To say God has used Calvary to significantly impact my life is an absolute understatement. God has used the facility and more importantly, His people to invite and invest in not only me, but my family, and the local community as a whole by transforming lives for the sake of The Gospel…which is humbling and beautiful! As we celebrate 100 years of Calvary, I want to thank and to commemorate this milestone by giving all glory to God our Father and by sharing my story of how Calvary has changed my life and the lives of my family through faith, acceptance, and growth. This is my story…
I remember as a child, Calvary was the massive church on the corner with the cool indoor playground and awesome community programs like the box mazes and Christmas events. However, my family and I attended another church located in East Winston-Salem, yet we lived right down the street from Calvary off Commonwealth Drive. We did not attend, because Sunday is not only known as the day of rest and the day of corporate worship…it is also known as the most segregated day of the week. Being people of color, history proved to be the evidence towards where we were welcomed to worship and not worship and why. But God…it’s funny how despite our own sin, God uses His people in ways to unite one another as a glimpse of what heaven and the new Earth will be like. My father, Baxter Griffin, would tell me stories of how he used to be a freelance videographer for Calvary. It was during this time he met Pastor Corts. I never had the pleasure of meeting Pastor Corts, but God used him in a way that forever impacted my dad so when it came time for my parents to take a leap of faith, they recalled the intentional loving and welcoming reception from certain people starting with Pastor Corts.
Then came time for a leap of faith. My parents were in need of full-day childcare for the summer…one that was affordable, accessible, entertaining and Gospel-centered. They decided to entrust my care in Calvary with the Calvary Baptist Church Summer Day Camp. This was the second year the summer day camp was in operation. Under the direction of Galen Tidd, it was truly a ministry that enabled the foundation and growth of my faith as well as provided an example of what a Gospel-centered community is. We had fun on-campus activities, along with exciting off-campus trips such as going skating, to the pool, zoo, and even Carowinds! What we did for entertainment was fun, but it was a community of people who made the difference of why I loved this camp. The leadership including Galen Tidd, Doug Hill, and the camp counselors created an environment where all were welcomed. Every race, ethnicity, ability, socio-economic background, religious or non-religious affiliation were invited and intentionally poured into with the love of Jesus Christ. Their passion for the ministry they were providing along with the relationships they were building were encouraging. It showed they cared. It showed we were accepted. It showed together, we are all children of the same loving and just God. I had such a wonderful experience during my first year at camp, that my parents eagerly signed me up the following year and every year from the time when I was in first grade all the way until I was in eighth grade and became a volunteer junior camp counselor (or counselor-in-training).
Over the course of eight years as a camper, I accepted Christ during VBS (when we were doing archery in the old gym) and was welcomed into a community of life-long friends and believers. Additionally, it is during this time that my mom, Venessa Griffin, encouraged several families to enroll their children into Calvary Baptist Church Summer Day Camp and later Discovery Quest, including my Aunt and Uncle, Valarie and Anthony Jackson. Of these families, the majority of them were people of color who also had never been invited to Calvary and some who had not accepted Christ in their lives. Overall, this ministry provided by Calvary reached people who otherwise would not have been exposed to The Gospel nor brought into a community based on agape love. As a result, several of those children who were originally campers graduated from the program and became summer camp counselors, camp grade directors, and/or camp assistant directors at Calvary’s summer day camp, including myself, my brother, Austin Griffin, and my cousins Alex Jackson and Avery Jackson. After graduating from the program and serving as a volunteer junior camp counselor, I worked in all capacities for the camp over the course of 10 years (including when Joseph Thomasson revived the camp to be Venture Club in 2014).
Everything changed in 2003. I asked my parents if we could all go visit for a Sunday service, so we decided to go visit Elevate. Granted there was some hesitation, because even though my brother and I went to summer camp at Calvary, we were not sure if we would be welcomed for worship considering we do not look like everyone else. However, thank God, those expectations were not met! We did receive some questionable looks, but overall we were greeted with kindness and open reception. I remember walking into bible fellowship class being terrified because I didn’t think I would know anyone. Lo and behold I walk into Barbara Kibler and Mary Taylor’s class, whom I already knew and loved. Moreover, Pastor Will was preaching out of the book of Titus about the role of leaders in the church and the body of the church as a whole. It was like God used Pastor Will to spiritually tug on their hearts. From that point on, we started to regularly attend and eventually become members at Calvary. My parents joined the Krimkrau bible fellowship class (which my mom is still active in today) along with volunteering to serve. I was part of student ministry with awesome leaders such as Kathy Temple, Kathy Sapp, and Flossie Castle, and my brother was plugged into kids ministry. We had found community and started to grow in our faith as a family and individually.
That same summer in 2004, Galen Tidd held training and orientation for Discovery Quest summer day camp at Calvary. He encouraged us to not simply think of being a camp counselor as just a summer job. He inspired us to look at it as an opportunity to share The Gospel with children, with one another, and with the community as a whole. In order to do this effectively, we needed to go share and live out the Gospel in our local community. He split us up into groups and gave each group $20. He then sent us out on mission to serve our local community by taking the $20 and either giving it away to a local charity, purchasing donation items and/or intentionally caring for someone who is homeless. This is when my faith began to really grow. The leader in my group was Meredith Hobson (Showalter). We went out into our community and did all of the things Galen suggested. This could have been an unevental task we would check off the list, but God had other plans in store. The most significant and beautiful conversation was initiated when my group met a man who was homeless. We gave him donation items, which was a care package we had put together with small items from Wal-Mart (i.e. toothbrush, toothpaste, snacks, water, and a small card with a prayer of Ephesians 3:14-21 written on it). Meredith gave the man the care package and asked if we could pray with him. To my surprise, he said yes! He said yes to us, to the gift, and most importantly to Jesus! We prayed that passage from Ephesians over him and spent time with him and caring for him by simply listening. Up until that moment, I had never seen The Gospel on display in a way that brought me to tears…because at that moment I realized it is not about me, but all about Him. Galen used our experiences as an example of why we should intentionally live on mission when caring for children, families, and co-workers at camp. We should do so because The Gospel is for everyone! We had the opportunity and the responsibility to introduce children and families to The Gospel by exhibiting God’s grace and love during the summer, because even though the summer is brief, those God-given moments can transform lives…for I am the evidence. This Calvary ministry was and has been an incredible blessing for me, my family and several hundreds of families over the past 23+ years, which I am eternally grateful for.
This guiding principle of loving Christ and loving others has manifested in myself and in my family through worship and service. For example, my dad, Baxter, served several years at the welcome desk in Elevate and in the lobby of the main sanctuary until his passing in 2016. Likewise, my mom, Venessa, served several years as a greeter and with Community Serve. Both served with the intent of putting Christ first and letting all people know (including those of different racial or ethnic backgrounds) they are welcomed and loved when they walk through the doors of Calvary. My brother, Austin, and my cousin, Avery, were campers, counselors, grade directors..etc for the summer camps at Calvary and are currently on staff at Mercy Hill Church in Greensboro working in kids and students ministry. As for me, I have had the awesome opportunity of leading a bible fellowship class, and currently being part of an incredible community group led by Annie and Jay Brown, while also serving with student ministry for the past five years. These are all things that we do, which is great, but none of that matters unless our hearts are fixated on Jesus. By the grace of God, Calvary has helped my family and I to grow in our faith and live on mission…not for our sake, but all for His.
Overall, I thank God for His church and His people, for without either Calvary, would not exist. My prayer is that for the next 100+, Calvary continues to welcome, invite, and love all people for His glory, for “by His mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or dream of – infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes.” (Ephesians 3:20). Thank you!