ASHLAND, Ky. (KT) – Belmont Baptist Church wasn’t just on life support. It had one foot in the grave.
The 83-year-old pastor, who through different ministries had success in growing other churches, couldn’t do it anymore. He had tried for 13 years to bring some positive change to the Ashland church, but it was in serious decline.
“Belmont had been my Waterloo,” Jim Butcher told Rose Hill Baptist Church Pastor Matt Shamblin.
“In those 13 years he served, a man who had been able to lead church growth in the past, had few baptisms,” Shamblin said. “By the time he left, it was a very small handful of people.”
The church’s heart was barely beating and Shamblin knew it.
“I was able to develop a relationship with him (Butcher). It’s not far from my house and I was curious what was going on,” he said. “It had become a parking lot for the neighborhood more than anything else.”
After watching another formerly strong Baptist church in the Ashland area close its doors two years ago, Shamblin was determined to do whatever he could to keep the doors open at Belmont.
Rose Hill took on Belmont, viewing it as a mission church or fostering relationship, he said. They started doing some outreach, including a block party where 150 showed up from the community. But the church didn’t capitalize on the opportunity.
“There were multiple professions of faith that evening,” he said. “I think that evening and the inability for the few they had able to minister, it was time to make a change. Jim’s health was steeply declining.”
Butcher was driving 45 minutes to church every Sunday despite being legally blind. Shamblin said the pastor’s dedication “humbled” him. “We threw him a party to honor him for his faithful service.”
Rose Hill continued to work on outreach. Some of Shamblin's church members grew up at Belmont, so it wasn’t hard to find some compassion. They fixed up buildings and cleaned up spaces that hadn’t been attended to for years. As they visited the neighborhood, many didn’t know the church was still open. It had become a non-presence to the people living close.
“We’re there trying to help,” he said. “The community needs the witness of Jesus Christ. It’s amazing to watch the Rose Hill folks rally around them.”
The building is now cleaned up, the HVAC repaired and people are noticing. One couple donated a new refrigerator because the old one was, well, nasty, Shamblin said, and new lights for the sanctuary were also purchased. Several women from Rose Hill spent a week cleaning up the place with good old-fashioned elbow grease. Life was coming back to Belmont Baptist.
“It’s an ongoing build project over there,” he said. “It’s now clean, which was a major step forward.”
Shamblin said Rose Hill is blessed with multiple members who can preach “from the ages of 19 to 90.” Shawn Rose, a professor and student at Tri-State Bible College, is currently filling the pulpit on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights at Belmont.
“Our folks go over there and provide children’s ministries,” Shamblin said.
Slowly but surely some in the neighborhood are coming back but it won’t be an overnight fix, the pastor said. Rose Hill did pack out the 100-seat sanctuary one night when they moved services on a Wednesday to Belmont.
Shamblin said in the past he’s had members who were baptized there and married there. Belmont Baptist was originally a mission of Unity Baptist Church in the 1950s. It came after W.K. Wood preached at a tent revival. Gordon Duncan was the founding pastor and the church was running 150 to 175 in Sunday School. He was followed by Richard Miller and then in 1966 by Curtis McComas, who was there for 39 years before passing.
McComas pastored Rose Hill for a year or two, left the community and pastored in South Point before finishing a long career at Belmont, a member of the Greenup Association.
“Belmont was never a large church but always a very strong small church,” Shamblin said.
Rose Hill’s pastor said they have no “ulterior motive” with Belmont.
“We built a relationship with the pastor and walked into this,” he said. “Rose Hill has a history of planting churches. We wanted to just help. We are taking this as a mission of Rose Hill at this point. Our goal is in the not-to-distant future standing on its own two feet again.”
Shamblin said the church is warming up to what Rose Hill has done for them. It is a part of Ashland that needs Jesus, he said.