Born during the height of Baptist denominational struggles, Heritage Baptist Church set out to embody Baptist freedoms and ideals in a progressive way. In 1987, as Bartow County began experiencing rapid growth, a core group of about a 100 deeply committed lay men and women sensed a call to leave downtown Cartersville and begin a new church.
They envisioned a church that would be inclusive of the diversity of the community as well as diversity of thought – and one that was equally passionate about worship and helping others. So they planted a church in a field on the growing edge of the community with an open mind to explore spiritual truths, an open heart for God and others, and open hands toward those in need.
For more than a quarter-century, Heritage has been telling the story of God’s love in progressive and creative ways. Early on the church developed a unique Church Covenant that sketched out its vision to be an inclusive congregation “that accepts all who confess Jesus as Savior and Lord, recognizes all modes of Christian baptism, and... is committed to loving God and all people.”
From its inception, women and men have shared equally in leadership at Heritage, including the role of ministers and deacons – which was a very progressive stance among Baptists in the late 1980s. The church still practices “hands-on” lay leadership with teams of lay members using their gifts and abilities to serve others regardless of gender.
Heritage members have long reflected characteristics of a “missional church” by actively serving as “the presence of Christ” in the community. Church members regularly serve with local missions partners like Advocates for Children, Habitat for Humanity, Salvation Army and Tranquility House Women’s Shelter. As part of Heritage’s 25th anniversary celebration, the church sponsored a series of performing arts celebrations which also served as fundraisers to support several local ministries. And with grant monies, HBC members partnered with the Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter to construct and furnish a computer lab and learning center that can now host GED classes at the shelter.
Recently, HBC members began an after-school reading program at Emerson Elementary School. Volunteer “Reading Buddies” are now work with about 20 children in growing their reading skills. As an outgrowth of the reading program, the church is looking for ways to sponsor English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes.
Each month church members also cook up and deliver Meals-on-Wheels lunches and prepare backpacks with food that local schools distribute to children. Annually, the church sponsors a summer back-yard Bible club that serves a predominantly Hispanic community in Emerson. In 2003, Heritage began an annual Operation Inasmuch, which involves dozens of church members in local community service projects. In 2012, three other Bartow churches partnered for OPIN’s day of service, and in 2013 more churches will join in the one-day service projects that offer care to community residents in need.
Heritage also reaches beyond its local community through several international partnerships. Each year, Heritage sends two medical mission teams to the southern state of Chiapas, Mexico. The trips grew out the passion of one church member, a pediatrician in the community, who participated in a mission trip 11 years ago and came back and founded Medical Missions, Unlimited, a non-profit medical ministry.
Church members have served with their sister church, Bautista Monte de Los Olivos (Mount of Olives Baptist Church) in Holguin, Cuba, through a partnership with the Alliance of Baptists. In Balama, Liberia, the church has shared in projects sponsored by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Orphan Aid Liberia. In the past several years, church members played key roles in the construction of a new orphanage in the Balama community and in the development of solar energy panels for the new facility.
From its earliest days when it met for worship in a bank building, Heritage set out to become a community-focused church. Now, Heritage continues to share help and healing, hope and home in Bartow and beyond. And just as that core group envisioned, we continue to be a church with open hands, open minds and open hearts.