We’re not in Kansas (or Old Town) anymore

January 28, 2019

“I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore” is a classic line from the movie The Wizard of Oz. It’s also a common phrase we use when we feel “out of place.” We sometimes experience that sensation when we’ve lived in one location for many years.

Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, we suddenly wake up and realize, things are not what they used to be in the community we call home. Many of our churches have come to that same realization. “We’re not in Kansas or Mayberry or Old Town anymore.”

The Old Town community located in the northwest part of Winston-Salem has a long history. The first Europeans settled in this area in 1753, establishing the village of Bethabara. Within two decades, the larger settlement of Salem grew and overshadowed the original village. At a later time, the area around Bethabara became known as the “Old Town.”

From its beginning, the area was largely rural – an agricultural area. The population consisted of people with a European Christian background. Though the community grew and prospered, the racial and spiritual makeup of the population remained the same during its first 200 years.

For much of the 20th century, community life centered around the Old Town School. The school was built in 1924 and educated all the area children from first through 12th grades for more than four decades. School activities ranging from its six-man football team to its annual operetta brought people together and gave them a sense of community identity.

The school’s location on the “main drag” (now N.C. Highway 67 or Reynolda Road) with a vibrant business community was surrounded by more than a dozen dairy farms. Local churches of various conservative denominations – climaxing with the establishment of Old Town Baptist in 1961 – provided the spiritual “glue” for harmony among the residents. Everything in Old Town was safe, secure and similar.

As a congregation and individuals within our congregation, we have reached out to share Jesus with the diverse people living around us.

When you get to know today’s Old Town, you think, “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Now, our area is still a great place to live and raise a family – we’ve raised our two children here. But, Old Town is not the “old town” it once was; things are not the same.

Old Town School still operates for grades pre-K through fifth grade, led by dedicated teachers and staff. Yet, the ages of the students are not the only numbers that have changed.

Where once only white students attended the school, now only 4 percent of the student population is white. The ethnic background of a majority of the students (67 percent) is Hispanic, and another 27 percent of the children are black. Whereas the majority of local families once lived comfortably with growing incomes, now 99 percent of the children attending Old Town Elementary receive free lunch.

This realization has tremendous implications for how we understand and respond to our community. Granted, the population within a 1-mile-radius of our church facilities is 68 percent white – like the majority of our congregation. Yet, merely 1 mile north of our facility sits Old Town School whose student population is 67 percent Hispanic.

As a congregation and individuals within our congregation, we have reached out to share Jesus with the diverse people living around us. That’s been done with varying degrees of effectiveness. Yet, we must keep trying to share the gospel with our neighbors from other backgrounds.

Why? Because this is what Jesus has commanded us to do.

And because we have woken up to the reality that we are definitely not in Kansas nor in Mayberry anymore.


by Mark Harrison  
/  Missions Pastor  /  Old Town Baptist Church

3 training options to offer worship ministry certification

Worship leaders can now pursue further equipping through three training options offered in partnership between N.C. Baptists, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Fruitland Baptist Bible College. The training provides worship leaders with the understanding and tools to...

Caraway celebrates 60 years of ministry and memories

North Carolina Baptists joined forces in July 1962 to cultivate a powerful new tool to help churches reach and disciple more people — Camp Caraway. Now, decades later, the camp continues to serve N.C. Baptists and will celebrate its 60th summer this July. Situated on more than...

How leaders can bridge generational gaps in Asian American churches

Many Asian American churches provide spaces for Asian immigrants to continue worshiping similarly to how they did in their home countries. They offer a familiar community and a home away from home. What can often be overlooked, however, is the cultural gap between immigrant...

On death and dying, as it relates to churches

In 1969, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a Swiss-American psychiatrist, wrote the classic book On Death and Dying. This work, chronicling lessons she learned with terminally ill patients, outlined the five stages that all people go through as they near death. Beginning when they are...

4 symptoms to watch for when assessing pastoral health

In preparation for this article I confess I did Google, “How to know if a pastor is healthy?” The number of articles, blogs and sites addressing the increasing issue of pastoral health did not disappoint. After all, we are hopefully coming out of the most difficult time of...

Fisher retires after 36 years at Caldwell Association

Dale Fisher received quite the surprise on his 70th birthday. Not only did ministry colleagues serenade him with a rendition of “Happy Birthday” during the N.C. Associational Missions Conference in early April, they also recognized Fisher for his long tenure of service in leading...

The power of a name: God’s faithfulness in mental health

If I have learned one lesson this year, it’s that there is power in a name. When we give our struggle a name, we are able to better distinguish truth from lie and work toward healing. Naming opens the door to freedom and sheds light on truth that can feel uncomfortable, exposing...

Scholarship to cover tuition for new Fruitland students

New students now have an opportunity to attend Fruitland Baptist Bible College tuition-free this fall. Fruitland recently announced a new scholarship that will cover tuition costs for new, full-time students attending the Hendersonville campus during the fall 2022 quarter. The...

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Stay connected by signing up for the N.C. Baptist monthly newsletter.

Select Language ^

Share This

Share this with your friends!