Calvary Chapel Clayton—Open Arms, Solid Teaching, & Genuine Warmth draw many to small fellowship in NC
Originally published in issue 77 of Calvary Chapel Magazine
Pastor Kevin Edwards of Calvary Chapel Clayton, NC, met with a young South American couple at the church one Friday in 2013. Juan and Viviana Arenas, teachers in the local school system, had never been in a Calvary Chapel and had many questions. They had recently visited another church in the small southern town but had not felt welcomed. Before parting, they prayed together, and Kevin’s wife Lisa hugged Viviana warmly. The next day Viviana attended a women’s event; on Sunday, they attended their first service. They had found their new church family at Calvary Chapel Clayton.
Pastor Kevin Edwards—who enjoys leading a multicultural congregation at Calvary Chapel Clayton, NC—prays with a visitor after church service.
Juan and Viviana were believers and had been active in a church in Cali, Colombia, that emphasized financial prosperity and legalism—they wanted something different. At Calvary Chapel Clayton, no one passed an offering plate. Juan recounted, “We received the Word of God, teaching without any impurity. Everything was done to praise the Lord, not looking for attention or money.” The couple became actively involved in children’s ministry, music, and translation for the church.
Not knowing that there was an existing Calvary Chapel in Cali, they later asked Kevin if he could take verse-by-verse teaching to Colombia. Kevin recalled, “Juan wanted what we have here. Calvary-style teaching is very refreshing for someone who’s been under wrong teaching.” In 2015, Juan and Kevin led a small trip to Cali; Calvary Chapel Clayton has continued to send larger groups annually.
Diverse and Welcoming
Pastor Kevin, an African-American, started Calvary Chapel Clayton in 2008 after serving as an elder at nearby Calvary Chapel Cary. By 2009, the church had grown, so Sunday morning services were held in a school. In 2015, the church moved to its current building; average Sunday attendance now is 400. The congregation is racially diverse—white, African-American, Hispanic, Asian, and mixed-race couples—in a historically segregated town.
“People who have grown up here feel that blacks and whites shouldn’t marry or worship together,” Kevin stated. “But God is breaking down racial barriers. The love of God is more powerful than anything men can do to separate themselves.” Growing up in a southern town with separate black and white churches a mile apart always bothered him. “If we were supposed to believe the same things, why was it that way? So now God has allowed me to pastor a church where He is demolishing those walls.”
“For You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God.” Revelation 5:9b-10a
Kevin cautioned that churches can’t manufacture diversity. “You have to be purposeful about the fact that everyone who comes to Christ is your brother or sister, and you have to embrace them as equals in the Lord. From there, honestly, it’s the teaching of the Word that draws people in. Everyone who comes gets treated as if color doesn’t exist. Pastor Chuck Smith, the founder of Calvary Chapel, was that way with the hippies,” he said. Members try to greet everyone with warmth. “We try to reflect Christ and do the things we’re learning in the Word. If you get hugged, it’s because people genuinely want to hug. It’s not fake,” Kevin said.
Lisa Edwards (left) and husband Kevin (middle) greet a visitor at Calvary Chapel Clayton, NC. Newcomers often return because of the warm welcome.
Vicky Gallegos and her husband Yuri, Cuban and Honduran, came to Calvary Chapel Clayton from Florida, where cultures mix. “To have [mixed-culture friendships] here [in NC], I’m told, is not the norm. At Calvary Chapel Clayton, it’s a beautiful melting pot of love—the genuine love of open arms.”
Lives Changed Maureen Baker surrendered her life to Christ on her second visit to the church in 2011. “I felt that I was home. I had never felt such a sincere outpouring of love,” she explained. Maureen didn’t have a relationship with Jesus and hadn’t attended church for years. Bitterness over a past filled with sexual abuse, promiscuity, and drug and alcohol dependency held her back from belief. “I didn’t think I was worthy to pray to God. I felt dirty.”
At church that day, Maureen learned she was worthy of God’s love. “Pastor Kevin showed me in the Bible that Jesus came to save people like me,” she remarked. God’s Word, delivered through sermons, the women’s ministry, and personal Bible study cleansed her, and eventually she was able to forgive her abusers.
Allison Simmons-Jacobi was raised until age 13 as a Jehovah’s Witness. She left confused about faith in God but years later accepted Christ in a Calvary Chapel. In 2012, she and her husband attended Calvary Chapel Clayton. “The moment we walked in, I felt comfortable. We were excited that this church was digging into God’s Word and applying it to every one of us.” She left that service knowing that she wanted to be baptized. “Here I felt for the first time truly connected to Jesus. Visitors experience kindness and warmth from people who genuinely love the Word and love Jesus. And we interact with each other outside of church, in Bible studies, and through prayer.”
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. … If God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” I John 4:7, 11b
Katrina Schweisthal (right) greets a newcomer before service at Calvary Chapel Clayton, NC.
Two years before attending Calvary Chapel Clayton in 2017, Jennifer King had been urging her husband Mondrick to find a church that provided ministry for their two children. Though he was comfortable in the local church he’d grown up in, Mondrick admitted, “I was also yearning for a deeper walk with the Lord and a deeper understanding of His Word.” The loving and diverse atmosphere attracted the interracial couple to Calvary Chapel Clayton. “I don’t feel like a black man going to a mixed church: I go to a fellowship with my brothers and sisters, and we are fed the Word,” he said. As full-time barbeque caterers, they feel called to feed their community. “Sometimes you’ve got to feed people before they can really hear the Gospel,” Mondrick asserted. The couple plans to cater a future outreach the church will make to Atlanta’s poor.
When retiree Carl Culotta first attended Calvary Chapel Clayton a year and a half ago, his wife was battling pancreatic cancer. They often didn’t attend because of her illness. When Pastor Kevin and Lisa came to their home to pray with Carl and his wife, she passed into heaven as they left. “Since then, the men of the church have really tried to keep me connected,” Carl said. “The folks here have been a really good support system for me.” He has actively participated in the church’s farmer’s market outreach and usher ministry.
Teaching God’s Word to All Ages
“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword … and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12
Kevin described his teaching style as simple and plain. “I give them God’s Word so that everyone can understand—from the non-believer whose heart can be pricked by the Holy Spirit, to the person with faith for 30 years. But it’s not all serious.” Kevin likes to engage the congregation and enjoys interaction with them.
Sunday school teacher Stu Miller brings the Word of God to life for children at Calvary Chapel Clayton, NC.
Sunday school and youth leaders follow the senior pastor’s lead. “Everything we do is centered around Jesus and His Word,” stated Youth Pastor Jeffrey Anderson. “Rather than being taught at, they get involved in studying the Word.” The ministry serves about 70 teens from 6th to 12th grades. Each week leaders challenge kids to apply one truth to their lives, Jeffrey said. For example, after studying a passage in John 12 where Mary anointed Jesus with expensive perfume, Jeffrey asked the kids: “Is there something really precious or expensive you can give up for God? Or would you rather hold on to it?”
Abby Gallegos, 13, added, “I always try Pastor Jeffrey’s challenges. It leads me closer to God. He talks about real world problems and finds the Scriptures that deal with them. He uses examples in his teaching, and they’re never boring.”
Mondrick King said his children have grown in their understanding of God’s Word. “After youth teachings, the kids can describe the details, what they learned, and how it applies to what we do today,” he observed. His son brings his Bible to church and takes notes, something he hadn’t done before; and his daughter is asking a lot of questions.
Parker Duerink, now 20, recalled that when she first attended Calvary Chapel Clayton in middle school, her mother forced her to go to youth group. “Because of where I was with God, I wasn’t comfortable here. I had acknowledged God and believed in Jesus and the Bible, but it just didn’t have a whole lot of influence on how I lived,” she related. Although she didn’t enjoy her first youth retreat, youth activities became more fun and helped her to grow spiritually. “I became more convicted about my relationship with God, or lack thereof.” Later, a church mission trip to Atlanta gave her a hunger for missions, and she attended Calvary Chapel Bible College in Hungary. Today, she and her husband serve in ministry at Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale, FL.
Pastor Jeffrey and his wife Whitney patiently encouraged young Parker’s spiritual growth. “They never stopped preaching and pouring in the Word. All those little truths and words of guidance they shared eventually came to bloom,” Parker affirmed. “They were there for me, just really faithful to their call as youth leaders.”
Children from every walk of life praise God during their own worship time at Calvary Chapel Clayton, NC. Photo by Micah Martin
All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version.
© 2020 Calvary Chapel Magazine. All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.