A particular church in Eastern Jackson County is living up to its name.
New Hope Baptist Church, 18000 E. Lexington Road in Independence, has overcome in what could have been their end following a 2010 tragedy, according to Pastor Darren Tharp.
On March 31, 2010, New Hope’s former pastor, David K. Love, walked into church member Randy Stone’s insurance office off Noland Road in Independence and shot him in the head. Police determined that Stone’s wife, Teresa, and Love had been having an affair.
Love is serving a life sentence for Stone’s murder, while Teresa Stone is serving eight years on a conspiracy charge.
That could be enough to close a church, but the opposite has happened at New Hope because of a united congregation and four resilient deacons, said Tharp. In fact, it can be argued that New Hope Baptist Church has thrived.
“When I first arrived here in 2011 we had around 70 members,” said Tharp. “Now we have over 300 in our congregation.”
This year marks the 50th anniversary of New Hope Baptist Church. The church has been serving the eastern Independence community since 1964, but Tharp says current members live as far away as Raymore and downtown Kansas City.
He said New Hope also has a fleet of four buses that provide transportation to and from the church for more than 100 of its indigent members.
“And we will go further where need be,” added Tharp.
A celebration in honor of the anniversary is scheduled for Sunday, May 4, at New Hope following its 10:45 a.m. service. Music and food will be provided, as well as an awards presentation honoring the widow of New Hope’s first pastor, Eugene Wheland, who served the church from 1966-99, and charter member Mary Payne, who has been attending New Hope all of its 50 years. The public is invited to attend, added Tharp, plus those who come will receive a complimentary coffee mug for adults and candy for the kids.
Tharp credits New Hope’s longevity and recent influx of new members to being an “old fashioned and traditional house of worship.”
“It’s the camaraderie, the unity, the fellowship,” he says about New Hope. “We are Bible-believing and worship style music.”
Another factor in the church lasting a half century is its “constant contact” with the community.
“We reach out to people through our website and 30 to 40 members volunteer their time on weekends to talk to neighbors about our church,” said Tharp. The church’s website is www.nhbaptist.com
Before agreeing to become the pastor at New Hope in 2011, Tharp said he wanted to stay in his home state of Michigan. But it was one question asked by a fellow pastor that prompted him to change his mind.
“Do you suppose God wants a church on that street corner?” Tharp recalled what Pastor Clyde Gilman of Albuquerque, New Mexico, asked him in reference to New Hope’s ordeal involving Love.
Tharp said the two had previously met during a ministers meeting in Illinois years ago. They subsequently became good friends. One New Hope Church member also knew Gilman and he suggested Tharp to their pulpit committee. According to Tharp, virtually 100 percent of New Hope voted him as their fourth pastor. He added that Gilman will be speaking at the 50th anniversary event on Sunday as well.
“They (congregation) all agreed with God,” Tharp said.
These days David K. Love and Teresa Stone are “not even mentioned,” said Tharp.
“Without question the congregation did nothing wrong,” he said. “We have moved on, but we haven’t forgotten Randy Stone. God still wants a church here.”
The community has also been receptive of the recent renewal at New Hope, he added.
“I’ve only been accosted three times about the incident (between Stone and Love). The local police have treated us properly.”
Discussing how New Hope is growing stronger, Tharp said his congregation will fill up the nearby McDonald’s on Missouri 291 every Sunday evening, where it’s like a third service of sorts.
“We don’t drink, smoke or chew,” he laughs. “But we sure do eat.”
Poppy’s Famous Donuts, 318 W. U.S. 24 in Independence, “have graciously donated doughnuts every Saturday.”
Tharp said that New Hope purchased property near the Little Blue River off U.S. 24. The church plans to honor Randy Stone by building a picnic pavilion in his name. The project will cost approximately $20,000, he said, but the church has raised $5,000 so far.
If it wasn’t for New Hope’s deacons and congregation, the church would cease to exist, Tharp said.
“It’s astounding how the old stalwarts stuck through the incident. It might be cliché to say this, but the difference is worth the distance at New Hope.”