The Centennial Baptist Church Story
And the Spirit of God came upon Azariah the son of Oded: And he went out to meet Asa, and said unto him, Hear ye me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin;
The LORD is with you, while ye be with him; and if ye seek him, he will be found of you; but if ye forsake him, he will forsake you. Now for a long season Israel hath been without the true God, and without a teaching priest, and without law. But when they in their trouble did turn unto the LORD God of Israel, and sought him, he was found of them. (2Chronicles 15:1-4)
THERE'S AN IRON-CLAD PRINCIPLE IN THESE VERSES: “The Lord is with you, while ye be with Him.” He will never leave or forsake His own who look to Him and lean on Him for counsel and direction. But, if we decide to walk our own independent way, even if we do belong to Him, He will let us go our own way until we hit a brick wall. Christians do not sing “I Did it My Way” with Frank Sinatra. We sing: “Have thine own way, Lord, Have thine own way.”
THESE WERE GOD'S PEOPLE AND THEY HAD BEEN "WITHOUT THE TRUE GOD," because they walked away from Him. If we want to walk without holding His hand, He will let us. He will say to us: “Go ahead and show me what you can do.” “Sin will take you further than you meant to stray; He will keep you longer than you meant to stay; It will cost you more than you meant to pay.” We can count on that.
I LEARNED A LOT ABOUT THE LORD BEING WITH ME WHEN I WAS EIGHTEEN, when I became pastor of a little church in Alabama. I am more amazed by it now, looking back on it, than I was when it was happening. I began thinking about those days again when I came across this picture in my computer photo album.
THE PICTURE: This is the “bus congregation” at Centennial Baptist Church, Eureka Road, Stevenson, Alabama, 1953. The church was the 3rd oldest Baptist church in Jackson County, Alabama. The founding date was about 1843. The community was built around a railroad repair shop that was built for emergency repairs on railroad cars and locomotives.
THE REPAIR SHOP WAS BUILT ADJACENT TO THE RAILROAD that ran from Nashville to Chattanooga. That railroad figured large in the Civil War between the states. One reason I’m giving the details of this story is that the Google references have nothing to say about it. No one has written anything about it. I will later offer this material to some of the sources that include the name of the church but have no data about it.
THE SHOP INCLUDED A TURNSTILE CAPABLE OF TURNING A LOCOMOTIVE AROUND. The repair operation required a good number of workers who needed housing. The railroad may have built many or all the houses. Eventually the repair shop moved out and the houses and several families remained there.
WHEN THE SHOP WAS OPERATING AT FULL CAPACITY, a typical-size Baptist church building was built. There was no Sunday school wing because they didn’t have a Sunday school. After a hundred years or so, the building had deteriorated and had to be torn down. Enough usable material, mostly Oak lumber and windows was salvaged from the larger building to build a smaller building that you see in the picture.
THERE WAS ONE AISLE IN THE MIDDLE. The pews were jammed against the outside walls. When the “new” building was built, the church renamed itself: Centennial Baptist Church. That was about 1943. There’s a good-size cemetery there, which has helped to maintain interest in the church. The active attendance, in 1953, was by 3-4 families that remained; all of them older people.
THUS, I BECAME THEIR 18-YEAR-OLD PASTOR (at the far left in the picture). On the extreme right is L.C. Rucker, from Rome, GA. He was leading singing for me that day. One of the deacons had heard me preaching on a local radio station and contacted me. Pastors were as hard to find as hens’ teeth (it’s still that way). They were desperate to get anyone who could read the Bible to come and meet with them. Consequently, I was ordained May 6, 1953 by the Highland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. and began pastoring with nine people and began visiting most of the day, every Saturday.
I WAS A FARM BOY AND I KNEW THAT IF YOU WANTED ANYTHING OUT OF THE GARDEN, you had to plant it first. I was 18 and it would be four months before I would have my 19th birthday. I knew a little about sawmilling and a little about farming, but nothing about pastoring a church. And what can we say about the old heads who thought they would be safe with a kid preacher?
I KNEW THIS: THAT IF I WANTED TO PREACH TO MORE THAN NINE PEOPLE every Sunday, I would have to come up with something to get more people into the services. If I had a bus, I could tell the people I was visiting to get on our bus Sunday morning. I found a 36-passenger bus on a used car lot in Chattanooga. A 1940 Chev for $250.
IT WAS EXACTLY LIKE THE BRAND-NEW ONE I HAD RIDDEN TO SCHOOL in the first grade in 1940 at Alpine, TN. This one had served its time and was “retired.” Someone had painted it a dark green and aluminum paint on the top. How much oil would it use, and would the rods stay in the engine? It turned out to be a hard-working pony and used hardly any oil.
THE BANK TURNED ME DOWN FOR A LOAN. (Smart men ran the bank.) OK, in that case everybody should have a part in buying this “special” bus and then we wouldn’t owe anything on it. I had no shame. I simply could not imagine us NOT having that bus. I went to every merchant in Stevenson, asking for money to help pay for the bus. I was an equal-opportunity beggar.
DR. BROWDER GAVE ME $10. Several gave $5 and then a lot of $3 and $1 contributions. In a couple of weeks, we had enough money to buy the bus, debt-free. That was even better than getting it from the bank. We bought two new tires for the front. But, we were never able to buy new tires for the rear; just one re-capped tire at a time, about one a month as the tires gave out. We would take up a special collection to buy one re-capped tire, about $18-20.
SOMETIMES WE WERE ABLE TO STUFF 65 PEOPLE INTO THE 36-PASSENGER BUS, which blew out “may-pop” tires that were not up to the load. We sang and laughed with good tires and flat tires. We had many professions of faith and baptized them in nearby Crow Creek when the weather was warm enough. Crow Creek was always cold. That didn’t matter either. We baptized about 100 people in Crow Creek that year.
STOCKY, JABBO KIRK WAS ONE OF THE FIRST MEN TO GET SAVED. He was built like a Mack truck and was rough and tough. When he came home drunk on Saturday night his wife would lock him out of the house and he would sleep it off on the front porch. One winter night, she locked him out and he came close to freezing to death.
WHEN HE GOT SAVED IN THAT LITTLE CHURCH, he stood up at the altar where he had been praying, picked me up in a bear-hug and carried me all over the church while he shouted. No need to struggle with him. Just enjoy the ride. The Holy Spirit kicked over the honey bucket in his soul and he couldn’t contain himself.
JABBO COULDN'T HELP ENOUGH. So, I got him to drive the bus. He also worked on it and kept it in good shape. One Saturday we put down new Oak flooring over the old. We worked all night and finished Sunday morning at daybreak. I don’t remember what I preached on that Sunday. I just remember that we finished the floor.
ONE SUNDAY AFTERNOON, I WENT OVER TO HIS HOUSE before church and saw they were running behind, so I picked up the milk bucket off the kitchen table and quietly slipped out to the barn. I was about half-done milking, pushing my head into the flank of the cow to hold her steady.
JABBO'S WIFE CAME TO THE BARN DOOR, calling to her husband. When she opened the door, she was shocked to find me leaning against the cow in my suit and tie, just milking away. From then on, she insisted that I eat with them when we could get together. She had thought I was too starchy to have anything to do with me. OK. I needed to milk a cow to move things along.
I NEED TO SHARE SEVERAL STORIES ABOUT CENTENNIAL and I’ll tell a few of those next time. God willing.
Read Through the Bible in a Year
SEPTEMBER 5, 2018 – WEDNESDAY
A.M. Proverbs 7-8 P.M. 1Corinthians 14:21-40
(Bible Gateway will read this to you if you like. Look for the speaker icon.)
A Good Verse to Memorize:
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)
(Write verse on scrap of paper and put in your pocket to memorize.)
Song for Today:
Keep on the Firing Line (2:42) (Male Chorus – Calv.Mem.Ch.)
Give it a little time – You may need to adjust the sound.