The decision to close Virden Baptist Church came as no surprise to the congregation. The membership has aged and many of the younger generation have moved away. People are more willing to travel and Brandon seems closer than it was 50 years ago. These factors played into the closure at the end of October.
Chairman of the church’s board, Adam Pringle says, “Ruthy and I have appreciated the community that we found in Virden Baptist Church over the past 10 years. I always sensed a real concern to stay true to the heart of the Gospel and to support each other.”
Walter Peters, although not formally on the leadership team at the time of dissolution, has served in formal and informal leadership/service roles for many years, Pringle says. “Words cannot measure what he and his wife Erna have meant to this church.”
At the final service on Sunday, Oct. 29, Peters spoke to the congregation. Reviewing the life and times of Virden Baptist Church he recalled their family’s first Sunday. “Our youngest was only a year and a half at the time. That's Marlon.”
Legacy of Faith
Peters wonders how many people walked through the doors of Virden Baptist Church, over the years. “Churches have such an influence on people (and) what we are emphasizing is how many people were influenced in a very positive way over all these years.”
He reflects upon the place church attendance holds today. “Continuity isn't there as much as it used to be. Churches used to be the hub of the community.” He says there's a spiritual void in all people that they seek to fill. Peters refers to the Bible and says that he is a follower of Jesus Christ. “And that's where meaning to life comes from.”
Asked about God’s guidance for this Baptist congregation he responds, “Sometimes his purposes don't seem apparent to us. The church is a fundamental spiritual need of the people in any community so to have a church close is not a good thing. What is the purpose in having it close?”
It’s a question he’s wrestled with for a decade.
“But there's also the physical element,” he continues. “We've got a building there. It doesn't just stand on its own. That requires funds. It requires work. It requires upkeep.… That's what brought us to this day. Funds eventually ran out.”
The church building grew with the congregation. In 1954 services were held in the Orange Hall with eleven members. Just a few years later a house adjacent to the current parking lot was purchased as a meeting place. By 1968 the congregation built a sanctuary across the street which became Virden Baptist Church at 403 Nelson St. E, where it stands today.
By 1998 the church building, renovated several times, reached its current size where over 100 people gathered.
Through the years the church became a gathering place where Operation Christmas Child boxes were assembled. Seminars were held on occasion. One of the most memorable occasions was the recent farewell concert for Larry and Barb Gabrielle.
“When we got Pastor Tim Challen to come, it was in the making,” says Walter Peters. “He saw this as a challenge, as an opportunity.” Challen was called to Virden Baptist Church, understanding it was probably temporary. “We had indicated to him that two years would probably be the maximum that we would be able to support him financially.” But Challen served there for four years and was recently called to Faith Community Baptist Church of Souris.
This fall, with just five or six families and some individuals attending, it wasn’t feasible to keep the building open.
Pringle says, “I would have loved to have seen what the church was like when there were more people but this was the time and place where we found ourselves. We are thankful for the people God put in our lives and I am confident we will one day be among many when, as the Gaithers sing, ‘all of God’s singers come home.’”
What will the congregation members do? It’s a small group and some have put down deep roots here. Establishing new relationships in a new church can be difficult Peters admits, but says, “I would like to emphasize that it had its purpose in its time. Because a lot of good has come out of the existence of the Virden Baptist Church, and the influence it has had on so many people, the direction it has given and the spiritual education that many have received.”
Walter Peters values the foundation that children have received through this church. “Those kinds of roots you don't take out of a family that has grown up in the context of a weekly church experience.”