Replanting time | WORLD
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Replanting time

Pastor finds he can reap harvest in an unlikely place for church growth

Neal C. Lauron/Genesis

Replanting time
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Scholar Charles Murray notes that in the “upper middle class, while religiosity has declined, it hasn’t declined as much as it has in the white working class. The bottom has fallen out of religious observance in the white working class” (“American abyss,” WORLD, Nov. 3, 2012).

One of those working class areas lies along Randolph Street in Charleston, W.Va., an urban road with little to attract the attention of a passing traveler on Interstate 64. The street begins on the northern bank of the Elk River, just before its rolling waters flow into the larger Kanawha, and cuts a diagonal slash northwest. The buildings that line Randolph Street are squat, brick or metal-sided, grimy and faded. Three vacant lots are strewn across the first six blocks.

Directly across from one of those vacant lots is Randolph Street’s only sign of recent elegance: a stately two-story brick structure, with classical columns and stained-glass windows, that has just undergone a new expansion project, an auditorium designed to seat 350 people. Randolph Street Baptist Church, or Randolph as its members call it, looks out of place next to a Sherwin-Williams paint store—but that out-of-place sense is what drew Jason McClanahan to the church’s pastorate in 2007.

McClanahan and his wife Ginger had already planted a church in Columbus, Ohio, the state capital. Lanky, energetic, and passionate about church planting, McClanahan was a West Virginia native interested in going elsewhere and starting a new church in a growing and preferably affluent area. Charleston—a capital city with a declining population in a declining state—was not on his radar.

Then McClanahan saw an ad from Randolph’s pulpit committee: It was seeking someone to “replant” the church. Founded in 1923, Randolph has stood at its present location since 1926 and seen its membership fall to about 40 people, most over the age of 50. After he read the ad, McClanahan became convinced God was calling him to Randolph and Charleston: “Appalachia may not be the most glamorous of church planting options, but there is a clear and distinct need.”

For Randolph’s pulpit committee and members, McClanahan was a man who understood their heritage and “would not look down on us.” Convinced a fit existed on both ends, McClanahan became Randolph’s new pastor in September 2007. Fifty people sat in the wooden pews to hear McClanahan preach his first sermon, laying out a vision for “a church that is going to multiply, that is going to plant churches.” People looked at him with an “Are you serious?” look on their faces, but some young couples began to come, and average attendance grew to 233 in January 2011.

Two things stood out to Randolph’s visitors and brought them back: solid biblical preaching and a rich church community life. When Keith and Elizabeth Pickard relocated with a 6-week-old baby and joined Randolph, church members painted the walls of their new home and brought meals: “We didn’t have to cook for two weeks.” When Randolph founded an Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies to train church members and future pastors, it drew Alabama native Jarod Bare to Charleston, and he came away with a sense of connectedness: “If you don’t eat lunch with somebody [on Sunday] you end up hanging out with them later that day.”

Randolph now has more than 300 people attending, 11 men training to become pastors, and McClanahan thinking long-term: “The ultimate fruit of this is going to be a generation or two down the road. … I long for the day when my grandchildren or great-grandchildren can live in a region that is full of healthy local churches that value the supremacy of God over all things.”

Heavy weapons

One in three American children is obese: The percentage has nearly tripled in three decades. We debate soda bans and genetically modified organisms (GMO). We herald healthier menus at school cafeterias and fast-food joints. But we seldom hear how obesity is addressed at home.

Enter Dara-Lynn Weiss and her daughter Bea, who stepped on a scale at the pediatrician’s office: 93 pounds. The doctor pulled Weiss aside, showing her a girls’ body mass index chart. At 4 feet 4 inches, Bea, 7, was obese. The label was shocking: “This word put our family in a whole different, more alarming category,” Weiss writes in her memoir, The Heavy: A Mother, A Daughter, A Diet (Ballantine Books, 2013).

Weiss, a Manhattan media producer, recalls how she grew concerned as Bea’s weight shot up between ages 3 and 6 and she scarfed down “adult-size plates of food.” Weiss writes, “By staying silent, we were leaving her to find her own path in the dark, which wasn’t helping her at all.”

Weiss embarked on a year of grueling calorie-counting. School lunches, birthday parties, and Starbucks hot cocoa on a cold day became problematic. Bea floundered and complained. Friends questioned Weiss’ methods—particularly how she rewarded Bea’s progress with Diet Coke and hundred-calorie cupcake packs.

In April 2012, Weiss wrote in Vogue about her awkward quest to curb Bea’s overeating. Parenting blogs erupted over the glossy spread that pictured Weiss and a slimmed-down Bea in designer garb. Critics likened Weiss to Tiger-mom Amy Chua and predicted Bea would battle eating disorders in her teens.

Weiss now says she regrets involving her daughter in the magazine photo shoot, but defends the measures that helped Bea lose 16 pounds. “People are so critical of childhood obesity, and then you try to do something about it—to help your child—and they’re critical of that too,” she told The New York Times.

After a year of dieting, Weiss and her husband rejoiced when Bea returned from a three-week summer camp without gaining a pound: “We’d taught her how to eat properly, and she’s taken those lessons and made them a part of her life. Isn’t that what we parents hope for?” The Weiss story focuses on something largely missing from the public debate over childhood obesity: parental responsibility. —Mary Jackson

—Josh Blount is an associate pastor in Franklin, W.Va.

Josh Blount Josh and his wife, Anna, live in Franklin, W.Va., where he serves as an associate pastor at Living Faith Church.


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