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Decaturís Westmeade helps couple plant Vermont church, others follow comment (0)

April 17, 2014

By Melanie Smith

Decaturís Westmeade helps couple plant Vermont church, others follow

It was a conversation with Scotty Hogan that left Randy Burns “amazed” and convinced that God was at work.

Burns, a pastor for eight years, had felt God leading him to pursue church planting as a career. He began looking at the nation’s most unchurched areas — the Northeast and the Northwest — as possible destinations.

Meanwhile Hogan, pastor of Westmeade Baptist Church, Decatur, had gone to Vermont to help in the startup of a new Baptist college in Bennington. He saw firsthand the need for more churches. He also visited Williams College, the college in Williamstown, Mass., where the Haystack Prayer Meeting occurred in 1806 and fostered a foreign missionary movement.

“It broke my heart that where the gospel came to America — the Northeast — is 4 percent Christian now,” Hogan said.

He said he came home feeling “this was the place and this was the time” to lead Westmeade Baptist to fulfill his longtime vision of planting a church.

God had been preparing 36-year-old Burns too. While at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, he took classes in church planting and met several times with the professor teaching the classes. And before that he had started new ministries — a youth group at Lawrence County’s Hillsboro Baptist Church in 2000 and a junior high ministry at Celebration Church in New Orleans. 

“God knew I was going to be a church planter long before I had a clue,” he said.

Burns went on to be pastor of three churches in Louisiana and Alabama. He was at Harmony Baptist Church, Hillsboro, when he had the life-changing conversation with Hogan in 2012. “I was amazed when he started sharing with me about his vision for Westmeade to be a sending church for a new church plant in an unchurched area,” Burns said. “As we talked and prayed for some time, we both sensed the Lord leading us to work together on this endeavor.”

Westmeade voted to bring Burns on staff as a church planting intern, committing to $20,000 a year for five years for him. Burns began that position in June 2013 and since then has been going through training, developing relationships in Vermont, raising additional support and recruiting a team.

Burns said his new church, Summit Church, Bennington, will officially launch Sept. 7. The first community outreach is scheduled for May 17–18 and the first preview service will be June 1.

The Burnses also will receive $12,000 a year for three years from the North American Mission Board (NAMB). 

Lyandon Warren, Vermont’s church planting catalyst for NAMB, said he can’t wait for the Burns family to arrive.

“They will be a visible sign to all of southern Vermont that God is up to some great things, spiritually speaking, and that brings with it great excitement,” Warren said.

“People in our context are extremely encouraged when solid Christian couples move into Vermont to help build the Kingdom.”

Warren said the church partnering to start Summit — Capstone Baptist Church, North Bennington — will be challenged to continue to be evangelistic and make disciples. Summit will be Capstone Baptist’s second church plant in seven years.

Burns said Capstone’s pastor, Phil Steadman, has led the church in its desire to send missionaries and church planters all over New England.

Burns and his wife, Kelli, and daughters, Sarah Grace, 9, and Elizabeth Faith, 3, are not the only ones relocating to help found Summit. 

Also going are Jake and Laura Ashley Stone, Jonathan Thigpen and Rachel Crow, all members of Point Mallard Parkway Baptist Church, Decatur. 

Burns’ vision of small group connections and his aim to reach the 20-something demographic in Bennington made a deep impression, said Jake Stone, 26, who will be associate pastor and small group leader.

Thigpen will be worship pastor and Crow will be children’s minister. 

Jordan Grisham of Westmeade Baptist is a college student who will transfer to the new Northeastern Baptist College in Bennington and serve as student intern at Summit. 

Another team member will be Lauren Cartwright of Tyler, Texas, a volunteer through NAMB whose love is college student ministry.

The Burns family began moving March 31 and the Stones’ will move in May. Others will follow in the coming months.

Westmeade members will be part of the major events as well as provide continuous prayer support from Decatur.

“Having a sending church like Westmeade and having this time to raise support, recruit a team and receive training has allowed us to have a great start,” Burns said.

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