Extra headerJanuary 2021

Maine pastor makes national media for COVID cases

Matt Burden never expected to get any national media attention as a pastor in the small, easternmost U.S. city of Calais, Maine. But when an outbreak of the coronavirus hit his congregation, the local media attention attracted the folks at National Public Radio.

Before he knew it, Matt was doing an interview for NPR for mostly state broadcast. Then NPRPastor Matt Burden baptizing in a lake picked up the segment for its All Things Considered program airing Nov. 19. The segment doesn't just mention the outbreak of COVID-19 that occurred during an Oct. 11 service at the Second Baptist Church in Calais; it focused on the church's more unique response and proactive approach to handling the pandemic.

"The reason it got into the news like it did is that I made the decision to be up front and open and engage with the media as much as I could about this. It may not be the right answer for every church in this situation, but I thought it was important for our state to get a look at a church story that was different," explains Matt, who earned a Master of Arts in History from Wayland in 2018 through WBU Online. "They had already been primed by the story of two earlier outbreaks to view churches as miscreant communities that don't care about their communities and thumb their noses at regulations and will get together without masks regardless of what anyone says."

Matt noted that Maine is among the least church-going states in the nation, and Calais, a city of around 3,000 that sits on the border with Canada, had enjoyed a relatively small impact from the virus for many months. Then in August and September, two churches in the state had major outbreaks.

"These first two outbreaks were both in churches where the pastors chose to take a really defiant stance. They had opted not to follow any of our governor's guidelines in terms of social distancing and using masks. It resulted in a pretty negative portrayal across the state," Matt said, noting he is not judgmental of those pastors, just stating fact.

Being good neighbors

In contrast, the leaders at Second Baptist had taken every precaution they could to prevent the spread of COVID. After months of online worship services, the church reopened in June after the governor lifted the lockdown, and they had split their service into two to limit meetings to under 50 people. They distanced within the sanctuary and encouraged masks for congregants.

Then on Oct. 17, they learned that a relative of Oct. 11 church attendees was sick with COVID. NotSanctuary at Second Baptist, roped pews sure where it started but wanting to be on the safe side, church leaders opted to cancel their in-person service on Oct. 18.

"All of the sudden, all these other cases started popping up with people who had been at the service on the 11th. I think the final number was 27 cases with people who had been at our service or were in contact with someone who was," noted Matt, who himself tested positive for the virus a few days later. The church returned to online services and still is not back to fully normal function yet. What set his church apart was its openness.

"We weren't happy about being the cause of an outbreak but I felt it was important for our public witness to get the word out that our story is different. We WERE following the guidelines as nearly as we could and yet this still happened," he says. "NPR picked it up because they got the sense that this was a different approach by a church. Rather than taking a defensive posture, we were trying to be transparent and honest and give them a glimpse of a church that wants to meet and hold onto our right to worship, but we really are motivated by love for our neighbors and we are going to do everything we can to keep ourselves safe and our community as well."

Encouragement for ministers

The response has been mostly positive. Matt said the church received letters and emails, many from pastors and were appreciative of a story that painted a more positive picture of churches. He said the situation just reminded him that many pastors are struggling mightily during the pandemic on several fronts.

"It's been a really tough year… But for pastors, we are caught in this place where we are motivated to work on both sides of this equation. You want to be able to bless your church family and meet their spiritual needs, and in-person worship and fellowship is a big part of that," Matt said. "But you are also motivated by love for your community and wanting to show people that you love them by working to keep them safe. Then within any congregation you have an array of opinions as to what the right answers are going to be."

While the proverbial "rock and hard place" is where most ministers have found themselves living through most of 2020, Matt said the positive media attention was actually a welcomed bright moment of testimony.

"Hopefully it was something God was able to use in a small way to bless other churches around the country," he said of the broadcast. "I've wanted to encourage my fellow pastors. We are being asked to make decisions that really none of us are qualified for and none of us know the right answers. I am lucky to serve a church that is mature and gracious and has been tremendously supportive of me and my family the whole way through. But these are tough things. Regardless of what you do there are going to be people in the world and people there in your church that are not going to like it."

Continuing education

A native of Maine, Matt said he initially pursued his undergraduate education in missions after experiencing life on the mission field with his parents as a child. But as he felt his calling shift to pastoral ministry, he followed that degree with a master's at Denver Seminary before taking his first pastorate at Second Baptist some 11 years ago. He said the church has been a great fit.

But history was always an area of interest and personal study. And thinking he might someday want to teach in a college or seminary in the area of church history, he sought the Master of Arts in History to add to his arsenal.

"Wayland was appealing to me not only for the fact that it was very accessible and the program allowed you a lot of freedom in terms of putting together electives, but also because it was a Christian university there was a lot of choice within those classes," he says. "Even though it's a general master's degree in history, I could structure it to be pretty much a church history degree just by choosing the right courses, and there are so many offerings in biblical history there."

Historic significance

While nearing the preparation for a master's thesis, the church Matt serves intersected serendipitously. Second Baptist was nearing its 175th anniversary, and he began doing some Second Baptist, Calais, MEresearch for the celebration. Finding some fascinating stories, he said made sense to write a complete church history for his thesis as well as the church archives.

"For its early history, this church had a history of attracting young pastors just out of seminary who were highly gifted and talented and were attracted by this idea of doing ministry in a frontier church right on the border in this beautiful area. We had this string of pastors in the 1800s who would come here for a while and then go on. While researching their lives, I saw connections of folks who had come here to Calais and then gone on to bless the story of global Christianity," Matt noted.

"We were sending out missionaries to China who were welcoming some of the famous pioneer missionaries to China like J. Hudson Taylor. When Taylor got off the boat it was a missionary from Second Baptist there to welcome him.

"One pastor served here in the 1930s who went on to become Martin Luther King's main theological mentor while he was in seminary. And no one here had any idea because they hadn't always followed up on where these people went," he added. "I wasn't expecting to find a lot but I found so many interesting stories."

All that said, Matt said it makes sense that Second Baptist is part of the global pandemic story as well.

"For a relatively small church in an obscure, marginal frontier area, Second Baptist had a surprisingly broad influence (in the past), with its members becoming leading figures in the national conversation over abolition, the prohibition of alcohol, and early efforts of the worldwide Protestant missions movement. In that sense, my current situation mirrors some of that pattern from my church's history - an ordinary congregation in an isolated, overlooked area, and yet we've somehow become part of the national storyline of the COVID pandemic."


Alumni couple plants Texas church reaching military

Going into the process of planting a church, Kyle and Lindsay Black admittedly knew very little about it all. Laughingly, they say it was probably for the best. But fortunately for them, God knew what he was doing and had already been working out all the details to make Watershed Church a reality. And now, seven years later, this unique central Texas congregation continues to grow and impact families.

Kyle and Lindsay met at Wayland, where she earned her bachelor's degree in business in 2002 Lindsay and Kyle Black and kidsand Kyle earned an education degree in physical education in 2004. The son and brother of educators, Kyle was looking for a quick degree he could complete, and education fit the bill. But God was also working in his heart, and he considered switching to religion. Then just his girlfriend, Lindsay talked him out of that.

"I did not want to marry a pastor; my dad was a pastor and I knew what that life looked like. I didn't want to walk down that road, and there was a potential for us getting married. I told Kyle he should stick with the education degree and we could always do ministry as well," laughs Lindsay now. "The one thing I pushed Kyle to do was get his degree in education and that is the one thing God has used actually as the vehicle for Watershed to even exist."

Serving from the start

After leaving Plainview, the Blacks moved to Copperas Cove for a job teaching and coaching at nearby Lampasas high school. It didn't take long before they were involved in youth ministry at a local church. When the youth minister left, Kyle was asked to serve as interim, then spent four years in that position. Kyle brought his teacher's heart to the role, planning activities that got students reading the Bible and applying it to their lives. But they began to feel restless with the rest of the church life. The idea to plant a church began to take seed.

"The plant process really started in 2011. We sold our house and moved to the other side of the county. There wasn't a church out there but lots of families that no one was actively ministering to," Kyle said, adding that the decision to plant was somewhat "youthful arrogance - thinking we can do this better - and it felt like there had to be something more. Something was missing, and it was a devotion to the Word. I've always been more of a teacher, so I'm better at the teaching aspect of the pastoral ministry."

Knowing there was a need for mentorship, Kyle looked into possible networks for support and Kyle Black at the new welcome centerguidance. He found the Acts 29 network and a church nearby in Killeen that has provided the needed mentorship. The Blacks officially kicked off their plant in 2013, naming it Watershed Church.

"I was teaching geography at the time, and a watershed is a high point. If you look at it geographically, this whole area is one big watershed," explained Kyle. "Another definition is a turning point, a change in direction. We feel like the gospel is a watershed moment in people's lives. When they hear the gospel and are called into God's family that is a turning point in their life. Once we thought of that, it kind of stuck. It fits who we are."

A personal transformation

Kyle's own story reflects the church name, as one who grew up in a traditional church-going family but said he never really had the deeper relationship experience until he was 20. He'd gone through the motions for his entire life and been in church regularly. But the knowledge never really reached his heart until an incident and a late-night phone call with his pastor led to a real faith transformation.

"Growing up, the gospel was always the doorway but never the life; it was always 'accept Christ and then go be a good person.' But we see now that doesn't lead to anything because we are not capable of following him consistently without a true gospel-centered understanding and the spirit working on our life as we continue to grow and mature," says Kyle. "We're trying to reach people who haven't heard the gospel and those who have heard it but maybe haven't actually followed who Christ is and been transformed by that power. At Watershed we like to say that we are elder overseen, staff led and volunteer operated. It's the people that do the work."

Currently the church has about 120 attending, but Kyle said the military membership from Fort Hood - which is just down the road in Killeen - means they have about 1/3 turnover each year as the Army moves service personnel. But the varied cultural experiences those families bring to Watershed enrich the congregation, and the Blacks are excited to pour into folks that then head on to bless others.

God's handiwork

Watershed's history is rich with moments of serendipity that remind the Blacks of God's hand in the process. From its very beginning, the foundation was laid to establish a place that will impact families as families impact their community. Just before Kyle and Lindsay moved their family to the area they envisioned a church, Lampasas ISD built a new elementary school nearby.

Watershed Church's new sanctuary"My first question was 'Where would we meet?' Kyle said we should try to get into the school. The way the Lord worked all those details ahead of us even considering that as an option was amazing," said Lindsay. "He got permission from the school board easily because he was an employee. Then a year later, he got the PE position at the school. So the Lord opened up a position that he was degreed for at the exact time that we needed him in that school."

Watershed Church continued to meet at the school for nearly 7 years and moved in November into a new location that Lindsay also said is definitely a sign of the provision of God. A former arcade and family fun center that fell victim to the COVID pandemic came available for sale in an ideal location. The asking price was far outside the small church's budget. But when the owner approached the Blacks with an offer to ensure the location was used to minister to the community and an amazing owner-financing arrangement, they knew it was meant to be.

Even though Kyle serves as pastor and Lindsay as bookkeeper and children's minister, they and the rest of the Watershed staff are all bi-vocational. Kyle is still an elementary PE teacher, while Lindsay directs a preschool program at FBC Lampasas. Both have ideal roles that allow them to give needed focus to the church work. And with their two children getting older - son Keaton is a freshman in high school and daughter Kelbie is a seventh grader - they have the capacity to make it all work.

Ministry goes virtual

The COVID pandemic impacted Watershed much like other churches, with services moving online for nine weeks and about 80 percent back to attending in person. When the elementary went virtual, Kyle's job required very little time for three months.

"Literally in the craziest time we've needed pastoral ministry, I could focus totally on that. We did Zoom calls every morning at 10 a.m., called Church Chats, choosing a different passage every day and it was just a conversation about the passage," noted Kyle. "We added some in the evenings too for those who had to work still. We've had people say they miss it. It really built some New building at Watershedcommunity for those who did it."

Lindsay laughs recalling that college conversation talking Kyle out of religion, since that is exactly the path their lives took. But she sees each step as paved with His provision.

"He is going to bring about what he wants in our lives even if we try to thwart it from the beginning and make it go our way. I am super thankful that there has been grace in that, and God has allowed Kyle to have such influence in the community because of his job at the school," she says. "He has 17 years of relationships across the community and there is influence in both places. It's neat to see how God has orchestrated all that from the beginning of our story."


Devotional: New Year offers a blank slate for faith

I've never been good at resolutions for the new year. As an admitted perfectionist, I tend to set my standards too high and then as soon as I slip I beat myself up and throw it all away. Certainly not effective for making life changes, which is the point of resolutions, right?

A few years ago, I read a book that encouraged instead of resolutions to consider a solitary word that would guide your thoughts and plans for the new year. For example, one year I chose "Intentional" to remind me to be intentional about growing my faith and building relationships.Blank page in typewriter One year my word was "Joy" and the hope was that I would find joy regardless of the circumstances.

I'm still waiting for the Lord to speak on my new word for 2021 but I have jokingly thought of a few, based on how 2020 has rocked all of our worlds. How about "pivot?" Or "flexibility?" Honestly I would be OK with never hearing either of those words again, as they were key buzzwords of the 2020 nightmare and reminders that nothing was as we ever expected. Ever.

But I am reminded of the words of the apostle Peter, who knew suffering as a early follower of Christ and was a first-hand witness to the suffering that Jesus endured on his way to death on a cross for the sins of us all:

"And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast." (1 Peter 5:10)

I have to remind myself that nothing I have endured in 2020 compares for a moment with what Jesus endured for me. If I am truly honest, the year was trying but it wasn't that grueling. It wasn't a fun ride overall, but it didn't kill me.

One of my favorite verses has been almost on repeat in my heart and soul during 2020, and it brings me supernatural comfort. The apostle John reminds us that life is not promised to be a smooth sailing without any waves: "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16:33

Who really knows what 2021 will hold for us all? What will "back to normal" even look like once the COVID pandemic settles? "These uncertain times" are continuing and we head into 2021 with a big question mark. But we can take heart: God knows. He sees. He feels our sorrow and pain. And he promises peace. It's a blank slate to trust Him and find that peace. Receive it friends!

Teresa Young has been Director of Alumni Relations at Wayland since July 2017 after serving in public relations and fundraising. She is a 1994 graduate of WBU and enjoys hanging out with her husband Tommy and their four puppy kids.

From the History Files

This month's history excerpt is taken from the WBU History Book produced during the centennial celebration, rolling back the calendar to the tenure of President Dr. George McDonald and some unique student organizations.

To his credit, in the early years of his presidency, Dr. McDonald did a masterful job of building school spirit and support. He stressed the benefits of students joining organizations for social and academic development. The number of student organizations in the 1920s greatly exceed the number of active student organizations at today's school. McDonald and Dean W. P. Clement established the DeMolay Club in 1924. It was an organization that "stands for those things which lead to higher citizenship, better social standards, high moral ideals and for the full development of the youth." The DeMolay Club was equivalent to a boys' and young men's version of the Masons.

There were also the usual literary societies and groups like the Baptist Student Union, Volunteer Mission Band and Athletic Klub [sic]. Then there were other groups such as the JJJ Club (La Jota Jackrabbit Gloom Chaser's Orchestra, 1928Juaca Junta) whose goal was to have a good time, and the Black Mask organization which was described in the 1924 yearbook as: "by far the most mysterious organization in Wayland … the society that insists on giving the students midnight excursions to the country. Three students have received the attention of this order so far, and they greatly appreciate all such favors. No one knows who or what composes this society, but its benefits are noticed at frequent intervals."

As the years went on, the school continued to add student organizations such as a hiking club, an orchestra, and secret clubs like the FDFF for girls and IRON for boys. The yearbooks do not give a description of these organizations. Then there was the Bachelor's Club, "for the purpose of helping those who have failed to embrace their opportunities," and the Griper's Club which sought to "find something wrong with everything." The group's motto was, "Kick to the last wiggle."

These seem to pale in comparison, however, to 1931's organization of I Tappa Keg. Apparently the group's name referenced its gift of a drinking fountain to the college to be placed somewhere in the administration building. The group remained organized for a couple of years, however. The official 1932 scrapbook, handed out for students to keep their own information since the school couldn't afford to publish a yearbook, said that I Tappa Keg was an all male, secret fraternity that met on Monday nights. They were secret from everybody except the president, the dean and Coach Kimbrough, the group's sponsor. The fraternity reportedly sponsored clean speech, clean thought and clean sports, regardless of the name. However, in a 2007 interview, a 94-year-old former member Earl Hartley, living in El Paso, chuckled at the mention of I Tappa Keg. While he said he didn't specifically remember how the group functioned, he does remember being part of a group of guys who would occasionally sneak around to purchase and partake of some "home brew." While Prohibition was on its last legs and would be repealed in 1933, purchasing and imbibing "home brew" was still quite illegal in 1932.

In the later years of McDonald's administration, students put together other organizations such as the Wayland Pest Association, "to promote in Wayland the higher things of life, such as: uncontrollable laughter, moron jokes, mild forms of insanity and clever quips." Other groups were formed such as the "W" Club spirit organization, the Missionary Alliance, and the "Girls Dormitory Nocturnal Visitation Club" that included several young men.

Update Your Information