Rising up to welcome all into a church for the community

May. 25, 2013 @ 04:32 PM

Members of his neighborhood want people to know a Henderson pastor keeps an open door to serving his community on Rockspring Street, two of them, actually, as wide open as he can hold them to welcome all.

A group of citizens impacted by the ministry of the Rev. Richard Batts are planning a thank-you gathering for late June at a time to be announced because he seems to always be giving.

“Pastor Batts is just a blessing to Vance County,” said Anita Miles, a resident of the neighborhood near Progressive Faith Missionary Baptist Church.

“He has opened up his church to so many people, so many events there,” Miles said. “He opens the church for funerals, free for those who are needy. He is one of those real men of God. He opens his church doors for everybody.”

It was an idea voiced by many people, without prompting, that is now getting organized.

“We are doing this program to let him know how much we appreciate him,” Miles said. “You don’t find people like him too much these days. We’re trying to give something back for all he has done for people in this community.”

Batts, who is also a special needs teacher at Eaton-Johnson Middle School, deflected the praise as more than he deserves for just getting the job done.

The church, he said, is larger than a lot of area churches where many in the neighborhood are members, so he feels like it should be there for the larger body of believers when they have bigger events that take place.

“I just feel like if I got a church this size and they have an event with 300 people, that we can make ourselves available according to their needs,” Batts said. “If they need us to assist, we assist. I would rather have more than not enough.”

That often means assisting an event with providing a little more food and helpers. One thing he encourages is helping with weddings. If they can be easier and less expensive to put on, there’s less likelihood that a couple who should get married will go on putting it off.

“I’m sort of from the old school,” Batts said. “If you love them, then get on and marry them. That’s basically my concept. We pride ourselves on being about families here.”

Batts grew up in Beulaville, a town in Duplin County, that he calls, “a good two hours away.”

His parents told him he was cut from a clerical cloth, set apart for preaching, reaching and teaching.

“It was a childhood calling,” Batts said. “They used to say that I would do services as a child with my little cousins as my congregation.”

He came upon a time in his life when that calling became serious, and he was forced to face some of his own ultimate realities. Which way would he chose?

“In the reserves, when I was in training my last week at Fort Benning, I was in the hospital for a week and they wouldn’t let me go,” Batts said.

He promised his future for service to God, and his symptoms cleared. Then at a revival service, at a small church back home, he made his commitment public. He was 21.

Batts has been involved with ministry for about 35 years, starting as a student at Shaw University where he graduated. Ministry service includes 10 years at Mount Olive Church in Gillburg and five years back home before starting at Progressive Faith nearly eight years ago.

His commitment to serve includes ongoing work on a license to conduct funeral services, which often take place at Progressive Faith.

He is what is termed a bivocational pastor, having a second career in public education. He was at Eaton-Johnson 13 years, then Clark Street Elementary and Northern Vance High School before a return to Eaton.

“Then they sent me back over to Eaton-Johnson to work with special needs children,” Batts said.

One burden on his heart is outreach to youth, many more of whom are growing hardened to spiritual instruction.

“It is hard to get through to a lot of young people these days,” Batts said. “I tell them that you have to have a relationship with a higher being for you to get through all of what’s going on these days.”

He tells them, come on to church, connect with others who will help in a relationship with God. People have come to count on Batts. He’ll be there and he’ll hold the doors open.

Contact the writer at mfisher@hendersondispatch.com.