We had been expanding our vision, expanding our programs, expanding our ministerial staff — now it was time to expand our building to accommodate all this growth.
But first we needed a pastor. Dr. Jack B. Wilder served as Interim minister for Gloucester Point Baptist during the fall months of 1993, until the church called the Rev. J. Michael Wilkins to be its new pastor. Rev. Wilkins received his Master of Divinity Degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and came to us from Elizabeth River Church in Chesapeake, where he had pastored since 1984. Mr. Wilkins preached his first sermon at Gloucester Point on December 5, 1993, and his wife, Lucy, and children, Brian (eleven years), Ben (nine years) and Beth (seven years) moved here over the Christmas holidays.
The years 1994 and 1995 were exciting years for Gloucester Point Baptist Church. Our new pastor and deacons moved us toward expanding the building. In the spring, the New Building Finance Committee circulated a letter to the membership to determine if there was sufficient interest and money to move ahead. A package was proposed: 1) build the educational wing; 2) pave the parking lots; 3) insulate the north wall of the existing building; 4) cover all cornice work to reduce upkeep. The committee suggested that interest-bearing notes be offered to help finance the project. In January, 1995, this committee came to the church recommending that we accept a bid from Carmine Builders of $336,000 for our construction. The church voted to go ahead; notes were purchased and a bank loan was secured. The ground-breaking ceremony took place on April 2, 1995.
A second significant action occurred in October, 1994. Gloucester Point Baptist Church elected and ordained its first women deacons: Dorothy (Dot) Barkley, Linda Mitchell and Martha Ann Shaw. This had always been a possibility under our Church Constitution but is unusual with conservative Baptist tradition. In the early years our church chose its deacons at the annual election of officers. The Board of Deacons would submit nominations to the Nominating Committee. In 1983, the Constitution was amended to allow greater congregational participation in the selection process. Now every church member has the opportunity to nominate deacons annually by written ballot. Men and women have served together on our Board of Deacons since 1994.
Gloucester Point Baptist Church made another significant change in October of 1994, by changing the format of its radio program. Instead of broadcasting the Morning Worship Service on the AM band, the church agreed to a recommendation by Pastor Mike Wilkins to develop a completely new program. “An Encouraging Word,” a show designed to communicate with young adults who were not in church, was the result. This program combined adult contemporary rock music, humor, insights on living life to-day with a Christian perspective. Broadcast on WXGM, 99.1 FM, it allowed the church to reach a larger potential listening audience with the Good News of Jesus Christ than ever before. “An Encouraging Word” continued our church’s long tradition of utilizing the radio to communicate to the people in our community how much God loves them. In fact, Gloucester Point Baptist Church has the distinction of having the longest, continually-running program on the radio station. Regretfully, higher costs led us to discontinue radio ministry in 2002.
Meanwhile…Rick Shaw mounted a campaign to replace our sanctuary hymnals. Two-hundred four books were purchased with donations, and a Dedication Service was held on October 23, 1994, at 3:00 p.m. This new Baptist Hymnal, published first in 1991, is an inspiring blend of the con-temporary and the traditional. The membership has especially enjoyed learning the praise choruses.
And…all of our children’s programs continued to flourish. Martha Shaw was now director and teacher in the Weekday Preschool. Wednesday night activities were prospering; approximately fifty youngsters were registered in music and mission classes. Twenty teens were involved in youth activities. Also, the Shaws hosted a new “Youth Experiencing God” course in their home as well as the “Masterlife Program” for adults.
In addition…a Ladies’ Prayer Group was begun by Cheryl Harding in 1995. It met every Thursday morning in a Sunday School classroom. The prayer group persevered as a complement to Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting until 2005.
Our church persisted in its longstanding tradition of encouraging the community to use our facilities. VIMS practiced soccer in our back field. Alcoholics Anonymous has been meeting on Friday evenings at the church since 1990. Junior Girl Scout Troop #1072 chose Gloucester Point Baptist for its meeting place from 1995-1998.
While masons laid block and brick, and roof trusses went up on our church’s new educational building, Rick and Martha Shaw were making important decisions regarding their future. They decided to step out in faith, to answer God’s call to become foreign missionaries to the Albanian people. Rick resigned as our Minister of Music, Youth and Children, effective August 31, 1995. September was spent saying goodbye to relatives; then the family headed to Tirana, capital of Albania, for a year of language and culture training under the auspices of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Macedonia was their final destination, where they worked with the 700,000 Albanian immigrants.
Gloucester Point Baptist fellowship was thrilled to be involved with the Shaws’ mission work for the next ten years, sending many care packages and contributions. But we certainly missed them terribly. Pastor Mike put it this way: “Rick is one of the most gifted people I’ve ever met, and he has used his energy and talents to share the love of Jesus Christ. He has made an impression on these young people that they will never forget, and our church will never be the same.” Today Rick teaches at Wayland Baptist University in Texas and is Director of their Kenya mission program.
With Rick’s resignation the church hired Lucy Rex Wilkins, Rev. Wilkins’ wife, to be interim part-time music director. She came to us with strong credentials: she received her Masters in Church Music from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. How fortunate Gloucester Point Baptist has been to have not one, not two, but three musical directors trained not only in music but in Christian music and doctrine. Our graded choirs presenting numerous cantatas and musical dramas, plus instrumental performances (small ensembles, solos and praise band), bear witness to this expert leadership over the years.
We also need to express appreciation for the dedicated instrumentalists who have served Gloucester Point Baptist over the years. Martha Ann Simmons, Joan Fosque and Donna Green were pianists in the early church. Julia Conner was our first organist, followed by Charlene Diggs, and then Elizabeth Garber. Elizabeth Bynum was assistant organist for many years. Pianists in the new church building have included Mary Lee Bullock, Sarah Starkey, Mary Fary, Sally Fisher, and Loretta Jackson. Our current musicians are organist Barbara Stevens and pianist Robin Stortz.
Our new church educational building was completed in October, 1995. The 4,800 square-foot wing included five classrooms, three of which were large preschool rooms, three bathrooms, a modern designer kitchen and a large fellowship hall. The Dedication Service was held on November 5th at 2:00 p.m., following a sumptuous dinner served to the membership in the new Fellowship Hall. This was an occasion of great rejoicing — a celebration of expanded horizons.