Gloucester Point Baptist Church was temporarily without a pastor. Dr. Garber had been our leader for fifteen years. Mike Wilkins left us after eight and one half years of ministry. Now we needed time to grieve and regroup. A church questionnaire focused members on goals and preferences for the future. Deacon Gene Cumbia led Wednesday night Prayer Meeting during this interval. He expressed it this way: “Gloucester Point Baptist Church is on a journey. We are climbing a mountain.”
Interim Pastor, Dr. Irvin Acree, came to us in October 2002 and served us ably for an entire year. The Acrees were not strangers to us. Peninsula natives, they had served many years in Uruguay, South America as career missionaries with the Baptist Foreign Mission Board. Our W.M.U. day circle was known as the Annette Acree Circle, honoring Irvin’s wife.
Gloucester Point was not “sleeping” during this year. Our Sunday School Picnic became a churchwide picnic sponsored by the Hospitality Committee and held every spring in nearby New Quarter Park in York County. Ample fields for games, a large covered pavilion for the meal and a lovely fire circle for worship encouraged full participation and fine fellowship.
Nancy Wilburn took the reins at Weekday Preschool. As founder of this mission effort, she was now in the ideal position to evaluate and to refocus this ministry. Our church also started a new outreach in the fall of 2002. “Seniors’ Morning Out” began as another inspiration of Nancy Wil-burn. The group meets every Wednesday from 9:30—11:30 a.m. and welcomes senior citizens of the community for games, crafts, refreshments and most important, fellow-ship. Once a month they even stay to lunch. Barbara Gordon led the group for several years. Now Alice Deal and Jeannie Fitzgerald share the responsibility.
Women’s Missionary Union remained dedicated as always. They led the church to give generously to the four Missionary Offerings: International (Lottie Moon), North American (Annie Armstrong), State (Alma Hunt) and Local Peninsula Baptist Association (George Kissinger). W.M.U. introduced a new endeavor in 2002: Operation Christmas Child. Franklin Graham distributes Christmas shoeboxes filled with gifts to needy children around the world. This project is ideal for fostering a giving spirit in children of all ages. Our church has embraced this advent effort every year since then.
We had been collecting funds for years to replace the church organ. In 2003 the organ committee was ready to choose a model for us. Our Ahlborn-Galanti Chronicler I Organ was delivered in the fall. This coincided with our welcoming a new pastor, Reverend John Arthur Ippolito, his wife Greta and young daughter Madelyn.
Pastor John came to us on October 1, 2003 from Fork Baptist Church in Bumpass, Virginia. He had earned his Business Administration Degree from Averett College in 1996. He met and married Greta in Richmond, Virginia. They both entered Southeastern Baptist Theological Semi-nary. John graduated in 2001 with a Master of Divinity Degree, Greta with an M.A. in Counseling Ministry. Reverend Ippolito’s ministry objective was “to joyously fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission of Jesus Christ. With the Lord’s guidance I seek to accomplish this by leading the congregation toward the goal of a balanced spiritual life with respect to worship, ministry, evangelism, fellowship and discipleship.”
God led John and Greta to Gloucester Point Baptist Church in His perfect time. They were young and approachable. We needed young families. Couples with children began to become involved in church activities. Pastor John was a gentle encourager who worked behind the scenes. He enlisted church people to create a booth at “Celebrate Families” Day at Peasley Middle School. Are you aware that John saw a need for a new Sunday School Class, “Safe Harbor”, and convinced Sharon Warren to lead it? (November 2005) This class teaches new Christians basic theology, prayer, and discipleship and they minister together in the community.
Reverend Ippolito and choir director Margaret worked well together during the worship hour. Margaret opened every Sunday morning service by reading from the Psalms.
We now had more children to disciple. Children’s Pro-gram leaders turned to a new curriculum in the fall of 2004 when TeamKid coaches became hard to recruit and inclement weather interfered with sports. Jeannie Barrera, Children’s Ministry Chairperson, described the new FaithWeaver Friends: “Each child experiences a personal friendship with Jesus through opening celebrations and Discovery Centers. From crafts to music to snacks — every activity drives the weekly Bible point home. And through it all, children dis-cover they have a real friend in Jesus and they discover how easy it is to grow in their faith, outreach, and service to others.” Children’s Christmas programs and a Children’s Choir have emerged from this Wednesday night ministry. Meaningful mission projects have included Baby Chicks for Tsunami Victims, Operation Christmas Child, and offerings for W.M.U. mission projects.
Now is as good a time as any to record some of those W.M.U. projects. Joyce Williams, as Mission Involvement Chairperson, has been tenacious in her search for worth-while causes. Yearly we collected supplies for the International Seamen’s Friend House in Newport News and for the Laurel Shelter (for battered women) in Gloucester County, soup for the Salvation Army (on Souper Bowl Sunday), seed packets for Liberia, health supplies for the Mattaponi Healing Eagle Clinic and Eastern State Hospital (Christmas in August) and school and health supplies for Marisa Sanchez, missionary to the migrant workers on the Eastern Shore. Every Christmas we fill Chaplains’ Stockings (money to sup-port Baptist ministry at Virginia prisons and juvenile institutions). In addition, W.M.U. ladies continued to serve sup-per for the Baptist Student Union students at nearby colleges yearly and started also to provide staff lunch at the Mattaponi Eagle Clinic.
Support for W.M.U. outreach comes through educating the church. W.M.U. brings the missionaries here. Lynn Latham came from the Peninsula Baptist Association in 2006. Marisa Sanchez spoke for North American Missions in March 2006 and again in 2009. Mark Custalow, Native American missionary, preached in March of 2007. It’s easy to become involved when you are face to face with a real live missionary!
New leadership came to Gloucester Point Baptist Church in September 2005 when the church hired Darrell Overbey as fulltime Director of Children and Youth. Darrell earned his undergraduate degree at Wayland Baptist University in Texas. He retired from the U.S. Army after twenty years of service and was ordained in the gospel ministry in 2002. He had several years experience working with youngsters in various churches. Darrell had a wife Carol and two teenagers Erin and Andrew. Perhaps Darrell’s biggest accomplishment at our church was the July 2006 Youth Mission Trip, “Work Kamp Katrina”. Our young people had had previous local experience with Union Baptist Church in 2004 repairing homes damaged by Hurricane Isabel. Now Gloucester Point Baptist Church youth and adults traveled to Gulfport, Mississippi and worked side by side to restore a home devastated by Hurricane Katrina. This ministry to Bill, Cathy and Sean Martin was a life-altering experience for many of the seventeen participants. Darrell resigned in November, 2006 to pursue a nursing career.
A definite increase in church offerings was one result of John Ippolito’s ministry with us. Generous giving affected our church mortgage in the following way. Most of the interest-bearing notes from the congregation had been paid off, yet money was still flowing strongly into the Building Fund. Longtime Church Treasurer Tommy Ashe suggested that Gloucester Point Baptist begin to pay up to five hundred dollars monthly on the principal of our bank loan for the addition over and above our regular loan payment. The church approved this action in January 2004. By 2007 Tommy noted that “because of the Building Fund reserve, we now had the funds to pay off the bank loan”. The trustees and Stewardship Committee concurred. After a church vote, our bank loan was paid off on March 29, 2007. The final interest-bearing notes were paid off in July of the same year. We were debt free! A note burning ceremony was held on November 25th to celebrate this accomplishment.
Christmas decorations have always been special at Gloucester Point Baptist Church. Each year we have “Hanging of the Greens” and decorate the Chrismon Tree in the sanctuary. The Advent Wreath and poinsettias are lovely focal points. In 2004 an Angel Tree first appeared in the Narthex. Parishioners each claimed a tag on the tree and bought presents for the family named. This Deacon Ministry continues; every December we distribute the gifts to local needy families. Also in 2004 a third tree was added: live poinsettia plants were placed on a tall evergreen shaped frame in the sanctuary. These brilliant red “Christmas stars” make a beautiful display opposite the Chrismon Tree.
Our Flower Committee switched to artificial wreaths and greens when manufactured greenery became as attractive as real boughs. This was a matter of economics and a solution for keeping greens looking fresh throughout the long advent season. Our Christmas poinsettias (and lilies at Easter), donated by the congregation, continue the “live” tradition, as do the large bouquets which grace the sanctuary for Sunday worship.
Our church held three revivals during these years. Jim Ailor, Director of Missions for Peninsula Baptist Association, led us April 3—6, 2005. Don Campbell came from the Virginia Baptist Board (and as Pastor of Poroporone Baptist Church in the Shacklefords) for a fall revival in 2006. He returned by popular demand the following September.
In June 2007 the church got quite a jolt when Pastor John resigned rather suddenly to take a teaching job in Richmond. His mother, sister and nephew, all living in Richmond, needed his time and attention now that his father had passed on. We would miss the Ippolitos very much. John’s compassion and care were strong examples of Christian love. We had also grown close to Greta, Madelyn and three year old Joseph, born while they were here in Gloucester.