Church fills need with free clinic

Sun News correspondentOctober 31, 2012 

PERRY -- When people bring up The Vine church, Pastor Rick Harris said others usually chime in, “Oh yeah, that’s the church with the clinic.”

Harris said that’s a blessing.

“It’s good to be known as a blessing to others,” he said. “We’re swamped at the clinic but we prayed from the beginning we would effectively show God’s love as well as tell about it.”

Harris said he believes the church’s clinic, which is open from 6 to 8 p.m. on the first and third Thursdays of each month except July, does just that.

The Vine began almost six years ago. From the beginning, Harris said he and others sought to meet a need in the community both practically and spiritually.

“We looked around and saw there were food banks, clothes closets, resources for helping pay bills and other services, but no free clinic,” he said. “We also looked around and saw our church had two doctors, four nurses and others willing to help. It seemed like pretty clear guidance. I had read a book by church planner Ed Stetzer that said look at your community, see a need, fill a need.”

Harris said the church first met at Lake Joy Primary School for about a year before moving to its facility on Marshallville Road. The clinic opened at that site in September 2009.

“We opened it -- and no one came,” Harris said. “It took a while for the word to get out but now we have about a two-month wait list. There are people coming for the first time and some who have visited us for three years. We have gone from two to three doctors and hope to add another. All the volunteers put in a lot of work and give a lot of love after a long day at their regular jobs.”

Harris said the clinic keeps it simple. He said it does not have a lot of medical equipment and do not handle short- or long-term disability cases; perform camp, school or Department of Transportation physicals; refill medications not prescribed at the clinic; conduct OB/GYN exams or well-baby checks; treat chronic pain; prescribe narcotics; or draw blood.

He said it do see a lot of patients related to blood pressure, diabetes, colds and flu, infections and “stuff with children.” He said it also do many referrals for services it can’t provide but others can.

“If you’ve ever been in a position where you couldn’t get a doctor or lost your job and insurance, you realize how desperate it can be,” Harris said. “This is a real practical thing when you’re sick or your kid is sick. We do it because we love people and God loves people. Our frustration is we can’t get people in faster.”

During clinic hours, the church also provides a meal for patients.

Harris said The Vine is a very relaxed and relational oriented church. He said apart from what is done to serve the community and the church’s Sunday morning service, the fellowship is built around life groups meeting in people’s homes throughout the week.

He said this year the congregation has focused on God’s word and has been reading through a chronological Bible reading plan together. He said next year the church will be taking a close look at four clear areas of mission.

“Medical ministry obviously,” Harris said. “We want to continue and expand that and become involved in medical missions elsewhere. We also want to look at recreational ministry. If there’s one thing we have more of than medical professionals here, it’s teachers and many of them are coaches. Third, we want to plant an Hispanic church on our property, and fourth is to work toward planting churches elsewhere.”

Harris said he was born and raised in Virginia and was working on an accounting degree when he felt called to youth ministry. He kept at his accounting courses at Liberty University but filled his slate with youth ministry electives. After school he became youth pastor at Bethel Baptist Church in Chesapeake, Va., where he also traveled extensively in missions work around the world. A call to youth work at First Baptist Church of Perry brought him and wife, Monica, and their two sons to Georgia.

He said much prayer and preparation led to starting The Vine. He said the Rehoboth Baptist Association and The River church in Kathleen played large roles in the church’s founding by providing advice and resources.

“The River let us use their copy machine the whole first year,” he said. “You don’t think about it, but that was huge. They also loaned us sound equipment and supported us in other ways.”

Harris said the move from youth minister to pastor was an unexpected but exciting transition. He said he expects what God will do in the years ahead to be more exciting.

“We’re a young, growing church,” he said. “We have great staff -- three part-time and three volunteer staff members -- and there’s a wonderful camaraderie. The people here are enthusiastic about what God is up to, and the stage is set to really be able to minister to a lot of people in the next few years. We have plenty to improve on, but it’s a really cool place to worship.”

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