LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) – Michael York was invited to visit a church in northeastern Kentucky in view of a call to be pastor just as the coronavirus pandemic was unfolding.
He was serving as pastor of a church in Missouri and said he simply couldn’t consider leaving because of the unknown virus.
“I did a Facetime with the search team and then I hadn’t heard from them,” York said. “It was early March and we made the call here, in a staff meeting, that we were posting in-person activities at the church. The next day I get a text from Anna (Chaffins, the search committee chairman of Fairview Baptist Church).”
York thought they may have been telling him everything was on hold because of the pandemic. But he was in for a surprise.
“She called and said we’d like to offer you the position and come in view of a call,” York said. “I was not expecting that. I told her at that point, I didn’t feel it was right for me to leave Salem (Baptist Church), or even think about it, when going through this generational crisis.”
Fairview, which had been without a pastor for a little over a year since the death of longtime pastor Mike Rice, understood. They waited and York, a Kentucky native and the son of Hershael York of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, was called to be their pastor earlier this month.
Fairview was one of about 100 churches without a pastor during this season of the coronavirus. Several have recently named pastors, said Todd Gray, the executive director-treasurer of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
“In the past month, I have reached out to about one hundred church search chairs, or AMS leaders, about churches without pastors,” Gray said. “Kentucky Baptist Churches have handled the search for their next senior pastor during a pandemic incredibly well. Several churches I spoke to had all the work finished except for the in-person trial sermon. Several of those are happening now.”
Gray said he’d heard from three churches recently who had just called their new pastor.
Fairview used the services of the KBC to structure its pastor search committee. Paul Badgett, the East Region consultant for the KBC, spearheaded that effort. He said any Kentucky Baptist church looking for help should reach out to their regional consultant for advice.
“He will come in and help them get organized. Elect a chairman and a secretary and show them how to keep the church informed and conduct the process in a way that it will be a blessing,” Badgett said. “There’s a lot of pitfalls. We’re not here to select the man for them, but to show them how to collect resumes, read the resumes properly, and other issues. It’s a spider’s web. There’s a lot of little pieces and a lot of people who are involved.”
Badgett, who also filled the pulpit for several weeks, trained the Fairview search committee on some of the do’s and don’ts.
“There’s a right way to do these type of things and there’s a process to it,” he said. “If you follow the process and have a search committee, it works well.”
It certainly did for Fairview Baptist, which interestingly connected with York through Badgett. “I’d run into his father at a home designing store in Lexington where our wives were shopping,” he said. “I told him Michael should put in a resume.”
The search committee liked what they saw in the resume and began a conversation with York. He and his wife, Sarah, came in for a weekend visit that included a Q-and-A on a Friday that was livestreamed, and preaching services on Saturday night, Sunday morning and Sunday night. The church voted to call him that last night.
“Over the weekend and getting to know people, it was super awkward (because of the coronavirus) especially when the church called me,” York said. “There were people who had masks on and some who didn’t. A lady who had history with cancer who said ‘I don’t feel comfortable hugging or shaking hands’ and others saying all this is a hoax from the media. We took whatever came. I kept thanking the church for their flexibility. They did make some sacrifices allowing us to come in middle of this.”
The Yorks won’t relocate to Ashland until the end of July or first of August, he said. His last service in Missouri will be July 19.
Badgett said many smaller churches try to look more locally for a new pastor simply because of finances.
“A lot of times they can’t afford to bring somebody in, move them in and pay for their moving expense,” he said. “They may not be able to pay enough salary to support a family.”
He said associations used to rely on retired pastors to fill pulpits but there aren’t as many now. The Pike County Association of Southern Baptists has six churches looking for pastors.
Badgett said First Baptist Church in Flatwoods had its pastor resign one Sunday and then named a new pastor the next week. Jim Nichols had been a former pastor at the church, he said.
“That was one of the most unusual situations I’d ever seen,” Badgett said. “But they knew Jimmy already, so it kind of made sense.”
First Baptist Church in Vanceburg also called back a former pastor, he said.
Badgett said he was happy for Fairview Baptist and for York, a 37-year-old pastor with a lot to give.
“He’s going to be a good fit for Fairview,” he said.