Fauquier Times Article
Updated: Jan 11, 2019
by Michael Melkonian, Fauquier Times Staff Writer
Derrick Rawlings, a senior pitcher for Fauquier High School in 2000, had no inkling he would one day come back to his hometown and open a church within sight of his home field.
In fact, after four years of college ball at Virginia-Wesleyan with an arm strong enough to draw attention from pro scouts, he probably could have busted a window in his new church, Freedom Worship Center, from the school parking lot.
“We could have thrown the towel in 10 times over – most people would have,” said Rawlings, now 34 years old. “We started the church with pennies in our pockets.”
Rawlings, along with his wife Ashleigh and their three children – and a fourth on the way – founded the Freedom Worship Center, a “non-denominational, spirit-filled church,” in April 2014.
Two years ago, Rawlings said he was shown a vision of the new church. He admits to being a dreamer, but said as the church has grown, all of its needs have been answered.
“I don’t question God. When he tells me something, I do it,” Rawlings said. “Faith is my reality.”
About five years ago he went to ministry school with an idea to open a church in Myrtle Beach. It’s easy to listen to God when it’s what you want to be doing, he said, like starting a church at the beach. It’s uncomfortable to be pulled in a different direction, like moving back to your small hometown.
His new church is in the Warrenton Business Complex behind the Food Lion shopping center in Warrenton, a few doors down from tattoo artists. Rawlings, not your typical looking country pastor, fits right in.
Some folks might be turned off by his youth or tattoos and piercings, Rawlings said, but “our church is here to break down these walls of religion.”
“That puts God in a box,” Rawlings said. “We want to see God move any way that he is going to move in a service. We’re passionate about experiencing God.”
Rawlings and his congregation call on God to perform miracles. He spoke about the congregation laying hands on a woman in the church for her cataracts. His mother, Carla Kelly, told of a woman’s disappearing breast cancer in mammograms after Freedom Worship Center prayers.
“This is about being a living witness,” Rawlings said. “This is about believers going out into the streets, into the community, praying over the sick and casting out the demonic.”
Rawlings first held Freedom Worship Center services in Warrenton Middle School. He put up signs from Warrenton Lakes to Opal to gain new members, and word of his new church started to spread, he said. About 25 people were showing up weekly for the nine months they spent in the school. When they couldn’t book the space for Easter 2015, Rawlings knew it was time to make a move.
The transition was tough, Rawlings said. The church lost members when they moved services into the Rawlings family living room.
“They’re not comfortable there,” Rawlings said. “I get that. I understand that. My house isn’t huge. It’s a single family home and we’re meeting in the living room.”
On Aug. 11, 2015, Rawlings got the go-ahead to move into the new space, vacant now for over two years. Fletcher, a contractor by day, and other leaders helped gut and renovate the office space as quickly as possible.
“When this building opened up we had to use our imagination,” Rawlings said.
But every time the church has needed money or help, the donations and volunteers stepped up, he added.
Bealeton farmer Steve Rice attended Freedom Worship Center since the official opening in the new home. He said he has searched for years for a church like Rawlings’.
“I was saved in a charismatic church that believed in the full gospel. It’s hard to find a church like that,” Rice said. “Most people don’t preach that.”
Rice said most preachers teach life lessons, but don’t actually read you what the bible says: that a miracle created Earth and man.
“God is in the miracle business,” Rice said, but added that most Christians act like God’s miracle-era has passed. Freedom Worship Center reminds him of churches from 20 years ago.
“We’re all-in right now,” Rice said. “You feel the difference when God is in the room. I’m telling you, it’s different.”
Rawlings said he understands the apprehension in trusting such a young pastor, but said he isn’t young in the Lord by any stretch.
“What makes a church is the people,” Rawlings said.
His faith grows along with the church and congregation, he said, and has seen God make impossible situations possible already.
“We’re not going with the flow,” Rawlings said. “The Christian walk is to go against the grain, right now we’re the minority.”