SPRINGFIELD — When a brand new college opened here less than a mile from Grace Baptist Church, leaders wanted to find a way to get involved.
Highland Crest Community College, a satellite campus for both Volunteer State Community College in Gallatin and Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, began offering courses last fall. The school, currently in its second semester, already has about 500 students who take classes on campus.
Johnny McCartney, youth and college pastor at Grace Baptist Church, saw the potential for church involvement at the new college.
“We wanted to minister to the students,” he said.
With support from Pastor Steve Freeman and others at Grace Baptist, McCartney began to explore how the church could best minister to the students, faculty and staff at Highland Crest.
The school currently does not have food service on campus so students basically have three options — bring their lunch, go off campus or don’t eat.
Under McCartney’s guidance, the church decided to provide a hot meal once a week (on Wednesday) to anyone on the campus.
During the first semester last fall, meals were offered at Grace Baptist. The response, while decent, was not what the church had hoped for, McCartney acknowledged.
“We realized we needed to be on campus to make a major impact,” McCartney said.
He talked to officials on the new campus and was given permission to bring the food to campus.
The meal is provided at no cost to not only students, but also faculty and staff, McCartney said.
“This school is a service to our community. We want to be a service to them and we want to be partners with them,” he stressed.
McCartney contacted Alan Pratt, an active church member and owner of Larry’s Restaurant in Springfield.
Pratt agreed to prepare the meals each week and provides them at less than his cost in order to help the students, McCartney said.
Pratt noted he just enjoys “helping the college kids. I’m not blessed if I can’t help bless others,” he said.
McCartney picks up the meals each week and transports them to campus. He is assisted by volunteers from the congregation each week.
He noted the ministry is accomplishing its purpose of building relationships with the school and the community.
Since moving to campus at the beginning of the spring semester, the church has seen the number of people taking advantage of the free meals increase dramatically.
They are feeding between 50-75 people on campus each week now, McCartney said.
Time was a primary factor that most students were unable to go to the church for food last fall, students and staff at the school agree.
“Most students did not have time to drive to the church,” said Dana Davis, an official at the college.
“This is perfect for those students who just have 30 minutes between classes,” she added.
Davis said the church is definitely meeting a need on campus. The students look forward to this every week. “They love it,” she said.
Shannon Cobb, a student and also a member at Grace, agreed.
“I really appreciate what the church is doing for the community by reaching out and providing a free meal for any of the students who want it,” she said.
She noted that most students do not have time to go out for lunch and either have to bring their own food or go hungry. “It’s nice having a hot meal provided,” she said.
James Walsh, a student at the school who is not connected with the church, has been impressed by the ministry. “Many churches want the community to come to them. They came to us,” he said of Grace.
“They came out here and care for the students in our environment,” he added.
Ray Mitchell, another student with no connections to Grace, agreed. It shows they are serving the community and is a benefit to the students, he said. “It saves us time and money. It is very nice of the church to come and do this,” Mitchell said.
Student Andrea Smith, a member of Grace, is proud of her fellow members. “It shows that God is working through the members of Grace Baptist who come here to provide the meals,” she observed.
So far, the ministry is exceeding its original intent of reaching the 18- to 22-year-old students as students of all ages are attending the college because it is so convenient.
Highland Crest is the only college campus in Robertson County. Prior to its opening students had to drive to Nashville, Gallatin or Clarksville to attend college.
And, the church has seen some people from the college, both young and old, attend the church since the ministry began. McCartney offers a ministry to college students at the church on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. to meet their schedule.
McCartney is confident the ministry will be ongoing. “We want to be partners with them for a long time.
“God has called us to minister to this community. This is part of it,” he said.
Pastor Steve Freeman said the ministry at the college “has been such a blessing. It is positively affecting everything we do,” he said.
Freeman sees the ministry as another way the church can build relationships in its community. “We are seeing bridges being built,” he observed.