Central Baptist’s Carpenter packing for cross country move

Packing boxes stacked two and three deep crowded Aaron Carpenter’s office at Central Baptist Church in Dixons Mills.

At least it was his office until Sunday, June 28, when he preached for the last time.

He and his family are starting a new church “from scratch” in the Greater Seattle area, what he calls a church planting in Northeast Tacoma.

Carpenter and his wife Nicole, along with their three children, are leaving an area they have called home for more than nine years. Both originally from different cities Michigan, they met at Pensacola Christian College (PCC).

Aaron Carpenter

Former Central Baptist pastor Aaron Carpenter

“We both had to go to Florida to meet somebody from Michigan,” he laughed.

He earned a bachelor’s from PCC and his master of divinity from Pensacola Theological Seminary. His wife received a degree in sacred piano from PCC.

He has chosen to begin Soundside Church (as in Puget Sound) in the Seattle-Tacoma area for several reasons. Of course, he said, God led him to the decision, but especially attractive is the weather.

“We always hear that Seattle is cold and rainy. The strange thing is, I like that. My wife likes that,” he said.

The couple also is drawn to the northwest since it is one of the least churched areas in the country, he continued. Almost 40 percent of the residents have no religion, he explained, and 10 percent are avowed atheists.

In the South, Carpenter said, there is plenty of opportunity for people “to have easy access to the Christian message.” Not so where he is going. “It would be refreshing for once to talk to somebody who knows they’re not a Christian, knows why they’re not a Christian and now you have an opportunity to share the truth with them.”

While Soundside Church will be affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, that connection will not be advertised.

“Southern anything doesn’t play well” in the Seattle area, Carpenter said. “We want to draw people to Christ. We don’t want to throw any cultural barriers between us and them.”

The second reason is the Baptist name. “The Pacific Northwest, being a very liberal, unchurched, even godless culture…Baptist has a very negative connotation,” he continued.

The Carpenters aren’t being thrown into a new area without planning or support, but as the couple starts out, all they have is a zip code. Joining them in the venture are friends from college now serving in South Carolina, Jim and Adrienne Barnes, and their four children.

The group has been working with a network of Southern Baptist associations and conventions in the Seattle-Tacoma area. Since October Carpenter has traveled to Washington three times to take part in a needs assessment, narrow the target area for the new church and undergo basic training.

When it comes to financing, however, those affiliations cannot support the work entirely. For the past six months Carpenter has been visiting churches in Alabama asking for donations to carry the Gospel message to the northwest.

He expects that during the first year in Washington they will be learning about the area, meeting people and investing in the community. Both Carpenters enjoy music and have had an active role in musical theater in Thomasville and Sweet Water schools as well as the little theater group in Thomasville. They hope to use their talents in the same way to make connections in their new home.

Theirs will be a one-on-one ministry, “building relationships with neighbors,” learning about the needs of the community and trying to meet those needs, and “using our gifts and abilities to serve people in the area.”

“We’re not going out there to fix somebody’s political agenda,” he said, “and we’re not going out there to change people’s minds on social programs or social ideas. We’re just going out there to plant a church and introduce people to Jesus and let God handle the rest.”

The Carpenters never planned to serve a church in the rural South. He was looking for a more urban location, closer to such amenities as hospitals and cultural events.

After being a pastor at Central Baptist for almost a decade, “There’s going to be a lot we’re going to miss,” said Carpenter.

But he’ll be closer to Starbucks.