After the death of a friend in high school, Jonathan Lovelace (above, center) promised God he would work in Hawkins County to be a positive influence in the lives of young people. Contributed photo.
Jonathan Lovelace grew up in church, but says, when he got to high school, he gave in to peer pressure. "As so often happens, I let so many different things come against me," Lovelace said. "And I began to be the one to influence other people, and not in the best way."
Lovelace, who grew up in Hawkins County and graduated from Volunteer High School, says he and some friends were out one night and, sadly, one of Lovelace's friends was killed in a car accident on Carters Valley Road.
"After his funeral, I made a promise to God that I would come to this community and be a positive influence in the lives of young people," he said.
Lovelace pastored a church in Fairview, Va. in Scott County for 12 years, but longed to return to his Hawkins County roots.
"I had a burden for this community. I prayed that God would open a door for us to start a church down here," he said.
Eventually, a building that could serve as a place of worship did become available.
"Everything worked out where we could get it. But we were trying to think of a name for the church. We tried everything and nothing fit. Finally, just a few days before our first service, God reminded me of 'the promise' I had made when I was 19 years old — the promise that I would come back and be a positive influence in this community," Lovelace said.
The Promise Church, located just off of Carters Valley Road at 115 Hickory Hills Road in Church Hill, will celebrate its third anniversary in June.
The Promise is an Apostolic church, but Lovelace doesn't want anyone to be deterred by the denomination.
"We will love you no matter what your background is. We just teach straight from the Bible. We don't preach a Baptist, Methodist or Apostolic message. We just preach the Bible. If you love the Bible, you'll love our church," he said.
Services at The Promise are lively and spirit-filled.
"We are very boisterous in our praise and worship. We do some Southern gospel, but probably more contemporary music, praise and worship music. We clap our hands and raise our hands. Folks can demonstrate their worship to God here without feeling like somebody's going to look at them," Lovelace said.
The Promise started in June 2011 with about 40 people, but today that number has more than tripled.
"We're in the midst of a building project now," Lovelace said. "We're out of room in our small sanctuary. We've raised almost $100,000 toward building a new sanctuary on the property."
Lovelace, who is a volunteer golf coach for several of the school golf teams in Hawkins County, has a passion for young people and attributes much of The Promise's growth to the large number of youth who now attend, many of them students at Volunteer High School. Lovelace has used his position in the schools to reach out to the younger folks.
"I would say about 45 percent of our congregation is under 25 years old. That's the strength of our church, our youth. We really target the youth," he said. "A lot of folks feel like you've got to go overseas for missions work. We've got a mission field of 1,100 kids five minutes from here."
Staying connected to the young people in the community is important to Lovelace.
"Through our building project, our goal is to build a 300-seat auditorium. We want to get even more involved with our young people. Jesus chose younger people. We want to get involved in the elementary, middle school, high school levels as much as we can with kids and young folks," he said.
Jodi Shipley, who is 21, has been attending The Promise for two years.
"I never really grew up in church, and I was searching for a church. I went to a lot of different ones in the area and, not to say anything bad about them, but I just never felt fully welcomed in a lot of the churches I visited. I was right out of high school when I first visited The Promise. From the first moment I walked in, I felt so welcomed. Everyone made me feel like they wanted me to be there. They welcomed me as soon as I walked in the door. It didn't matter that they didn't know me or my story. They love you as soon as they see you," Shipley said.
Shipley says she also appreciates the style of worship she found at The Promise.
"I've been to churches where the pastor says something good or there's a great song that is being played and it sounds so good and you want to lift your hands, but you can't because you feel like no one else is, so, if you do, they're going to look at you like, 'What is she doing?!' You never feel like anyone is looking down on you at The Promise. You feel like you can just lift your hands up. You feel like you can sprint a circle around the church and it's just going to encourage someone else to life their hands up. It's going to encourage someone else to praise and worship," she said.
Tina Stivers and her family have been attending The Promise for a little more than a year now. Lovelace and Stivers' family first met when their children were younger and Lovelace was coaching little league baseball.
"My oldest son is the same age as his boys," Stivers said. "Jonathan was my oldest son's pitching machine coach. He was the first coach he ever had and he made a huge impression on our family. What a wonderful job he did with the kids! He was just always supportive and you could tell he really cared about the kids.
"Through the years we had gone to a different church and had been out of church for awhile. Jonathan invited us to The Promise and we've been there ever since. We were welcomed into the church just like we had always been there and were already a part of the family. It's a loving church. If they tell you they're going to pray for you, they do it. They really care about you."
Stivers admits she was a bit hesitant at first about visiting an Apostolic church.
"I was Baptist. I didn't know what to expect. But I learned it's not about Apostolic. It's not about Baptist. It's not about Methodist. It's not about denominations at all. It's about what the Bible says. That's the message that Jonathan wants to get across," Shipley said. "Even though I was 'different,' they didn't treat me as such. They welcome anyone. It made no difference if I went in with a pair of pants on and short hair. They didn't look at me strange or judge me. It's not about what you look like. It's about your heart. It's a church full of love. Jonathan invites students to come and sing or share their testimony. They don't even have to be members of the church or even go there. A lot of our Volunteer kids have started going there or have been baptized in Jesus' name. It's just a wonderful, wonderful place."
Twenty-year-old Courtney Anderson was just a teenager when she first began attending The Promise.
"I've been going to The Promise since it first began. The Promise loves young people and it's based around young people, but it's a good place for young and old to both go to. There are always new people coming," she said.
Anderson still attends her home church on Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings, but also goes to The Promise, which holds its Sunday services at 3:45 p.m., each week.
"When I started going to The Promise, I really started to understand a whole lot more and I've learned so much. Being a teenager can be so hard. But I've learned by going to The Promise how I should live. It's changed my life a lot," she said.
Lovelace says he hopes The Promise Church will be known as an inviting and caring church and a church that cares about its community.
"I teach our congregation that people don't care how much you know. They want to know how much you care," he said. "Jesus didn't say come. He said go. Go into all the world. So, we go. We go into our community."
The Promise Church holds services weekly at 3:45 p.m., Sunday and at 7 p.m., Wednesday.
For more information on The Promise, visit the church's Facebook page.comments powered by Disqus