for a new beginning. It reminds me of the cooperative spirit of the early church.”
One might ask, how is the Milford church able to afford a ministry of this scope?
Candice Farmer, the church’s administrative assistant, exclaimed, “It is amazing to see that when this ministry to the community began, the Lord immediately blessed it with support from the church and also area businesses and organizations.”
The church takes an offering once each year called “Step Up to the Plate." The funds from this one-time offering are used to help reduce the debt at Milford as well as subsidize the C3 Ministry.
One organization gave a new walk-in industrial refrigerator and freezer to store the food for distribution. Another business donated a computer/scanning system so the process could go smoother and the records could be more accurate. An additional organization has provided major financial support to the ministry. And even though the majority of food items are purchased each week from a local food bank, local grocery stores provide other food items.
Howard concluded, “It is truly a blessing to see the ministry flourish and church become stable again. In fact, in December we anticipate paying off a church debt that will make the church debt-free for the first time since 1967. There is no doubt we are where God wants us to be, doing what God wants us to do.”
Torrye Thornton, who lives in the community and has become a volunteer in the ministry added, “Milford Baptist Church has been a wonderful blessing to my family and this community. I am so glad they are here.”
Torrye’s comments prove that Milford Baptist Church made a great decision when they decided to bloom where they are planted.