By Bill Piecuch
It’s pleasant and visually stimulating to survey the adjacent farmland next to Food City as you enter Fairfield Glade on Peavine Road. What might catch your eye, though, is a stately building graced with a lone tower jutting majestically into the heavens. In the evening, dots of lights will glow softly in surrounding darkness. Whatever the spiritual beliefs one may hold, Fairfield Glade First Baptist Church remains a place where ordinary people create extraordinary service.
Let’s begin with Pastor Dr. Leonard Markham and his off-podium feats. His passion for the sport of running and coaching track will probably go unrecorded in any church document. Yet his strategies have become a blueprint for growth and spiritual excellence.
The results are impressive: Over the last three years he has helped coach both the boys’ and ladies Cumberland County High School cross country teams comprised of about 20 students. During that time, both teams reached the final rounds and competed in the regional qualifying state championships held in Nashville. The boy’s teams ran each of those years and the girls’ have run two of the last three years.
He remains in constant contact with runners of both Crossville high schools, spending many early mornings with serious runners to provide tips and advice from his own experience as a successful runner.
Measured in scholarships to college, the payoffs have been significant. Individuals receiving college scholarships from the Crossville area include Maggie Bernebeigh to Tusculum University, Jacob Simmons to Tennessee Wesleyan, and Kayla Daniell to Trevecca. These scholarships totaled $248,000.
The congregation seems to follow the lead of their pastor. For example, church members are equally busy and vigilant by participating in local ministries, which include Cumberland Good Samaritan, Bread of Life, Plateau Pregnancy Services, Habitat for Humanity and Good Samaritan Society in Fairfield Glade. The church is affiliated with Cumberland Plateau Baptist Association which actively coordinates ministries such as Christian Women’s Job Corps, Disaster Relief, Christian Counseling and medical and construction mission trips to other states and abroad.
At the elementary school level, both Pastor Markham and his wife promote viable sport and art. For five years, they coached at Crab Orchard Elementary, where Debra Markham served as an art teacher. Volunteers from the church committed themselves to attend practices during winter months and extend support into the spring. They helped set up activities for the races, brought tents, refreshments and first-aid supplies to help the team and quietly picked up expenses.
Let’s go back a bit further: Doctor Leonard Markham graduated from Cumberland College, Williamsburg, KY. He has earned degrees from Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY and master of divinity and doctor of ministry degrees. His pastoral career began at age 19 and currently spans 45 years – highlighted, in part, by authoring a witnessing tract used during 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville.
While serving nearly 18 years as senior pastor of Bluegrass Baptist Church in Hendersonville, TN, north of Nashville, he decided to move closer to the Crossville area to take care of his ailing father. To his surprise he discovered Fairfield Glade First Baptist was searching for a pastor.
Concurrently, early in the 1990’s, the Tennessee Department of Transportation, lest we have forgotten, announced that Peavine Road would be widened and Fairfield Glade First Baptist Church and about one acre of property would be acquired for the road expansion.
The congregation remained vibrant and unfazed in the midst of the looming loss of their building and minus a full-time pastor. In fact, the congregation continued to slowly grow and chug eternally onward.
In 2006, Markham and wife Debra, a certified children arts teacher, arrived in Fairfield Glade. He was named pastor and preached his first sermon on July 2, 2006. Before a packed house, he said hello, thanks for warm welcome and proceeded to outline a challenge and view of the future. That’s when things began to percolate.
Two years later, in July of 2008, the congregation approved a strategic plan for the future of the church. And it was a load – headlined by asking the congregation, which by this time was nudging close to 400 members – to raise close to a half-million dollars beyond the (then) annual budget.
In 2009, the congregation responded by raising $826,000, despite a severe economic downturn. That was enough to purchase a 10-acre site across Peavine Road with plans for relocating the church. Then, according to spiritual beliefs, divine intervention, pure luck, or a combination of all three, the church was awarded a fairly generous $1.4 million by the Tennessee Department of Transportation to purchase the (then) existing Peavine Road facility at 5160 Peavine Road.
One Sunday in July 2011, during a late afternoon groundbreaking service, many details of the new church building were shared with the people. It would seat 412, with room for an additional 60 choir members. The building sits snuggly and comfortably on a 10-acre site assuring plenty of room to expand and park. In August 2012 the first service was held at the New Worship Center. The price tag of the new church was a hefty of $3.2 million.
A slight post script occurred: Minus a portion of the facility which was removed to accommodate widening of Peavine, the surviving part of the building was repurchased by the church. It was remodeled and christened the “Discovery Center” and currently used as a rental meeting place for community groups.
Aside from managing cash flow wisely and spending shrewdly, the church ministry (or management) is achieved with only three full-time staff members. Volunteers include the adult choir, praise team, children and youth choirs, musicians, as well as audio and video crews. Over a hundred people are involved in implementing a typical worship experience.
Outsiders viewing the growth of the congregation and facilities look on with a degree of curiosity. How does all this happen? The answer might be a caring, creative, dedicated pastor who not only leads but coaches about God. A touching letter from one of the runners he coached offers some insight into the wondrous group called Fairfield Glade Baptist Church. It reads as follows:
“I can hear this voice in my head telling me it’s too hard to finish the race, but I keep my chin high, my legs moving, and I try to drown out this voice that’s trying to get me to give up. I instead think about how lucky I am to have you as a coach ... no, I’m blessed to have you as a coach. You always pick me up when I fall; you always tell me words of wisdom and encouragement to overcome my doubt. You prepare me for the race so I can finish with proudness and for that I thank you. You will be the best coach in the world to me forever.”
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Bill Piecuch can be reached at email@example.com