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VI. A LAY RENEWAL
Rev. Carter served for two years before leaving to try to rebuild what was left of Mt. Lebanon University, but left his mark on the church by the introduction of Sunday School literature and the radical notion of taking up a collection on Sunday mornings. Both ideas took hold, of course.
The time of healing continued, but now took an unusual turn. The next pastor of Homer Baptist Church was an alcoholic politician who had had a deathbed conversion in 1861, 1 After promising God to become a preacher and give up his "disorderly" life, if that life were spared, S. C. Lee was shocked to see his prayer answered. He kept to his word, however, and persuaded the First Baptist Church in Farmerville to license him to preach while still bedridden. Soon he became one of the most energetic, enthusiastic preachers in the area and was persuaded to bring his special skills to Homer. While in Homer, Rev. Lee took as his special project the ongoing problem with alcohol abuse. He consoled, counseled and bullied when necessary, and soon the problem dwindled. The fun-loving Brother Lee was responsible for the first programs especially designed for young people and encouraged the church to sponsor Christian activities for them. 2
The unexpected death of Rev. Lee could have sent the still struggling church into yet another decline, but fortunately another pastor, L. A. Traylor, was found to continue Rev. Lee's work. The church must have been a little uneasy about Rev. Traylor when he first came to the church, because he certainly was not the kind of pastor the people had come to expect. Rev. Traylor was described as a "radical Republican," unusual in an area which had firmly turned to the Democratic party after the Civil War. He also firmly held a belief all citizens (men, that is) should vote and spent many hours going door to door to enlist black citizens in the Republican party. The church accepted Rev. Traylor and his politics, however, and grew to love him .3
Under Rev. Traylor's leadership, Sunday School was expanded to include adult classes and membership continued to grow. He encouraged lay leaders to find areas of service and helped the church to realize individual efforts were necessary if the church were to survive. S. C. Seals became superintendent of the Sunday School and family participation in this "new-fangled" notion became an accepted part of Sunday worship. Drew Ferguson continued to serve as church clerk and cheerfully volunteered to perform any service he could. Eventually he became president of the Louisiana Baptist Convention twice. W. W. Dormon took as his special interest the music ministry of the church and continued to lobby for more song books. The Ladies Aid society (a precursor to the Women's Missionary Union) became even more active and bought extra benches, helped to pay for blinds for the church windows and took financial responsibility for the painting of the church. 4
This was an exciting time in Louisiana as well as the rest of the nation. The World's Fair of 1883 was held in New Orleans and the now complete railroad service allowed greater access to the rest of the world. 5 Not all changes were benign, however, for the Louisiana Lottery, with all its attendant corruption, was now at its peak of operation. The so-called "Gay Nineties" began to offer distractions whose moral value was uncertain.
Dancing was, of course, wrong. Church members were sure of that. And horse racing, now, that was wrong, too. Wasn't it? But what about roller skating and bowling and billiards and ferris wheels and bicycling and, soon, movies? Into this growing prosperity came the fondly remembered BYPU or Baptist Young People's Union. Minutes do not indicate the exact date this organization came to our church, but this earlier version of Training Union, or Church Training, was eagerly accepted by both young people and their relieved parents. 6 Older church members recall hayrides, Bible studies, picnics and 'sword drill' as a major part of their youth.
With the increasing involvement of lay persons in the church and desire for Sunday evening BYPU and midweek prayer meetings, the church in 1888 decided the pastor should reside in Homer and that First Baptist should be his primary church. In exchange, the preacher's salary would be increased to three hundred dollars per year (the first proposed increase in nearly forty years) and a pastor's home provided. Brother Traylor reluctantly refused the offer, which would require him to move and the search was on for a new pastor. For months committees from the church conferred with churches in Arcadia, Summerfield, Gilgal and surrounding areas, hoping to find a preacher who would move to Homer as a half-time pastor, yet serve one or more of the smaller churches as pastor also. As an added inducement, the church obtained a reduced fee for railroad travel between the towns.
Dr. G. W. Griffin then came to the church as pastor in September of 1889 through 1890, though he continued to serve other churches. The church still wanted a resident pastor and called Charles Blufred Hollis of Haynesville, hoping he would be able to be that pastor. Brother Hollis had already made such arrangements with New Friendship Church of Haynesville, however, by using his carpentry skills to build their pastor's home. By all accounts, both Dr. Griffin and Rev. Hollis were well-liked and the church grudgingly accepted the non-residence. 7
In 1893 the church thought they had found a resident pastor in the person of J. T. Barrett, a well-known advocate of Sunday School and women's rights. Bro. Barrett decided he could not afford to preach half time in Homer and live in Homer for less than four hundred dollars per year. That much money could not be raised, however, and the church temporarily gave up the hope of a resident pastor. Rev. Barrett then offered to preach twice per month and stay in town one weekend per month for three hundred dollars per year. Thoroughly disgusted by this time, the church voted to call Brother Barrett since "no other" was available. Surely the cross attitude of the church hindered his ministry, for he resigned only a few months later.
This time, the church decided to have members pledge the amount they would give toward the purpose of having a resident half-time pastor. When three hundred ninety-nine dollars of the four hundred dollar salary was pledged, the church called J. D. Jameson of Crystal Springs, Mississippi to be the first resident pastor. Obviously, Rev. Jameson had taken the measure of the recalcitrant church and delivered an "impressive" sermon on the duties of a church to its pastor as his first address.
Chastened, the church once again turned to its duties and the membership of the church began to increase. The Ladies Aid Society, consisting of Mrs. S. P. McCauliff (later first president of WMU organization in the church), Mrs. W. W. Dormon, Mrs. E. H. McClendon, Mrs. S. I. Kinnebrew and Mrs. B. W. Fortson, Sr. took on increasing responsibilities within the church and paid for various needed items with suppers, bazaars, rummage sales and festivals. 8 After another stern lecture concerning the historical value of church records and the necessity to take care of them, the sometimes skimpy records began to carry more detail. Brother Jameson also insisted on the repair of the baptistery and contributed to the fund himself.
In 1896, Rev. Jameson refused to accept another term as pastor, but remained a valued church member, often attending associational meetings as a representative of the church. O. M. Keller served several months as an interim pastor while pastor at Mt. Lebanon. Soon, however, the church called Dr. W. M. Reese and he served as pastor until 1898 though he could give only one Sunday per month to the church. Dr. Reese helped the church give added order to its financial statements and was well-liked, but attendance and membership began to drop when services were scaled back to once per month.
One of the most beloved figures of our church made his first appearance in 1897. J. U. H. Wharton, later to become the only person to pastor First Baptist Homer for three non- consecutive terms, joined with Dr. Reese to conduct a revival in September of that year. He so impressed the congregation that when Dr. Reese resigned as pastor (though he remained a member) to pursue mission work, the church immediately asked Dr. Wharton to accept the pastorate. He did so and a church legend was born. Dr. Wharton, though in poor health and pastoring other churches, immediately restored the church to twice a month services. He rallied the lay workers, including Mr. and Mrs. Drew Ferguson, Mr. and Mrs. J. E. Smith, C. W. Seals, Mr. and Mrs. T. N. Nix, J. C. Moon, C. G. Young, Y. M. Lyons, Mr. and Mrs. B. W. Fortson, Sr., Mr. and Mrs. W. W. Dormon, Mrs. E. H. McClendon, Mrs. S. P. McCauliff and Mrs. S. I. Kinnebrew and many others to ever greater efforts and church growth became phenomenal. Under his leadership, it is estimated church enrollment may have increased as much as fifty percent.
By 1900, mission support within the church had grown to an all time high. The Ladies Aid Society was restructured and eventually became one of the most active WMU organizations in the state. 9
Though unanimously called to serve as pastor another year, Brother Wharton pleaded illness and overwork with other pastorates and declined the call. The church was reluctant to lose Brother Wharton and quite probably no other pastor could have filled his shoes at this point. As the minutes state, Dr. W. A. Freeman was the "only available preacher." Dr. Freeman remained as pastor only a few months before resigning. Perhaps a bit ashamed, the church resolved to build a pastorium (one of the first in Louisiana) and welcomed Dr. G. H. Hoster of Arcadia as pastor. The increasing emphasis on lay involvement in church continued and Sunday collections were dedicated to such causes as Home and Foreign Missions and Ministerial Education. 10
This period of time is marked by the very short terms served by pastors. Dr. Freeman remained for only a few months as pastor followed by Dr. Hoster, whose tenure was only fourteen months. W. M. Jordon came and went as pastor in the space of only three months and A. N. Couch stayed only a year. J. T. Barrett, a former pastor, even returned on an interim basis.
This rapid succession of pastoral care could have weakened the church as it had done a quarter of a century before, but instead proved to be a blessing in disguise. No longer could the congregation limply depend upon its pastor to "run the show." Lay members saw their concerted dedication and care to be essential to the health of the church. Membership continued to grow and members who did not attend regularly were warned to mend their ways. The Woman's Missionary Society continued to grow in strength and purpose and began to funnel what would become thousands of dollars to home and foreign missions and other causes.
The congregation took up a love offering of one hundred ten dollars to support the fledgling Children's Home begun by William Cooksey, a former church member and uncle of our own James Melton. With so many good causes to support, the church adopted the envelope system to keep up with contributions. In some cases, the giving was sacrificial. On one occasion a loyal member, Mrs. B. H. Moore, was dissatisfied with the amount of money she could give to foreign missions, so she quietly slipped off her diamond engagement ring and placed it in the offering plate.11
FOOTNOTES VI. A LAY RENEWAL
3. Hair, William Ivy. "Bourbonism and Agrarian Protest," Daily
Picayune, September 19, October 3-5, 1891.
1. Paxton, p. 570.
2. Greene, p. 165.
4. Fortson, Beulah. "History of the Woman's Missionary Society of Homer Baptist Church," p. 16.
5. Huber, p. 241.
6. Lambdin, J. E. Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists, Volume 1, p. 134.
7. Durham and Ramond, p. 77.
8. Fortson, "History of the Woman's Missionary Society of Homer Baptist Church." p. 3.
9. Fortson, "History of the Woman's Missionary Society of Homer Baptist Church." p. 20.
10. Ibid., p. 9.
11. Ibid. p. 10.
3. Hair, William Ivy. "Bourbonism and Agrarian Protest," Daily
Picayune, September 19, October 3-5, 1891.
EFORE WE WERE A
PEOPLE THE YEARS PRIOR TO 1845 GOD OUR KEEPER THE SHADOW OF WAR
A TIME OF HEALING A LAY RENEWAL
A GROWING CHURCH TEARS AND LAUGHTER BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES A TASTE FOR HISTORY A FAITHFUL WITNESS OF CHRIST BIBLIOGRAPHY
Format and re-typing by C. W. Barnum