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VIII. TEARS AND LAUGHTER
The very last months of 1929 saw the beginnings of what would become known as the Great Depression. Though collections were still much higher than previous years, overdrafts became common and grew ever larger. The boom was over.
Cuts were made in the budget and Vernon McKee came to guide the church through the coming difficult years. The note on the new building continued to be met, but salaries were reduced and the church did not have cash on hand to send to the Cooperative Program every month (though the amount was usually made up a month or so later). By 1932, the church was once again out of debt, though barely. Miss Marian Dormon began service as choir director and continued to faithfully serve as such for over twenty-five years. 1 John S. Richardson and Melba Nelson coaxed beautiful music from the pipe organ and various pianists, including Mrs. Harkness and Mrs. McKee played the piano. 2
Against all odds and in the depths of the greatest depression the area had ever seen, the church rejoiced in November of 1934 when the mortgage on the new building, once so minor and easily assumed, was paid. Congratulatory telegrams were sent from former pastors, the Baptist Children's Home and neighboring churches.
Vacation Bible School has been a part of the church's educational program since the 1930's. 3 Many people, both members and non-members of the church, remember Vacation Bible School as a special time. In many cases, this offered the first or, in some cases, the only Bible Study the person had encountered. Vacation Bible School workers are responsible for many children making decisions for Christ. Claire Brown recalls a favorite activity of the children involved in BYPU and Vacation Bible School: hiking.
As a special treat, Nell Aubrey and Genevery Zachary would hike with the children five miles to Lake Herman (Slaughter's Pond) on the Old Haynesville Road. The lake was a favorite swimming and fishing spot and one the children loved. When the group arrived, they would be allowed to play in the water and have a picnic. Later in the day, they would hike the five miles back. The group of children would be from all the churches in the area, since Baptists attended the Methodist Bible school and vice-versa.
One particular outing was sponsored by the Methodist church. The hike seemed so much longer and hotter that day that upon arrival at the lake, the children all rushed onto the old pier. The pier could not handle the extra weight and began to fall apart, dumping them all into the shallow waters. No one was hurt, but the expedition became known as the time the Methodists got baptized!
Other special memories are of GA's and RA's and the camps sponsored by the WMU for these organizations. It was at such a camp in Mandeville, Louisiana that Betty Colvin Headrick, a missionary who was reared in the church, surrendered to full time service. Though she was only thirteen at the time, she vividly recalls the effect fine Christian leadership had on her career decision and credits her parents, Louise Reno, Louise Dillon, Altaline Moore and Lela Warren for the early training which shaped her life. 4
December 7, 1941 is a date never to be forgotten by those who lived through that time. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor threw the United States into a war that was perhaps inevitable, but to be avoided as long as possible. On that Sunday, the certainty of war and all that implied became imminent. Men went off to war, many never returned. The church encouraged the war effort by the purchase of war bonds and individuals rolled bandages, knitted socks, collected scrap, started gardens and learned to live in a world of rationing. For a number of years, J. Melton Oakes had worked to bring a library to the church. Perhaps it was not the easiest time to start such a project, since books, paper, carpet, drapes and almost everything else needed for a library was rationed. Mr. Oakes was determined, however, and decided the church was to have a library if he had to do it himself. He very nearly did everything himself, too, for he appointed himself a committee of one to raise the money, over two thousand dollars. With money in hand, others including Mrs. George White, Mrs. Lamont Seals, Mrs. Boykin King, Dr. Rutledge, T. M. Naremore and Beulah Fortson went to work to locate furnishings. 5
The search was not an easy one, for at the height of World War II, many items needed were simply not available. Finally, furniture and drapes were located in Shreveport and it was discovered Sears, Roebuck and Company now had some carpet which could be ordered. The committee immediately placed their order and waited. And waited. And waited.
After a long delay, the carpet appeared. Imagine the fury of the committee when it was discovered the carpet sent was three feet shorter than ordered! Rather than send the precious piece of carpet back, however, Mr. Naremore offered to refinish a strip of flooring and the pioneer spirit of Make Do or Do Without prevailed. The church now had a library.
The arrival of Gerald Trussell as pastor had caused a flurry of activity. The brick work was cleaned, the roof was fixed and desperately needed hand rails installed on the front steps. Heaters for the choir and Sunday School rooms were ordered and folding doors in the basement were installed to partition the space into needed rooms. Plaster work on interior of the auditorium was done and more lights were added. Brother Trussell then turned to the town's need for a hospital and, with the able assistance of Vernon Harris and Judge E. C. McClendon, convinced the Baptist State Board to operate a hospital in the town. In July of 1949, Homer Memorial Hospital was opened and still serves the citizens of Claiborne parish. Mr. Harris received even more popular support for yet another innovation he led the Deacon board to recommend to the church, official encouragement to the men to omit the wearing of suit coats on hot un-air conditioned summer days.
An innovation still in operation today was started in 1946 by Mrs. Clyde Shaw. Grateful parents were able to take their children to a nursery so that their attention would not be distracted from the services by crying babies. Needless to say, others in the congregation were nearly as delighted as the parents. Over the years, many wonderful nursery workers have spent time caring for these infants. Some of the most faithful have been Claude Owens, Avalyn Lesage and Mirva Smith.
In the late forties, Sunday School attendance had once again grown to the point an average of 420 persons were present on any given Sunday. All that could be done to efficiently use the present space had been done and the church was faced with yet another building program. Estimates for the needed educational building were over $119,000 and space was needed immediately. To alleviate the immediate problem, the church bought the Norton Funeral Homer for $15,000 and planned to construct an education building as soon as possible. This Old White Building, so it was called, was the focus of many activities before being torn down to make way for the present Family Life Center.
Dr. Eugene Skelton became pastor in 1952 and provided the impetus the church needed to finally complete their long awaited program to improve the educational facilities. Support of Sunday School continued to climb, so that under the superintendence's of Ted Norris and James Melton, the average attendance was over 550.6 Finally, in 1956, at the end of Dr. Eugene Skelton's tenure, the education building was completed.
The extra space was gratefully received but probably the nicest feature of the new building was the air conditioning. Though the church had planned a major extension and renovation with a new auditorium in the site of the present Family Life Center it was eventually decided to renovate the old auditorium at a later date.
Genevery Zachary began her amazing perfect attendance record and logged nearly forty-two years of uninterrupted participation in Sunday School, WMU and Church Training before her unparalleled streak was halted. She has attended services all over the nation and in foreign countries, on a Washington, D. C. bound bus and when in intensive care in the hospital. 7 She holds the Southern Baptist record for perfect attendance, a record which is unlikely to be broken.
Genevery Zachary's accomplishment is unique, but in 1957, she was nineteenth on the list of those holding record perfect attendance. Many others in the church could boast of attendance records nearly as good. At a time when the resident church membership was 758, the Sunday School attendance averaged 75% and many departments averaged 85% or better.
Mack Adams, the missionary son of Genevery Zachary, attributes Sunday School teachers of that day, especially Louise Reno and James Melton with his eventual career decision. The dedication of the teachers has become nearly legendary. In addition to the already mentioned persons, others fondly remembered include Tom and Kay Deas, Idelle Jones, Mrs. Bagwell, Ruth Keener, Harvey Ruple, Dallas and Velma Anderson, Bessie Gruner McCallum, Frances Richardson, J. T. Owens, Mr. and Mrs. Leon Basco, Mrs. Edna Gill, Mrs. Lyman Kendrick and Mrs. Burrell Duncan, who began the hospital Sunday School class.
The early days of the 1960's continued to be exciting ones for the church. Dr. S. A. Tatum and the rest of the Long Range Planning Committee recommended a complete renovation of the physical plant to avoid the "piece-meal" approach to problem solving that had become accepted. Nearly $182,000 was required for the project, almost double the original price of the building in 1924. Debates raged for weeks about whether the old pews should be refinished or new ones bought; whether carpeting the auditorium would ruin the acoustics or not; the kind of seats to have in the balcony; the design of the baptistry and a thousand other details now taken for granted.
The Pilcher organ, donated to the church by John S. Richardson in 1924 was the first project. It was rebuilt and expanded to twenty ranks at a cost of nearly $7000, more than the original cost. Next, the entire auditorium was shelled out so that the floors and balcony could be rebuilt and seating capacity enlarged to 600. Sunday School departments, a nursery and bathroom areas were added and the problem of overcrowding was eased.
One of the most noticeable changes in the auditorium was the lovely baptistry scene painted by Anita Peterson. Many members recall fondly the stained glass window the mural replaced, but those in charge of the constant replacement of lightbulbs to illuminate the window were especially pleased to have this chore no longer. The old stained glass window was sold to a small country church and is still in existence so far as we know. As is only right and proper, the baptistry is the central focus of both the auditorium and of many people's church memories over many years. Dozens of male choir members endured for years the leaks when the baptistry was in use and kept a wary eye on the buckets hidden from the congregation's view. Congregation members recall the time a very tall young man was to be baptized by the shorter pastor, who practically had to fold him into thirds in order to fit in the pool.
Others remember the time the pastor lost a little fellow under the water and was desperately searching for him, only to find the youngster had turned backwards, swum underwater and was popping up on the opposite side of the pool! Perhaps one of the most precious of memories involves Mack Adams, his wife Margie and his mother Genevery Zachary when Mack had just entered his first pastorate.
Genevery had noticed things seemed tense between her newly wed son and his wife, but wisely decided it was not her place to interfere with the young couple's troubles. Low rumbles of arguments continued as she continued her chores throughout the house until finally as the two departed, Margie erupted.
"All right!" she fumed, "We'll go by the church and you can practice baptizing me just one more time. But remember this, when you have your first funeral, you're not going to practice burying me!"8
A solemn ceremony in 1963 marked the dedication of this renovation and J. Melton Oakes was requested to offer the prayer of dedication. With an internal sigh for roasts that would be burning at home, the congregation respectfully stood and bowed their heads as Mr. Oakes prayed. Fifteen minutes later, with a resounding "Amen!" the people sat down. All sat down, that is, except Miss Altaline Moore who had dozed off standing up. A gentle tug on her skirt alerted her to her situation.9
As has been said before, Mr. Oakes was infamous for his long prayers and a story, perhaps apocryphal, has circulated for years. Supposedly, in his later years, he was in the middle of a prayer and lost his place. Momentarily confused, the business man in him took over and he ended the prayer with a resounding "Very truly yours, J. Melton Oakes, President, Homer National Bank!"
The year 1965 marked the beginning of the tenures of Dr. Billy K. Smith as pastor and William (Sonny) Steed as minister of music and youth. This was the beginning of great strides in youth ministry in the church. Dr. Smith had previously taught in a public high school and worked as a basketball coach, and had a special ability to understand and work with young people. The ground floor of the Old White Building was converted into a youth activities center and redubbed "The Pelican's Nest."10
Sonny Steed was responsible for revitalizing the adult and youth choirs and beginning ensembles, quartets, trios, junior and primary choirs. Choir groups began group treks to Music Week held at Glorieta, New Mexico and Youth Week observances were promoted.
During this time, the Sunday School and Training Union programs were replaced with the new School of Christian Education with Bible Study and Doctrinal Study. This resulted in an almost immediate four fold increase in attendance for Doctrinal Study over its predecessor, Training Union.
The church celebrated its one hundred twenty fifth anniversary June 14, 1970 with return visits from previous pastors Dr. Vernon L. McKee, Shervert Frazier, Rufus Zachry and Dr. Eugene Skelton. Some of those responsible for this celebration include Dr. Billy K. Smith, George Emerson, Julia Coleman, Anita Peterson, Phil Fincher, Doris Philpot, Altaline Moore, Jack Smith and Glynn Harris. The occasion was celebrated with a church picnic, special music and presentation of the church's history written by Glynn Harris.
Later that same year, A. O. Jenkins became pastor of the church and he and his wife are lovingly remembered by many. This genial man was as amused as any when the church held a ceremony to burn the mortgage note for the renovation of the church. The note was placed in an aluminum pan and set on fire. No one expected the huge flames the document produced nor the melting of the aluminum pan from the intense heat. Suddenly faced with an inferno, Brother Jenkins quickly juggled the pan from hand to hand while the deacons rushed to rescue him. 11
The year 1976 is still a special one to many church members, for it was in that year the Lay Renewal took place. This changed many lives and brought the congregation closer together as a family.
Richard Allen came to Homer in 1977 after Brother and Mrs. Jenkins retired to live in Marshall, Texas and our church continued to be fortunate in its choice of pastors. This tireless pastor and his family quickly became favorites and his thought provoking sermons are still remembered by many. He was known for his ability to quote large sections of relevant poetry and prose within his sermons and for their down to earth applicability. His watchword in each pastor's note was, "Call me. I'll be there."
One innovation started by the church during Brother Allen's time was the restructuring of Wednesday night services to provide a meal so that families would not be hindered in their prayer meeting and choir attendance. Soon Wednesday night services, including Mission Friends and Youth meetings were accessible to families with busy schedules.
It was at this time the church purchased its first bus and a bus ministry to take children, youth and senior adults to various Christian programs began. This ministry continues today and it would be impossible to determine how many miles the various church vehicles have traveled to Hodges Gardens, Glorieta, the Buffalo River, WMU and Sunday School functions and many other church activities.
Richard Allen began the lovely tradition of Baby Dedication Day in our church. Each year the parents of every church baby born in the previous year bring the child to participate in a ceremony special to us. The parents and the church solemnly agree to work together to bring the child up in a world in which God and His church are vital parts of life.
Darrell Foster began his term as pastor in 1979 and is especially remembered for his beautifully moving Christmas and Lord's Supper services. Another church tradition begun at his suggestion was the carrying of the cross by the youth on Good Friday. The young people begin the trek to the church from over a mile away and walk along the busy highway sharing the burden of the cross. Suddenly, the focus of attention of many harried motorists is riveted by the unusual sight. This precious tradition is one faithfully kept by our church.
Though we were between music directors for over two years during this time, faithful workers continued the tradition of beautiful music. Sara Harris, a long time worker, kept the Children's choirs and Janet Pugh worked with the little children, our Cherub choir. An old friend from Haynesville, Tom Ragland, cheerfully served as adult choir director.
Glenn Simmons, Warren Miller and Rusty Gilbert came to Homer within a few months of each other and had a profound effect upon the church. It was during this time the church decided to tear down the Old White Building and build in its place a new Family Life Center and the long discussed Day Care Center was begun.
Warren Miller began hand bell choirs, choirs for children aged four and up, ensembles and choir trips as well as some of the most innovative music programs the church had seen. He was all business when it came to his music, but a good joke would leave him doubled over with laughter. His soft heart often left him in trying circumstances the wildest imagination could not conceive.
No stray animal that passed the Miller home was ever neglected, whether homeless baby squirrel, mangy cat or abandoned tarantula. One little puppy was fortunate enough to be adopted by the Miller family and a little bed on the carport was made for the new pet. Everyone who knew Warren knew he would work well past midnight whenever the need arose, but had a hard time getting ready in the morning. On one such morning, his wife Margie had already roused the children, sent them off to school and had left to go to work herself, leaving Warren to the empty house.
He had just begun to enjoy his shower when he heard a wild yipping from the car port. Waiting only long enough to wrap himself in a towel, he rushed outside and found the puppy in his tackle box. The puppy was yelping in pain, for he had managed to bite a fish hook which was now firmly in its lip. Horrified, Warren gripped up the puppy to prevent further harm and dashed back inside to dress.
Dressing while holding a howling puppy is a difficult task and trying to do so while keeping that puppy firmly wrapped in a towel is nearly impossible. He struggled into a pair of shorts and started to the door when he discovered he had managed to hook the puppy's lip, the towel and his shorts together. No one knows how he was able to drive in this sad state and many church members would pay good money for a transcript of his explanation to the veterinarian. Needless to say, the choir made sure all the church knew of his escapade when he was presented with a Dog's Best Friend plaque during the next choir rehearsal!
Another choir director is still darkly suspected of not properly supporting a pew he had previously removed for the staging of a children's musical. It seems more room at the front of the church was needed for the program so, as is the custom, several of the front pews were removed to provide space. The next Sunday, several deacons including Gladney Dillon, Snap Oakes and Dr. Nelson Philpot, were unpleasantly surprised when the unsupported pew gave way under their combined weight and dumped them unceremoniously on the floor! The choir is still bitter they missed the spectacle. 12
Rusty Gilbert as associate pastor served with a youthful energy and thoughtfulness still special to those in the church. Though he is now pastor of Rocky Springs Baptist Church nearby, the church family will always count him as one of their own. Soon after Rusty left, the church was fortunate enough to secure David Hardy as youth minister while he finished his education. He personally led many of the youth to both a greater involvement in their church and a realization that being a Christian could be a fun, exciting, vital experience.
Brother Simmons is well remembered for beginning a special sermon just for children during the morning service so that they might be able to better understand and apply the scripture and sermon that day. One Sunday morning, the subject of the sermon was the presence of the Holy Spirit and Brother Simmons had obviously given considerable thought to a way to present that difficult concept to the group of preschool children. Finally, he decided, he had a solution. By careful questioning, he could lead the children to the conclusion that although one cannot physically see the Holy Spirit, it's existence is not in doubt. He gathered the children around and confidently began.
"Have you heard of the Holy Spirit?" A chorus of yeses answered him.
"How do you know the Holy Spirit exists?" The children received this with sideways glances at each other and made no reply. Excellent, he thought, I can prove it to them now.
"Well, you can't see your breath either, can you?" Expecting a chorus of noes, he made the mistake of pausing before comparing the children's undoubted belief in the existence of breath to the existence of the Holy Spirit because of the effects of both. Into this pause came clear, carrying voice of a tiny girl.
"You can if it's real cold, Preacher!" No reply was possible and none was attempted, for everyone in the church, pastor, congregation and choir, was doubled over with laughter. Everyone was laughing, that is, except the girl's mortified parents (who happened to be choir members, so all the congregation could enjoy their embarrassment as well as the little girl's reply!)
Other pastors have unexpected experiences with Children's sermons, too. Dr. James Simeon, who followed Glenn Simmons when Dr. Simmons accepted a missionary position as a teacher in a seminary in South Africa, remembers one of his own experiences with the children.
It was the custom for the pastor to stand during the last verse of the hymn preceding the Children's Sermon as a signal to the children to come to the front. It would usually take several minutes for all the children to assemble, especially the children sitting in the balcony or little ones who had to be coaxed to join the 'big children' down front. Dr. Simeon had planned to use a hypodermic needle as the object lesson and, as the children arrived, he removed it from his pocket and jokingly said, "Children, I'm going to have to give everybody a shot today!"
One little boy had been running full tilt toward the front when he heard that. He immediately ground to a halt, whipped around and ran bawling back to his mother!
Dr. Simeon's love of jogging allows him to be more visible to the general public than many pastors and this permits hundreds of people to recognize him, but sometimes he is mistaken for others. His favorite misidentification was that of a little girl who whispered to her mother as he passed.
"Look, Mama! There's Jesus!'
Another time the townspeople's general recognition of Dr. Simeon resulted in an ongoing and unsolicited spate of advice. Dr. Simeon had decided the bare patches in his front yard would have to be repaired and he began to remove plugs of grass from his lush backyard to the front. Soon church members driving by noticed him busily engaged in this chore and began to shout gardening advice as they drove past. As if this were not enough, perfect strangers jumped into the act and conflicting opinions flew.
"That grass won't grow under the trees, you know!"
"You've got to water that if you want it to grow!"
"You've got to fertilize it if you expect it to grow!"
"Don't fertilize that now, you'll burn it!"
"You've got to cut it regularly if you want it to grow!"
"Don't cut that grass if you want it to grow!"
Some church members so enjoyed the spectacle, they drove by several times just to give conflicting advice! Dr. Simeon proudly reports he followed none of the advice and the grass is doing just fine, thank you.
Celebration of the first one hundred fifty years of the existence of First Baptist Church, Homer took place on the second and third of September, 1995. It was a time of joyful memories and a wistful remembrance of those good friends who have preceded us into eternity.
Former staff members who were able to worship with us that day included A. O. Jenkins, Billy K. Smith, George Hall, Warren Miller, Melba Nelson, Sara Harris Lee and Jerry Zachary. Mrs. A. O. (Lucile) Jenkins, James Melton and Burrell McClung were honored for their many hours of work encouraging arts and crafts fellowship. The Ladies' Sextet, consisting of Eva Lou Nutt, Betty Zachary, Nancy Ross, Peggy Sterritt, Pauline Newsom and Betty Moreland shared special music dedicated to the memory of Janet Pugh and Harold Flurry. Dr. Nelson Philpot lent his inimitable talents to the display of slides showing some of the special memories of the church and congratulatory messages and placques were presented from the town's mayor, Tom Robinson; the governor, Edwin Edwards, the President of the United States, Bill Clinton; the Louisiana Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention.
With so much to enjoy, the entire congregation rather expected the morning service to run over long and so were ready to settle back to enjoy the always excellent sermon to be delivered by our pastor, Dr. James Simeon. Dr. Simeon, however, noted the service had run too long, living him only five minutes to present his sermon.
"A good sermon is like a loaf of bologna," he quoted former pastor Billy K. Smith (to Dr. Smith's and the congregation's delight) "And you should be able to cut it most anywhere!" With that statement, Dr. Simeon broke the speed limit for sermons and to everyone's surprise, finished the service on time! Leaving the congregation in laughter, he promised (or threatened) the full text the following week. The most pure of heart attribute the speedy sermon to Dr. Simeon's superb skills of oratory and not to the smell of fried chicken already beginning to waft up from the Family Life Center!
Our church has had its share of good times and bad but this can be said of any family. If any one description could be made of the diverse people of this church, it would be that we are family. Our hope for future generations is that any memory of this church is that of the love it has for the Lord and our love for each other.
We stand on the backs of those who have gone before us and learn from their example. May this church and its loving family continue to love, support and encourage each other in the days to come.
FOOTNOTES CHAPTER IIX.TEARS AND LAUGHTER 1.Marian Dormon interview. EFORE WE WERE A PEOPLE THE YEARS PRIOR TO 1845 GOD OUR KEEPER THE SHADOW OF WAR
A TIME OF HEALING A LAY RENEWAL Format and re-typing by C. W. Barnum
2.Melba Nelson interview.
3.Claire Brown interview, Mary Elizabeth Hall interview,
4.Betty Colvin Headrick interview.
5.Fortson, Beulah."History of Library of First Baptist
6.Dr. Tom Deas interview.
7.Genevery Zachary interview.
8.Genevery Zachary interview.
9.Ann Louviere interview, Betty Moreland interview.
10. Harris, p. 16.
11. Betty Moreland interview, Ann Louviere interview.
12. Gladney Dillon interview, Nelson Philpot interview.
A GROWING CHURCH TEARS AND LAUGHTER BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES A TASTE FOR HISTORY A FAITHFUL WITNESS OF CHRIST BIBLIOGRAPHY
1.Marian Dormon interview. EFORE WE WERE A PEOPLE THE YEARS PRIOR TO 1845 GOD OUR KEEPER THE SHADOW OF WAR
A TIME OF HEALING A LAY RENEWAL Format and re-typing by C. W. Barnum
EFORE WE WERE A PEOPLE THE YEARS PRIOR TO 1845 GOD OUR KEEPER THE SHADOW OF WAR
A TIME OF HEALING A LAY RENEWAL
Format and re-typing by C. W. Barnum