By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist
About 35 years ago, the members of Central Park Baptist Church, Birmingham, made a decision — they wanted to stay put when they thought others might leave.
“The community around the church was changing, so for the church, change was inevitable too,” Levan Parker said. “They knew a lot of churches would be leaving, and they decided they wanted to stay and minister to the community.”
They wanted to do this through a Christian school — they believed it could stabilize families in the community. And they asked Parker to be the headmaster.
“They thought a school with a Christian worldview could be a tool of ministry to help boys and girls, men and women to live out the Great Commission in their lives,” he said.
And for the past 35 years, as the community around them changed, Central Park Christian School (CPCS) reached students from 25 countries, six continents and all different religious and socioeconomic backgrounds. Its students have gone on to study at Yale, West Point, Vanderbilt and Columbia and to teach at other institutions. One is a basketball coach in Germany.
And some students found faith too. One young Muslim student professed faith in Christ while at CPCS, Parker said.
“It was amazing to see how much God did with a little,” he said. “That kind of thing is what the church envisioned 35 years ago, and it came to fruition.”
God is faithful
But in recent months, members of Central Park Baptist began to see that they might not be able to sustain the ministry anymore.
Scott LeCroy, who grew up and was baptized and married at Central Park Baptist, said the congregation had slowly decreased in size until there was too much square footage and not enough people. The group of 15 or so members was reaching deep in their pockets, but there just wasn’t enough to continue keeping up the buildings and funding the school.
So on June 24, after 108 years in the community, Central Park Baptist held its last service and gifted its buildings and the school to Rock City Church, a growing congregation with multiple worship sites. About 400 people came that day to thank God for what He had done there.
LeCroy said the story of how they came to that decision shows the same thing as the story of the school’s impact.
“It shows how God was faithful to answer our prayers,” he said.
Back in 2014 the church began looking for a solution. They tried looking at several options, all of which involved turning over their buildings to a local ministry — and none of which worked out. One time they even turned it over to a ministry, and that ministry gave it back.
“We continued finding a way to make it work, because we wanted to keep the school running, and we didn’t want to have to just board up the place,” LeCroy said.
But keeping the school and church going ran about $18,000 a month, and after a while, it wasn’t sustainable anymore, he said. Looking forward into the 2017–2018 school year, he didn’t know if they could commit to the teachers’ salaries or the 200-plus students.
The leadership had concerns and Parker was looking everywhere for options, LeCroy said. “But our school’s custodian, Vanessa Phillips — she’s a real prayer warrior, said, ‘You need to stop looking for somebody to take this place. The Lord is going to send you somebody.’”
Passing it on
Three weeks later, Michael McClure, pastor of Rock City Church, showed up at Central Park Baptist asking if he could rent the place for his growing congregation, whose lease at Boutwell Auditorium was running out soon.
McClure “is from the Central Park area, so this is home to him,” LeCroy said. “Dr. Parker gave him a tour, and at the end, he was asking if he could rent the space. And Dr. Parker told him, ‘You don’t understand — can we give this to you? That’s what we’d like to do.’”
So that’s what they did, and Rock City generously gave $150,000 to pay out the schoolteachers’ contracts through the end of the summer. They took on CPCS as one of their ministries and are looking at keeping on longtime teachers who are interested in staying.
“Our first collective emotion was relief,” LeCroy said. “It was such a matter of prayer for us. It has really been a test of faith. We are relieved we don’t have to close — there are a lot of empty church buildings on this side of town. And we feel God’s affirmation that we did the right thing — He brought us the right folks to hand off to.”
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