Under a bright sky last Sunday morning at 10, a crowd of about 1,100 from the church’s three campuses gathered at Franklin Heights Church’s Rocky Mount campus for an outdoor homecoming celebration. The worship service was followed by a time of food, fun and fellowship.
The service included music, scripture readings, prayer, a testimony, several short messages and the recognition of the church’s 64 charter members as read by Aaron Trochim.
Original members on hand were Launa Turner (Lilly) and Janice Brooks (Holland). Other charter members in the area include: Hazel Ellis, Bill and Bonnie Walker, Frances Jefferson, Betty Turner and Julia Dillon. Jesse Ramsey lives out of state with his daughter Phyllis.
The opening prayer was given by Franklin County Sheriff W.Q. “Bill” Overton, Jr. who has been a member of Franklin Heights Church for 50 years. The closing prayer was given by Don Cockes, regional catalyst of the Southern Baptist Convention of Virginia.
Long-time member Sheila Copenhaver, shared her testimony about being a member of Franklin Heights. Copenhaver said she’s been with the church since 1964. “It’s been a privilege to grow up, worship and serve in this church.” She said what’s most impacted her over the years is how the pastors have preached directly from the Bible.
The first message was given by Brian Autry, executive director of the Southern Baptist Convention of Virginia. In his remarks he said, “We live in a world where everyone needs hope. Be a strong bold church, sharing the name of Jesus.”
Pastor Emeritus J. Larry Holland, the third of the church’s four pastors, was the church’s pastor for 54 of its 61 years. He began serving in 1967. In his message, he said, “I’m grateful for what God can do when people don’t care who gets credit.”
“We owe a debt to the Rocky Mount Baptist Church,” he said. Franklin Heights got its start from the Rocky Mount Baptist Church when a need for mission outreach was recognized.
Fran Vaughan joined Franklin Heights Church in late 1960. She said she had visited the Rocky Mount Baptist Church as a teenage bride new to the area and was dismayed to find her Sunday school class was full of older ladies she said. After class, Dot Anderson, the teacher, kindly pulled Vaughan aside and said, “We have a new church starting in Franklin Heights with a lot of young people. I think you’d be happier there.”
Holland said he was drawn to Franklin Heights because of the young families there and their interest in reaching out to share their faith. He described a renewal and spiritual awakening that came upon the church in the early 1970s.
Holland expressed his gratitude for the lay men and women who served in the church over the years. “It’s not about the pastor but about how people became new creations,” he said.
The final message was given by Franklin Heights’s Senior Pastor Dr. Stan Parris and answered the question, “Why do we give our life to the church?”
Parris also shared about how the church has grown over the years and expanded to include the CrossPointe Campus in Burnt Chimney in 2012 and the Union Hall Campus in 2017. He announced the church will be starting another church, Recovery Church, on Tuesday evening, Sept. 28 and described it as a place where the broken will come and find healing.
Mike Pagans and his sister Sandra Pagans Altice attend the Union Hall Campus which for them is a “homecoming” experience. They grew up attending that church when it was another denomination. Their grandfather, Robert Pagans, gave an acre of land on which to build the church. In time, the number of members dwindled and the church closed.
The two remaining trustees, Leona English and Charles Swicegood, and the Pagans family wanted the church to continue as a church in the area. The church and land were gifted to Franklin Heights Church in 2014.
Amy Gebelein also has a homecoming story. Her parents, Curtis and Shirley Scott, were charter members of Franklin Heights and she grew up in the church. She moved away for 27 years but kept up with the church through her parents and Holland.
Gebelein said, “It has been exciting to see the Lord growing the church and its ministries through the various campuses and the ministers that God provided. After being a part of many different churches throughout my time away there was never a church like Franklin Heights. Ken and I came back to continue the work my parents began.”
Joe and Susie Stebner came from Tennessee for the homecoming celebration. Franklin Heights was their sending church for their time as missionaries in Germany. Susie said, “We said we wouldn’t miss it [homecoming], and we’re so glad we came.”
One common theme shared throughout the celebration was how grateful people were for the church’s pastoral leadership over the years. Charter members Lilly and Holland expressed their appreciation, also.
Liz Schnarr said it was her first homecoming since joining Franklin Heights Church less than three years ago. She said she was impressed with Sunday’s program and how well it was organized. She also expressed her appreciation to the pastoral and support staff and to the volunteers. “It was truly worshipful in the open air and God graced us with such a beautiful day. God is good, to Him be the glory,” she said.
Franklin Heights Church has grown over the years from its 64 charter members to 2,398 for all the campuses.
Holland closed his remarks by saying, “The work must go on. The promises of God are still true. The vision must never die.”
For more information about Franklin Heights Church go to franklinheights.org.