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At Home at Church

September 4, 2004

Courier-Post Living Section, p. 1C

Kim Mulford

Baptist pastor preaches from his living room and over the Web

Rows of folding chairs fill Yvonne Waite's cream-colored living room. They face a pulpit and a piano. On the mantle above the fireplace, the King James Bible and a collection of Pastor D.A. Waite's hard-bound publications take the place of knickknacks and photographs.

"This used to be a very pretty living room,' sighed Yvonne Waite, who once showcased her antiques there. But she was happy to reserve the room for a higher cause.

In 1998, the Waites decided they were fed up with churches that no longer used the King James translation of the Scriptures and with pastors who didn't preach enough about the Bible. So, the Collingswood couple launched their own, called the Bible For Today Baptist Church. Services are held at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on Sundays, and at 8 p.m. on Thursdays.

"We decided to take all of our furniture out of our living room and start a church,' said Pastor D.A. Waite, 76. "Even if it was just the two of us.'

The Waites are imitating a biblical practice. The early Christians of the New Testament worshiped in small groups that met in houses. Home churches are widespread, as unique and individual as the people who begin them. But the Waites' church has a technological twist. Their services are broadcast live over the Internet.

On any given Sunday, worshippers all over the world can tune in live to the Waites' sermons from the living room. Yvonne operates the video cameras, two in the front and two in the back of the room. D.A. keeps his cell phone close by in case someone has a song request. The Waites' son and assistant pastor, Dan, ("a very keen person on computers,' said D.A.) handles the technological side of things.

The Waites have virtual worshippers who have never been to Collingswood; they live in places as far flung as California, Texas, Wisconsin and England. Each month, the church mails recordings of four weeks of services on video or DVD to 41 households.

More are checking in on the Web. At any given time, a visitor can listen to more than 1,000 sermons offered online. The audio versions of Waite's sermons were downloaded a record 4,806 times in July, Waite said.

"All over the world, they hear little ol' me,' he said.

Waite, a former Navy chaplain and a retired English teacher, has a doctorate of theology and a doctorate of philosophy. He is trained in Greek, Hebrew and English. In 1965, he established a home-based ministry called Bible for Today, which still produces a radio program and a collection of more than 3,200 books, tapes and pamphlets. The house church is an extension of that ministry.

Ever a teacher, Waite leads his flock through the Bible, verse by verse.

"It's a learning experience,' he said. "I don't preach; I teach.'

As many as 60 people have attended a service but usually no more than a couple dozen people fill the Waites' living room each Sunday.

The small size of the congregation doesn't concern the Waites. The lack of a building, with its accompanying expenses, doesn't faze them either. They see it as an advantage. Without large capital expenses, they can concentrate on getting the word out to a worldwide audience.

Waite doesn't collect a salary. The church spends its money to support seven missionaries. It also has published five books that lead readers verse by verse through different books of the Bible.

Liddie "Dolly' Berry of Haddonfield has been coming to services with her husband for the last four years. The house church offered what they were looking for in a preacher, she said. She also likes the intimate atmosphere and particularly cherishes the prayer time.

"In a big church, you come in and you go out and you don't know that people have needs,' the 74-year-old said. "It is better this way. When we pray, we have a better understanding of what it is that they would desire the Lord to do.'

Reach Kim Mulford at (856) 251-3342 or kmulford@courierpostonline.com.

IF YOU GO

Bible For Today Baptist Church meets at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on Sundays and at 8 p.m. on Thursdays at 900 Park Ave., Collingswood. For more information, call (856) 854-4747 or visit www.Bible ForToday.org.

The Courier-Post is a part of Gannett Co. Inc., parent company of USA Today.
 

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