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Religion

Baptist minister finds a place to call home

After years as a missionary, the Rev. Stephen Chick and his family have settled in Tarpon Springs and are helping to bring new life to a church in New Port Richey.

By EBONY WINDOM
Published March 11, 2005


TARPON SPRINGS - When someone asks the Rev. Stephen Chick where he's from, he answers with a long story.

For him, there's no simple answer to that question.

That's because as a second-generation missionary, Chick has traveled the world.

He spent much of his childhood trekking from coast to coast with his family, starting new churches and spreading the gospel along the way.

Chick, who lives in Tarpon Springs, loves to talk about his journey. Now 36, the senior pastor at Suncoast Baptist Church in New Port Richey spent the past decade working in England as a church planner.

Like his dad's, Chick's job was to help start new churches. But according to Chick, he had his work cut out for him.

In England, only a tiny percentage of the population actually goes to church, he says. Ironically, English settlers are credited with initially bringing Christianity to America, Chick says.

"It was a main evangelic country," Chick said, referring to England. "Now, it needs to be evangelized. ... They're closing churches down left and right."

So as a result of Chick's mission work, a renovated chapel in Cannock, England, is up and running.

Over the years, Chick has logged hundreds of thousands of miles in his trusty minivan with his wife and three kids. One year, the family lived on the road. From hotel to hotel, and church to church, they raised money to support 850 churches.

Now, after a lifetime of missionary work, Chick has hung up his traveling shoes. The kids are getting older, he says, and need stability. The time has come to park the minivan and settle down.

Just last month, Chick embarked on a new chapter in his journey. He stepped in as senior pastor of the west Pasco church.

"(God) opened doors for us to come here," he said.

It all started a year ago. Chick got word that Suncoast was without a permanent pastor. Apparently, the former one had moved away. So Chick submitted a resume. But at the time, the church wasn't financially able to take on a new pastor.

So, he waited.

In the meantime, the Chick family started worshiping at Suncoast each week.

Right away, they loved the church. There was just something about it. Suncoast wasn't one of those churches where folks don't even say hello, Chick says. At Suncoast, everyone was warm and friendly. The Chicks immediately felt right at home.

So months later, when the time came to hire a senior pastor, Chick had already won over the congregation. An overwhelming 98 percent voted him in.

Now, with Chick in the pulpit, attendance at Suncoast has swelled from 82 to 200, thanks in part to Chick's slick marketing campaign. On the side, Chick runs a home-based business hawking church promotional items. So Chick uses his business savvy to help get the word out about Suncoast. He hopes to draw in young families from North Pinellas and West Pasco.

"When you look at the church in Jerusalem, there was all ages, all backgrounds," Chick said.

Even the largely senior congregation agrees that younger faces are needed in the pews, Chick says.

"We were basically looking for a younger pastor who could draw a young crowd into the church, not just strictly retirees," said Deacon Don Doty, 76, who has been a Suncoast member for 11 years.

In only a month, Chick has transformed into a round-the-clock public relations representative for the church. And he encourages the congregation to follow suit.

When Chick spots a clerk at Wal-Mart, he invites him or her to church. And at restaurants, too. One time he paid a woman's breakfast tab. She looked shocked.

Chick just grinned. His parting words were: "Come visit Suncoast Baptist Church sometime."

Church volunteers pass out free pens, key chains and yo-yos - all emblazoned with Suncoast's name. During Valentine's Day, they handed out pastel-colored carnations to passers-by at a shopping plaza. A business card was attached.

"The Yellow Pages do not work," Chick said. "I want the world to know about Christ."

Soon Suncoast will transition to blended worship services in order to "satisfy seniors and appeal to younger groups."

Chick uses a relevant message each week. For his sermon titles, he borrows phrases from hit TV shows such as Trading Spaces and While You Were Out.

And Suncoast's new cafe offers a selection of gourmet pastries and coffees before Sunday worship.

Things are changing at Suncoast.

"I hear people say, "We've never done it like this before,' " Chick said. "But this is 2005, and we've got to learn to reach people differently than in the 1960s."

There are plans to revitalize Suncoast's children's program and start several new ministries, too. They include groups for widows and single moms.

Chick logs about 80 hours a week at Suncoast. All on a part-time salary - for now. But it's not a job, it's a calling, Chick says. And besides, it all gives him a sense of fulfillment, said his wife and "best friend," Lisa, 34.

"(Chick's) a Godly man and has a great desire to see the church grow both physically and spiritually," said Doty, who lives in New Port Richey. "He wants to reach out into the community and bring others to know Christ."

In the meantime, Chick and his family are glad to call Tarpon Springs home. And they plan to stick around long enough to see the kids, Seth, 13, Eden, 10, and Noah, 6, graduate from high school. Chick says family comes first. The couple hope to buy a house soon. And that's a big deal for a family that has lived in 15 homes in the past 14 years.

So folks who ask the Chick kids where they're from can get ready for a long answer.

[Last modified March 11, 2005, 01:23:21]


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