A teenage boy and girl greet churchgoers by name at Calvary Baptist Church. An usher hands out bulletins and quips, “You can’t get in without one of these!”
Then Penny Garrison, in a Southern drawl, brightly welcomes visitors as they take their seats.
Finally, songleader Brian Evans calls out, “You all do a good job of talking,” and begins the service with song.
Members of Calvary Baptist have good reason to be happy. They will return to a newly renovated church on Aug. 31 — and they’ve just welcomed a new pastor, the Rev. Edward J. Farris, after waiting for three years for a permanent leader. Church services had been officiated by interim pastor Rev. Bob Lively.
“We’ve prayed about this for about three years,” Garrison said. She said God brought Farris, 55, to the church with a divine purpose. “He is exploding with ideas about missions and evangelism, activities for the community, with other pastors, other churches. He’s just a fireball.”
Garrison said the new pastor and his wife, Roberta, “have a joy about them that’s just contagious. They just can’t do enough for God.”
The Farrises moved to Columbia on July 1 to assume leadership of the 625-member church on 606 Ridgeway Ave. Before they came here, they were missionaries in Brazil for 28 years. Their daughter remains there with her husband, and a son lives in Kansas.
Preaching in English has been a change for Farris, he said. “Sometimes I sound like English is my second language.”
Farris said his new congregation has been friendly, and he promised to learn all of the members’ names within a few weeks. One such friendly face, Dean Sutton, has noticed many newcomers to the church since Farris arrived.
“I’ve been seeing more new faces,” Sutton said. “I blunder up to people I don’t know and ask who they are. I don’t have the sense not to.”
Sutton attributes the new faces to the new minister. “Dr. Farris is motivating and inspiring people through his demeanor and confidence,” he said. “He’s a fine gentleman.”
Tammi Rivers, a junior at Rock Bridge High School, said she likes having a permanent pastor again.
Rivers said she looks forward to worshipping in a more comfortable church atmosphere. Since April, when construction began on the 68-year-old building, services have been held in the church’s gym. It has a makeshift altar under a basketball hoop and 13 rows of folding chairs. Inspirational banners line the blue-carpeted walls.
In his sermon Sunday, Farris reminded the congregation to worship in any place — even “under a shade tree” or “on a deserted island.”
“It’s going to be a beautiful renovation,” he said after the service. “But if we just had that, it still doesn’t guarantee worship of God will take place.”
Sutton agreed. He said worship depends on “where your heart is at that time.”
Farris expects the next few weeks to be busy. In addition to reopening the church, he will perform a piano concert on Aug. 31. Choir practice began Aug. 10, adult Sunday school classes have been packed, and several congregants pledge to join the church each week.
Farris wants to see Calvary Baptist focus on outreach for young married couples, youth and college students, especially international students.