Local Baptists launch new ministry

The Rev. Phil Holmes, director of missions for the Loudon County Baptist Association, reads The Open Table handbook as part of his training.

Loudon County Baptist Association will roll out this summer a new ministry in hopes of creating personal relationships and providing help to those in need.

The Open Table is a one-year program in which a person, referred to as a “friend,” in need meets with a table of six to eight volunteers who will guide and offer resources in topics like housing, transportation and finance, the Rev. Phil Holmes, LCBA director of missions, said.

LCBA is working with Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home to get the ministry started and will be the first partner in Tennessee.

“The reason the Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home is interested in this model is that they understand when children age out of the system at 18, if they’re still foster children and have not been adopted, there’s a failure upon society in helping those kids,” Holmes said. “What is magical about 18? Nothing. Most children that have come in the foster system are years behind in their abilities — social skills, knowledge of how to make it in this world.”

Holmes has adopted six children and has seen firsthand how teenage foster children can fall behind in necessary developments.

He intends to target those children who have aged out of foster care, as well as parents who have lost their children and want to work to get them back.

One of the biggest issues in the county is broken families, he said.

Holmes is in training so he may train other volunteers who will sit around the table. Volunteers will be recruited from area churches.

The program is judgment-free. Volunteers are there to become resources and, more importantly, a friend. One of Holmes’ primary goals is to create lasting friendships with participants. He aims to extend relationships past the yearlong program.

Teresa Wood, LCBA ministry assistant and Immanuel House director, said she is excited about the new initiative.

“I know that it’s going to give opportunities to individuals and families that wouldn’t otherwise have,” she said. “A big thing that I think about with children that come to the Immanuel House — we had this ‘open table’ concept, these families of these children — we will be able to help them, and not only help them, but for children that are aging out of the system, give them opportunities and give them people that they can trust, people that they know have their best interest at heart.”

Wood agreed that lasting relationships are a vital aspect of The Open Table.

“The statistics show that the people that come to the table and are helped by the volunteers there continue in those relationships past the time that they’re done with all the help that they need,” Wood said. “That can be huge for someone who doesn’t have much family or someone who doesn’t have good, godly influences. This gives us churches a chance to be a good, godly influence, to be a mentor to people who just need help with something, and that’s what God calls us to do. This gives us an opportunity to do that.”

People involved in the ministry will meet once a week with a table of volunteers for 52 weeks. During that time, the individual seeking help controls what happens through the ministry.

“The friend is the CEO of the table,” Holmes said. “They get to dictate how things go. We are just here as helpers and aids. We’re not here to tell people how they must do or direct their path. They direct the path of the table and how we help them. It’s supposed to be a judgment-free zone as well. We’re not here to judge. We’re not here to tell them how they ought to live their lives. We’re not going to do any of those things. We are going to stay true to this model.”

For more information, contact Holmes or Wood at 865-986-2292.