Church-to-church relationship brings new life to struggling congregation

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MILTON–Struggling with membership, ministries, money, facilities and leadership, the once thriving Ferris Hill Baptist Church in Milton was at a crossroads.

Fifty years ago, Ferris Hill planted nearby Pine Terrace Baptist Church, and now Pine Terrace has stepped in to help revitalize Ferris Hill.

“We didn’t feel like there was any option but to help our ‘mother church’ in her time of need,” said Nathan Brown, pastor of Pine Terrace.

New pastor Raymond Dye and his wife Chelsea will join the church in June.

Following a “deep dive” with Brian Nall, executive director of Pensacola Bay Baptist Association and Ferris Hill former pastor, Ferris Hill leaders understood how they needed to get started on revitalizing their church. Much like foster parents, Pine Terrace leaders have come alongside Ferris Hill, providing guidance, prayers, words of encouragement and practical assistance.

Both churches have put in sweat equity and contributed financially to revive the facilities with Pine Terrace leaders helping with projects such as resurfacing the parking lot, removing tree stumps, landscaping and replacing wood rot.

We have a vision to foster churches in need of a little help, to come alongside them with resources and pastoral care.

Ray Summerlin executive pastor, Pine Terrace Baptist Church, Milton

Eight Pine Terrace church members made a one-year commitment to worship and serve at Ferris Hill, a beacon of hope in the community as the only cold weather shelter in Santa Rosa County. Ferris Hill also opens its doors each week for the I-58 clothing ministry, based on Isaiah 58. Keeping the church alive and healthy is important for community residents who need clothing or shelter, served up with a gospel witness.

Words of affirmation and encouragement as well as prayers from their partner church are keeping the spirits of Ferris Hill members engaged and hopeful for a bright future.

“Knowing we have a team of people lifting us up in prayer has been instrumental to our revitalization,” said Bryan Unruh, head deacon, Ferris Hill.

Through the church-to-church relationship, Ferris Hill has grown in staffing, worship attendance and facility upgrades. Attendance has nearly doubled since the partnership began six months ago.

Ben Kennington, and 18-year-old high school senior serves as the interim worship leader.

“We are positionally healthier than we were, and we are poised to do what the church needs to be doing,” Unruh said.

Pine Terrace executive pastor Ray Summerlin facilitated filling staff roles by leveraging relationships within the church and thinking creatively. He asked Ben Kennington, an 18-year-old high school senior and gifted musician, to serve as Ferris Hill interim worship leader.

“We have a vision to foster churches in need of a little help, to come alongside them with resources and pastoral care,” Summerlin said.

Ferris Hill interim pastor Jeff Walker is guiding the church through this time of transition as it prepares to welcome new pastor Raymond Dye, his wife Chelsea and their three daughters this summer.

Knowing we have a team of people lifting us up in prayer has been instrumental to our revitalization.

Bryan Unruh head deacon, Ferris Hill Baptist Church, Milton

The fostering relationship will continue as Pine Terrace lends a hand with vacation Bible school and a backpack ministry, offers graphic design help for printed materials, and assists with the formation of more small group Bible studies.

“The leadership at Pine Terrace never exerted their will; they came along as partners to provide wisdom and ideas with encouragement for the future,” Unruh said.

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