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

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