First Baptist’s Thomas takes position in Virginia

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 9, 2003

First Baptist pastor, Dr. Eric Thomas, has resigned after five and a half years with the church on Cherry Street.(Melanie Duncan Thortis The Vicksburg Post)

[7/9/03]Dr. Eric Thomas, pastor of Vicksburg’s First Baptist Church for five and a half years, has resigned to take a position at a 4,600-member church in Norfolk, Va.

“My expectation there is God is giving us an opportunity to enter his field of ministry and share his love with that community,” said the 35-year-old Thomas. “My prayer is that the church would seek to share his message of hope with the Norfolk area.”

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The church, one of Vicksburg’s largest, has about 1,000 resident members and about 500 who attend weekly services, church secretary Carla Ivey said.

Thomas, who announced his departure to his congregation Sunday, will be senior pastor at First Baptist Norfolk, which has two campuses and four Sunday services that draw about 2,000 worshipers each week, said Steve Harper, that church’s director of media relations.

Thomas was selected in Norfolk after delivering sermons there on June 29. Church members, casting closed ballots, showed a 94 percent favor of hiring him, Harper said.

Current and former officers of the local First Baptist said Thomas has been good for the Cherry Street church.

“Giving has increased every year since he has been here,” said Mark Buys, chairman of the finance committee, and the church has seen a growth all around, said Ben Atkinson, the church’s former minister of education, now living in Hattiesburg.

Thomas doesn’t talk about the numbers.

“I measure the success of my ministry by changed lives,” he said.

While he has been in Vicksburg, First Baptist has begun participation in a ministry-based basketball league for children known as Upward Basketball and has started Celebrate Recovery, a ministry offering counseling for those with addictions and eating disorders.

“It is my desire that when people think about my time here, they think about a passion for Christ,” Thomas said.

First Baptist also started Rock the River, an annual communitywide service designed to focus on youth sand young adults, while Thomas was here.

“One of the things I love about Eric is that he had a vision for the whole community,” said the Rev Terry White, pastor of Bowmar Baptist Church. “He didn’t just sit back and wait for things to happen, he made them happen.”

Thomas will deliver his final sermon to the church on July 20.

“He is the youngest pastor we have ever had,” said Caroline Mendrop, a 50-year member of the church. “He has a lot of energy, and I feel our church needed that,” she said.

“He is a very intelligent and vibrant young man, and he is going places. I just wish it wasn’t away from here,” she said. “I feel like he is definitely following the Lord’s leading, and I feel that he may be able to reach more lives for Christ in Norfolk.”

Thomas and his wife, Eydie, have four daughters, Emily Catherine, 9, Elizabeth, 7, Maggie, 5, and Mallory, 3.

Mike Burnett, chairman of deacons for First Baptist, said the church will take nominations for a pastor search committee.

Burnett said church bylaws require the committee to include eight church members, with the chairman of deacons filling one of those seats. The other seven will be nominated by the church and elected by closed ballot.