File: Mitchell July 27
Photo: WJ 1.jpg, Central, Prescott Original Building.jpg
Memories of the Local Church
Do you know how your local church began? Do you know what has transpired through the years since that time? Are there highlights that just bring back precious memories?
Do You Know Your Church’s Beginning?
It was Karen’s and my privilege to serve the Central Baptist Church of Prescott for 21 years. I found it so satisfying and enlightening to look back into her history — to see where she came from and to rejoice regarding where God brought her today.
This year, in the fall, Central at Prescott will celebrate her 95th anniversary.
In 1927, a small group of residents asked a young W.J. Burgess from Little Rock to pray about starting a church in the railroad town of Prescott. He had been traveling to two churches via the railroad for a couple years prior, preaching to congregations in Arkadelphia and Gurdon. Then God led him and Mrs. Burgess to Prescott.
Bro. Burgess, who was to later be called “Mr. Missions” in the BMAA, was a strong preacher of the Word and the church grew despite being on the brink of the Great Depression that began in 1929. The congregation chose Central Baptist as the name for the new church. They had no building in which to meet, so they did something 95 years ago that would be impossible today — they met in the Nevada County Courthouse. On Nov. 6, 1927, in that courtroom, the group of believers organized into a New Testament Church and then called Bro. Burgess to be the first pastor.
Not only was the young church to deal with the Great Depression, but through the years, there would be history-making occurrences that would affect the congregation — World War II, the Korean Conflict, The Vietnam War, the battles in the Middle East, the ups and downs of the American economy and, of course, the ongoing battle with the influences of Satan. So, when someone says “I wish we could go back to the ‘good old days,’” it might be good to rethink that statement! Certainly, they were days of memory making, but not all memories are good ones.
Do You Know Your Church’s Previous Leaders?
In Central’s 95-year history, I was the 23rd pastor of the congregation. The 22 who preceded me paved the way for the ministries which I, and the present pastor, Roy Johnson, were to enjoy.
Do you know your church’s previous leaders? Almost every congregation will have a name of a pastor that just catches the attention of people years after that individual’s tenure at the church ended. But every pastor has an effect on the future of the local congregation in the community, whether that effect is good or bad. I was blessed to follow many excellent, dedicated preachers of the Word — men who loved the Lord and the Lord’s people.
I will not list all the previous pastors of Central, but here are a few that many readers will recognize. After Bro. Burgess left for Alabama in 1929, J.H. Reaves and Wesley Thomason led the church for the next three years. As the Great Depression came to a close in 1932, Dr. C.C. Winters led the church for one year.
Moving ahead, Howard White was the first pastor to lead the church for three years. J.P.C. Crane came at the beginning of World War II and pastored one year. Elbert O’Steen, who would become Secretary of BMA of Arkansas Missions years later, was the first pastor to stay at Central for six years. H.G. Burch, whose son became chairman of the CBC Music Department) led the congregation for four years. From 1951-1957, Noel O’Steen, Bro. Elbert’s brother, was the second pastor to stay six years. Loy Ferguson, who later taught at Jacksonville Baptist College, served three years.
As the Vietnam era began, D.D. Fairchild, assumed the Prescott pastorate and served five years. In 1965, my wife’s dad, R.P. Mitchell was called to the church but, due to poor health, had to resign. Olan Thompson was then called and served the church for two years.
The first pastor to serve Central for more than six years was Arlis East, who had served as an interstate missionary in Tennessee. He was called and led the church in a building program and served for 10 years.
In 1977, a pastor to teach the church how to be long-suffering was called — Karen and I were blessed to serve those wonderful people for 21 years. Today, the church has an excellent teaching pastor in Roy Johnson, who has led them during the COVID pandemic, and the church is again growing.
What Do You Know About Your Church’s Ministries?
Through the years, communities know what sound, Bible-preaching churches are doing in their towns and cities. Some have ministries that have been effective for years and some are developing new ones annually. Many churches were built through the Sunday School program. Others were known to have strong, effective youth programs. Vacation Bible Schools have been excellent outreach ministries that first drew in children and then the parents. Some congregations are well known for their involvement in world missions — sending numerous members to various mission points around the globe.
While I have mentioned the work of pastors, and I don’t want to diminish the importance of their roles, it is the ministries of the local church that have the greatest effect on the residents of the towns in which they are located. Whether yours is a church like the 95-year-old Central Baptist Church of Prescott, or the newest missions work in a town in Northwest Arkansas, the goal of the church is ministry. As I have written numerous times before, ministry is about meeting needs. Do you know if your church is meeting needs?
Once again, that is what I was just thinking. I hope I have stirred your interest to also think about some of the memories of your local church — and I hope that instills in you a new appreciation about where your church has come from and where she is today.