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Pastor, columnist Charlie Chilton decides to step back
By RUSTY DENNEN
The Rev. Charlie Chilton still speaks fluent Tagalog, the language of the Philippines, where he planted churches in the 1970s.
Chilton, 75, who grew up near Ferry Farm
in Stafford County, and his wife, Fay, were among the first Southern Baptist missionaries to work there, and Chilton had a gift for the language.
“I speak it like a Filipino, a talent God gave me,” Chilton said in a recent interview at his home in Lake of the Woods.
“He loved to talk and preach in the heart language of the people,” Fay, his partner of 56 years, added.
The couple’s times in the Pacific island chain are among the most cherished memories in their journey of faith.
Over the years, Chilton built quite a résumé, leading several churches, including a 15-year stint as pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Woodbridge. That’s where he began one of the first Filipino ministries in Northern Virginia.
Chilton also was an early proponent of desegregating Sunday services. And he authored two books on faith and wrote hundreds of weekly columns for The Free Lance–Star.
Chilton last preached a sermon about six months ago. His final “Thought for the Week” column ran last weekend. Diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2000, he has had an operation, chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and is still fighting the disease. The cancer has spread, so Chilton says it’s time for him to step back.
He didn’t mention that in his farewell column, though. Instead, as in many of his previous columns, he got right to Scripture. In this last one, he suggested that readers clip out a message of hope.
“You will need this direction and help. You will need comfort or strength,” he wrote, drawing on passages in Psalms, Matthew and Corinthians.
EARLY TO FAITH
Chilton was born and raised on Ferry Road, at a time when southern Stafford County was still a rural outpost.
His parents, Chris and Linda Chilton, were strong in the faith. They attended Round Oak Baptist, his mother’s home church in Corbin in Caroline County.
As a boy, “I was becoming more sensitive to spiritual things, and my parents encouraged that,” he said.
At 9 years old, he made a profession of faith during one of the church’s revival meetings, and was baptized in Massaponax Creek.
“Back in those days, all the [Baptist] churches used to do their baptisms there,” he said. “I dug in with both feet, so to speak.”
Chilton felt the connection grow through high school, and in his senior year, at age 17, he realized that God wanted him to be a preacher.
He laughed at the memory. “I said, ‘yes, but Lord, I think you’re making a terrible mistake, but here goes,’” Chilton said. “I never looked back. I never doubted or questioned it. It was the real deal.”
He spent two years at Bluefield College, then transferred to the University of Richmond. While there, he was pastor at Ely’s Ford Baptist Church in Spotsylvania.
“That was my first full-time church,” Chilton said.
He and Fay married in December 1956; the couple have four children. He went on to attend Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., then spent four years as senior pastor at Harmony Grove Baptist Church in Middlesex County.
“My concept of preaching was to bring good news into a bad news situation,” Chilton said. “Everywhere I turned there was crud in the world, but there would be dozens of people to hear me out. Like the Pied Piper, pretty soon you’ve got a crowd following you.”
His approach: “I preach very simple, very direct, very targeted,” he said. “People would respond.”
Soon, Chilton found he was being invited to preach at revivals and other churches.
“They wanted to hear the good news, and they came,” he said.
Chilton then moved to Triangle in the 1960s, where he would find his next calling.
“Northern Virginia was a military community, and an international community. That opened up a new world of preaching and ministry for me.”
In 1970, the Chiltons left on a mission trip to the Philippines that would last seven years.
“My job description was church planter,” Chilton said.
He said the people there were hungry for God. But while there, Chilton picked up a parasite that made him so ill he and Fay had to return to the states in 1977.
He recovered, and their next stop, for five years, was Berwyn Baptist Church in College Park, Md.
“There were so many immigrants coming at that time,” said Fay.
The couple taught English as a second language, “and we had a wonderful student ministry.”
Chilton said he was asked to help start churches in that region of Prince George’s County; he and Fay did that for another three years.
The next change of address was in 1985, when he became the first pastor of Grace Baptist Church.
“People we knew in Triangle” in Prince William County “wanted to start a new church. They figured I had some experience in that area,” Chilton said.
Said Fay, “By that time in his life, he wanted to stay and pastor” for an extended period, and he stayed for 15 years. One of their ministries at Grace was for Filipinos.
BRIDGING RACIAL DIVIDE
The Rev. John R. Peyton, pastor of Reconciliation Community Church in Manassas and a longtime friend, says Chilton was a pioneer in bringing races and cultures together.
In the mid-1990s, Peyton’s church was meeting in a shopping center storefront. One day Chilton, then pastor at Grace Baptist, stopped by.
“He said, ‘You know, Southern Baptists were in favor of slavery. It’s sad, and there was no real retribution for what they did. So here’s a key to our church. We’ve decided to let you use our building,’” Chilton told him, adding, “We’re usually out of there by 12:15” on Sundays.
Peyton was impressed, and the two became friends as Peyton’s church began working toward the same end—racial and cultural harmony in the faith.
“Charlie is very humble, an honest man with integrity,” Peyton said.
Peyton would borrow Chilton’s old pickup truck for various projects.
“Charlie said, ‘Come and use it anytime.’”
When Chilton retired from Grace Baptist, “We gave him a truck,” a brand-new Nissan.
“Recently, we had him come preach. Man, we were so excited. People all over love Charlie. People like him never get the spotlight, but are the model to me of a servant,” Peyton said.
During his tenure at Grace Baptist, Chilton began writing “Thought for the Day” columns for the Potomac News. He compiled those columns into his second book, “The Indigo Bunting.” His first book, “Planting the House Church,” a guide for missionaries, was published after they returned from the Philippines.
Fay, he says, was his partner all the way.
“We interpreted the call to preach as being a joint call. Not just me as Lone Ranger.”
Fay also came from a family of strong faith. The two met at the University of Richmond.
“We went on mission trips,” she said. “We had a lot to share in a spiritual way.”
She viewed her role in the church “like that of any other committed member.”
The Chiltons stayed at Grace Baptist until Chilton retired in 2000 and moved to Lake of the Woods in Orange County. In retirement, Chilton was again drawn to Filipinos. He met a neighbor who commuted to Grace church for its Filipino ministry. The man asked Chilton to have a Fredericksburg Bible study for Filipinos; 13 showed up for the first class. Chilton baptized 12 of them, and they became the core members of a local Filipino church run by Chilton on Deacon Road in Stafford County. He then planted another in Richmond because there was no Filipino church there.
Chilton said he wrote a letter to the editor here after the Virginia Tech shootings in April 2007, and was invited to resume his “Thought for the Week” column in The Free Lance–Star.
“The Lord made me a busybody. I think I’ve always had my antennae up to see what God was into,” he said smiling.
He started a blog in 2007, and in 2008 landed a gig as an interim pastor for several months, with televised Sunday sermons at First Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn.
Chilton and his wife now attend Rhoadesville Baptist Church in Orange.
“I feel like I’ve known him forever, but actually have not,” said the Rev. Nancy Stanton McDaniel, pastor of the Rhoadesville church. “He’s a fine Bible teacher and a great student of the Bible.”
She said one reason Chilton chose the Rhoadesville church was because it had a woman pastor.
“I’ve felt that, as a pastor, I could go and talk with him” about ministerial issues, she said.
In his newspaper columns, Chilton tackled all manner of topics—including racism, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the economy—from a Christian perspective.
“Yeah, I’ve been kind of crazy that way. Nothing scared me off. I felt like if the Gospel spoke for it, people needed to know.”
Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431
Here are two excerpts, relating to the political process and the economy, from the Rev. Charlie Chilton’s “Thought for the Week” columns, which ran from 2007 until last Saturday in The Free Lance–Star:
November 2011—“So it is not surprising, in this political atmosphere, for candidates to be affirming their religious feelings in debates, forums and personal appearances. That’s good! That’s as it should be! What doesn’t make sense, regardless of party affiliation is candidates showing an ugly attitude, calling their opponents bad names, dropping accusations and sowing innuendos—all the while claiming allegiance to American’s biblical heritage!”
February 2009—“I can feel the pressure on King David when he says in Psalm 121:1, “I lift up my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? Like today, looking around at the contemporary scene in America at eye level, many raise questions but few have helpful answers” to the economic downturn.