Steadfast devotion

Faith Community’s Patricia Gould-Champ steps down from pulpit

Free Press staff report | 5/9/2024, 6 p.m.
After 28 years, Dr. Patricia A. Gould-Champ last January handed off the pastoral leadership of the church she founded, Faith …
Dr. Gould-Champ

After 28 years, Dr. Patricia A. Gould-Champ last January handed off the pastoral leadership of the church she founded, Faith Community Baptist Church in the East End.

A veteran educator, Dr. Gould-Champ, 77, said she began planning the transition three years ago after the church marked the 25th year of its founding in 1995 in the old Cool Lane Bowling Alley, now just a memory after being removed for the current building.

A Danville native who grew up in Richmond, Dr. Gould-Champ said she initially named two co-pastors, but after one left for a university teaching position, the Rev. Ciarra Smith-Bond was the clear choice.

Today, Rev. Smith-Bond leads the 200-member church at 1903 Cool Lane, just down the street from Armstrong High School in Richmond’s East End.

Dr. Gould-Champ said Rev. Smith-Bond, starting at age 8 or 9, grew up in the church and was part of Faith Community’s Youth Ministry. A 2018 graduate of Virginia Union University’s Samuel Dewitt Proctor School of Theology, Rev. Smith-Bond, spent the past year honing her preaching skills and learning other church leadership duties.

Dr. Gould-Champ said she followed the biblical model of a three-year training process—prayer, discernment and revelation—in preparing Rev. Smith-Bond to lead Faith Community.

Having worked closely with Rev. Smith-Bond, Dr. Gould-Champ said the new pastor is well prepared.

“I think the best leaders have been good followers in assisting the church leader,” she said.

Rev. Smith-Bond, 37, agrees. A wife and the mother of three children, Rev. Smith-Bond envisions Faith Community as “a sanctuary of support and solidarity, offering not just spiritual guidance but also practical assistance to meet the diverse needs of the communities we serve.”

Programs that address food insecurity, access to health care, education, job training, affordable housing, and safer communities, are high on her agenda, she added.

By collaborating and partnering with local organizations and stakeholders, Rev. Smith-Bond believes Faith Community can be a catalyst for positive change, working hand in hand with the community to address systemic injustices and advocate for equitable opportunities for all.

Meanwhile, Dr. Gould-Champ continues to serve as president of Community in Development, Faith Community’s nonprofit.

CID will operate a resource center across the street in the former city nursing home that Virginia Supportive Housing has converted into 86 income-restricted apartments for disabled, low-income and homeless people.

Dr. Gould-Champ also continues to teach classes at VUU’s seminary where she has been an assistant professor of practical theology for 30 years.

A former executive pastor at 31st Street Baptist Church, Dr. Gould-Champ began Faith Community with her late husband, James Champ III, to primarily serve residents of the Fairfield and Whitcomb public housing communities, later adding Creighton Court.

One part of the vision for the church, she said, was to make it a place “to empower people—spiritually, economically, educationally and socially.”

Among the initiatives she launched after starting the church is a weekly grocery distribution program that provides free food and household items and currently serves about 100 people on Tuesdays.

She also was among the first to start an HIV/AID ministry that hasbbranched out to other churches and community sites. Since 1997, Faith

Community has teamed with the Virginia Department of Health and hosts trained counselors to help educate people on prevention and also to connect those served with jobs and job training and transportation and to resources to help them meet other challenges.

Her church also hosts a garden that grows fresh produce for the community.

During her storied career, she was the first female church leader to serve as president of the Baptist General Convention of Virginia, which represents 1,100 congregations across the state.

She has received numerous awards, including the YWCA Woman of the Year in Religion.

Dr. Gould-Champ also is the author of several books, including the “Gospel According to Cancer,” which she wrote after surviving breast cancer.

Completing another book is on Dr. Gould-Champ’s “to-do” list. “I am moving to the next thing God is calling me to do,” she said. “We always have to be engaged and listening to what God is calling us to do.”

Bonnie Newman Davis contributed to this article.