Before Carmel Baptist Church occupied the intersection of Alexander Road and Highway 51, the property was a horse farm with a red barn.
In the mid-1990s, Roger McDonald and two other church members climbed into the barn’s loft and prayed for the new church buildings that soon would be constructed there.
“We asked God not just to build buildings here, but to change people’s lives,” McDonald said in a video about the church’s history.
On Sunday morning, more than 3,200 people gathered in the rain under a giant white tent – at the same spot where that barn once stood – to celebrate the church’s 50-year anniversary.
The church congregation, which usually meets in three separate services on Sunday, joined that morning with former church members who came from as far as Canada for the celebration.
“To get everybody in one room is just so energizing – it was a great family moment,” said Alex Kennedy, the church’s sixth senior pastor. “There was a lot of love and a lot of joy. It was a sweet, sweet day.”
Carmel Baptist was founded in 1965, when a group gathered at Providence Baptist Church to talk about starting a new church in southeast Charlotte.
Providence Baptist and the Mecklenburg Baptist Association had bought 6.5 acres on the corner of Sharon View and Carmel roads for the church.
In November of that year, Carmel Baptist was formally organized with 96 founding members.
“Carmel began because a group of God’s people envisioned a need for a church in an area that was literally exploding with people coming to Charlotte from all over the U.S. and the world,” Don Bouldin, Carmel Baptist pastor from 1976-1989, wrote in an email.
Carmel has been and continues to be a force for good in the community for 50 years.
Wayne Poplin, former pastor for Carmel Baptist Church
Over the next few years, the church built several buildings on the property and acquired more land. By 1987, the church had outgrown its space and looked to move to 33 acres it had bought on Pineville-Matthews Road in Matthews.
The church met for the first time in its new worship center in 1997.
Carmel Baptist’s ministries over the decades have reached out into the community, including its WEE School preschool that serves almost 800 children, feeding and clothing people in need and ongoing programs to strengthen families.
Now, about 2,800 attend Carmel Baptist’s three Sunday services.
“Carmel has been and continues to be a force for good in the community for 50 years,” former pastor Wayne Poplin wrote in an email.
When planning began for Carmel’s 50th anniversary celebration about six months ago, one committee member noted that the weather in the first week of October is always beautiful, said Patrick McCrory, Carmel Baptist generations pastor.
On the off-chance it would rain, though, the committee decided to put up a large white tent that would seat 4,000 on the church’s sports field, which is next to the WEE School building.
Then, it began to rain as Hurricane Joaquin flooded the Southeast coast. The ground under the tent was under 2 inches of water on Saturday morning, McCrory said.
The 100-member celebration choir practiced under the tent anyway, and leaders decided to scrap the large generator and professional sound system because of the water. McCrory noticed a small generator that was running some security lights.
“We plugged in one mic and two speakers and worshiped with our choir and orchestra,” McCrory said. “We had an amazing day.”
Thousands gathered under the tent Sunday morning for worship music and preaching from Kennedy, Poplin and Bouldin, who all spoke on Matthew 28:19-20 from the Bible, a verse where Jesus issues a commandment to “go and make disciples of all nations.”
“The purpose was to show that Carmel’s passion from the beginning was to make disciples of Christ,” Kennedy said. “It was fun to see the thread that had been woven between us in leadership. We are all singing the same song, really.”
Looking forward, Kennedy said that the church has recognized an energy among churches in Charlotte to work together, and Carmel is forging partnerships with churches such as Church of Charlotte and New Charlotte Church.
The church will focus on establishing new churches. In the past five years, Carmel Baptist has helped start or relaunch Five Stones Church in Waxhaw and Mercy Church and Oakhurst Baptist in Charlotte.
In 2016, the church’s Chinese ministry will become its own church, Kennedy said.
“We’ve rediscovered that ‘Carmel,’ our name, means ‘orchard’ or ‘vineyard,’ ” Kennedy said. “Our heart’s desire is that we would continue to be a church that bears lasting fruit for the glory of Christ.”
Marty Minchin is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, visit http://carmelbaptist.org. The church, at 1145 Pineville-Matthews Road in Matthews, meets at 8 a.m., 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Sundays.