Part 4: Play ball
Equipped with new leadership, the North Keywood Circuit prepared to take off.
“Diane and I began to push and work for cohesion,” Scott said. “The two churches are only three miles apart. They not only share a pastor, they share a community.”
The congregations started by combining Christmas programs and Vacation Bible School. Last summer, 40 kids attended the North Keywood VBS.
About seven years ago, the pastor and his parishioners discovered a ministry gold mine. Mahanaim already had a softball team, but the two churches combined and began participating in a Saltville church league. They designed jerseys in Virginia Tech colors (maroon and orange), and the pastor made it clear that wearing the uniform was a high honor accompanied with the expectation of Christ-like behavior. He set a policy that team members didn’t have to be church members, but they had to attend worship two Sundays in a month’s time before representing North Keywood.
Spence describes the success of North Keywood’s softball ministry – and the indoor volleyball league his circuit created two years ago – as “infectious.”
“I can’t tell you the impact that sports ministry has had on young families,” he said. “If I can get them on the softball field, I can get them into church.” The pastor is also pleased that the ministry induces exercise into the daily lives of his church members.
This past winter, North Keywood had five teams (35 people) meeting at Hayter's Gap Community Center to play two other teams (Madam Russell UMC and a Church of God team) in volleyball. This summer, North Keywood expects to have four softball teams (40 people) playing in a church league of seven teams.
“It’s brought people together, and it’s brought our churches together,” Kelly says of the sports ministry. Hoback estimates that half of North Keywood’s worshippers are under age 50, compared to 25 percent before the sports ministry began.
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The benevolence ministry that coincided with Spence’s arrival is also going strong, members say. Blackwell Chapel raises $10,000 annually through apple butter, spaghetti suppers, and ice cream suppers – funds that are redistributed to the community. Mahanaim dedicates 10 percent of every Sunday offering for neighborly needs.
In January 2012, North Keywood sent its first youth group to Resurrection. Twenty-five youth and six adults attended Holston Conference’s annual spiritual retreat in Gatlinburg, Tenn.
“There’s an air of excitement among these two churches that says they want to make a difference for the kingdom,” notes the Rev. Sandra Johnson, current Abingdon District superintendent. “Here is a pastor, by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, serving and engaging two ‘vital congregations.’”