History of First Baptist Church in Bryant, AR
The history of First Baptist Church of Bryant is a fascinating story of all that God has done for this church and with this church for nearly 132 year. We don’t appreciate how long ago that was. To put this in perspective, 1884 was less than 20 years after the end of the Civil War. Women were still fighting for their right to vote. There were no cars, televisions, or computers. In fact, the first long-distance telephone call was made that year. The cornerstone for the Statue of Liberty was laid on Bedloe's Island in New York Harbor, and there were only 38 states in the United States. This was the year that First Baptist Church began.
The city of Bryant was much different then, but there are many things about her that are still the same. She still needs a doctrinally sound, Bible-teaching church. She still needs an evangelistic, gospel-preaching church. People in Bryant still need to be saved and taught the Word of God. This is why First Baptist Church exists. The following summarizes the history of First Baptist Church from her beginning up to February 21, 2016.
The beginning years of First Baptist Church are characterized by organizing and getting started. It seems that the church began as a result of mission work done by Elder William Tucker (the church's first pastor) for the Pine Bluff Association. The church was organized out of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church located on Hwy. 5 north of Bryant in 1884 and was first named Bryant Baptist Church. In 1885 the minutes of the Pine Bluff Association show that Bryant Baptist Church petitioned for membership in the association, and minutes of the same year show J.W. Dobbins as church clerk. Records show the membership to be 27 the first year. God had established a New Testament Church in the Bryant community to carry out His work. Only He knew the results of this beginning.
Preaching services were held once a month at the church, a practice common among churches in the 1800s and early 1900s, called fourth-time preaching. Preachers traveled by horse and buggy and stayed in the homes of church members. The preachers in that era did not have easy lives. Neither did the church members.
The old church building was situated west of the current church property, where the public school is now located. A storm in the early 1900s moved it from its foundation, and the building was relocated just north of where the church building now stands. The facility, which consisted of one room with wide board flooring, was at some time painted white and had a small entrance hall. It was a small, simple building that was lit with kerosene lamps and heated by wood stoves. Small and simple, yes, but the church wasn’t the building. It was the people. And the church was growing steadily through the early years, both numerically and spiritually. By 1918, the church had 48 members.
The Difficult Years
It could be argued that the early to mid 1900s were one of the more difficult times in our nation’s history. People struggled to survive, and the same was true for First Baptist Church of Bryant. Farmers fared better, at least having a supply of food, but plant workers (such as Alcoa) were eventually reduced to a one-day work week. It was a hard time to make ends meet, but God sustained the church and members. A wonderful blessing is that the church had grown to 84 members during this time. God often does His best work in the most difficult of circumstances.
Some changes were eventually made to the church building. Two sections on either side of the entrance were partitioned off with curtains creating two rooms for Sunday school classes. The sanctuary was also used for a Sunday school class. If the teachers of the classes did not raise their voices too much, the arrangement worked fairly well. Benches were han made, not very smooth, and unpadded. It was during this time that Bryant Baptist Church changed its name to Bryant Landmark Missionary Baptist Church
We owe much gratitude to the dedication and resilience of these faithful members to remain strong during these difficult times. But God gets the greatest thanks. He provided for and protected the church giving her the ability to survive. Though it was the years of depression, war, and many changes in Bryant and our nation, God’s people remained strong and continued to work in His church in Bryant.
The Later 20th Century
God truly blessed First Baptist Church during the second half of the 20th century, and this period saw great growth and expansion of the church and her ministry in the Bryant community and even worldwide. Also during this period on November 7, 1962, the church voted to change the name from Bryant Landmark Missionary Baptist Church to First Baptist Church of Bryant.
By the middle 1950s the church building was inadequate, and in January of 1958 with Elder Dan Maloch as pastor, the church started discussing the possibility of erecting a new church building. Using materials from a building in Pine Haven (near Bauxite) that church members tore down and transported to the church site and with many hours of volunteer labor, much of the present building was erected. A ground breaking ceremony was held March 8, 1959, with Bro. Dan Maloch turning the first spade of dirt. For several weeks men and women of the congregation met and cleaned brick to be used in the new church building. Bro. Dan Maloch supervised the construction and did much of the actual work himself. Fellowship was especially good among members of the church during this building period with everyone working together toward a common goal. The move into the new building was made in the summer of 1960, and the old building was torn down in the fall of the same year.
The church also built a parsonage in 1962 that has housed many of her pastors, associate pastors, and youth directors through the years. Again the parsonage was built with volunteer labor of the church members.
During this time, the church building was remodeled and expanded to the way we know it today. We recognize that a church is not her building, but she is a special place to all of us who call First Baptist our church home. Also during this time, the church acquired “The Ol’ Hornet Café” and turned it into a fellowship hall
The 21st century brought lots of changes to our world and to First Baptist Church. Bro. Mark Thornton became pastor in 1997. Under his leadership, the church purchased 17 acres of land on Hwy 5 for a future relocation and building project. This was the result of a study that the church began in the late 1990s continuing into the 2000s on how it might best use its resources to remodel its current building or look for land to relocate. God, of course, was leading this project closing many doors and opening new ones.
The church saw several staff changes during this time with Bro. Thornton resigning as Pastor in 2005, Bro. John Saunders serving as interim Pastor in 2005-2006, and Bro. Phillip Miller becoming Pastor in June of 2006. Bro. Mike Paulk resigned as Music Director in 2005, and Bro. Doug Cunningham became the Music Director in that same year. Bro. Zach Garrigus became Youth Director in 2009 and eventually ordained as associate pastor in 2010. Bro. Garrigus resigned in September 2014, and Bro. Zack Jordan became Youth Director in 2015. After 38 years of serving as the Church’s secretary, Ann Russell retired in 2014. De Schimmel was hired that same year to become the Church’s new secretary. Vicki White, who had served as church clerk for 24 years, asked to “retire” in 2014. Alison Wiley became church clerk that year. Bill Russell, after many years of serving as church treasurer, stepped down, and Carrell Holland was elected church treasurer in August 2015. We are grateful to all these people and the many who have gone before who have served the Lord faithfully in First Baptist Church. There were lots of changes during these years, but one thing remains constant with First Baptist Church: dedicated, faithful service to the Lord in the Bryant community.
Before moving on with the chronological history, let’s look at some of the important features of First Baptist Church.
First Baptist has been known as a church for missions being the sending, sponsoring, and supporting church to many missionaries. In May of 1961 the church voted to sponsor Bro. John White as missionary to Florence, Alabama, and then later to Australia. In November of 1981, the church became the sponsoring church of Bro. Travis Judkins as a missionary in Pueblo, Colorado, and continued his support for several years. After purchasing land and building a building (again many church members providing much of the labor), a church was established there. Presently, the church is the sponsoring church of Stephen Lee and Friends in Faith Baptist Church in O’Fallon, Missouri. In February 2014, the church cosigned with Friends in Faith on a 3-year lease to be used as the church location. Over the years, First Baptist has sponsored and supported mission works in Arkansas, several states, and several foreign countries.
One other work that should be mention is First Baptist’s support of the Missionary Baptist Seminary in Little Rock. The church sends substantial financial support monthly and supports the student pantry with a variety of supplies. Also, the church has allowed four of her pastors to serve on the faculty of the Seminary.
The music program of the church has also grown over the years. Starting with no instruments and volunteer leaders, in September of 1961, T.O. Miller was called as the first regular, full-time music director hired by the church. The music ministry became more organized and filled with trained singers and instrumentalists. Bro. Mike Paulk served as Music Director for over 20 years at First Baptist and worked to bring excellence and growth to the music program. Presently, Doug Cunningham continues to work in this tradition of excellent, worshipful music seeking to glorify God with music.
Another important aspect of the history and ministry of First Baptist Church is her deacons. The church presently has nine deacons: Richard Allder, Loyd Suggs, Fred Kruse, James Squires, Dusty Middleton, Doug Castleberry, Keaton Hearn, Jeff Mayfield, and Kenneth Bates. Calvin Winkler and Jerry Hearn resigned from active deacon work and were named deacon emeriti. Throughout the years, several men have served as deacons taking care of the church facilities, seeing to other needs of the church, and aiding the pastors in the work of ministry. The deacons currently oversee the deacon’s benevolence fund that is used to help church members and others in financial difficulties. Serving as the financial committee of the church, the deacon body has been invaluable in the process and progress of the building project.
First Baptist Church has always emphasized the importance of teaching God’s Word, and Sunday School is a vital part of her ministry. She even had a kindergarten from 1973-1983 before Bryant Public Schools opened one. First Baptist has had many great teachers, and to name names would inevitably leave important ones out. Suffice it to say that First Baptist Church has benefited greatly from the many volunteer teachers who have faithfully taught many to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pe. 3:18).
On May 8, 1994, under the leadership of Pastor John Owen, the following was adopted as No. 1 in our Doctrinal Statement: “We believe that love one for another as Jesus loves the believer manifests our discipleship, proves our love for God, and symbolizes our authority as New Testament churches. Love is therefore the great commandment of the Lord Jesus Christ, upon which all others are dependent.” First Baptist proposed this doctrinal statement to the American Baptist Association, which was adopted as the Association’s first Doctrinal Statement. And throughout the years, the church has sought to serve the Lord and others in love. Today, First Baptist Church carries as its motto: Ephesians 4:15 “Speaking the truth in love.”
It is only fitting of a man like Bro. John Owen, who served as Pastor of First Baptist Church for 22 years (1975-1997), to be the author of this No. 1 doctrinal statement on love. Bro. Owen served this church lovingly and sacrificially, and much of what First Baptist is today is the result of God’s work through him. Not only is he still greatly respected within this church, he also is highly esteemed in the Bryant community. He is a big man with a big heart.
Now back to the history.
As far as the building project, in 2007 the church voted to resume to efforts to relocate to her new property on Hwy 5. The church had paid off the indebtedness on the land in October 2006, and a New Construction Fund was started. It has grown steadily over the years with God’s people giving faithfully to God’s building project.
A New Construction Planning Committee was formed in June 2008 to begin the process of designing a new site and building plan. Working with architects, designers, and builders for more than six years, in April of 2013, the committee presented a building design and estimated construction budget to the church. The church accepted it in June 2013, with some opposition, but immediately made unanimous with a standing vote. The church was unified in her decision.
In September 2013, First Baptist Church voted to market for sale her main building and fellowship hall with Baxley, Penfield & Moody Relators. The Church had worked to sell the church’s property to Bryant School District for several years but with little success. There were a few interested buyers in the first couple of years but nothing close to a sale.
In January 2014, the church began to consider a new organizational plan to continue the building project. With a presentation and recommendation from Bro. Keaton Hearn, the church elected a Conduit Committee for the New Construction Project of Keaton Hearn, Wayne Moore, and Dusty Middleton to work at facilitating and organizing the decision making process of the new construction.
In April 2015, the church received its first serious offer to buy the church’s property. This offer brought up questions about how the church would handle the move—move to a rented place or ask in a counteroffer to remain in the building until the new construction would be completed. The church considered its asking price and how to make a counteroffer to this potential buyer. The church and the buyer could not come to terms on the sale, but the process was extremely beneficial to the church. It made the church ask hard questions and work to be truly ready to sell the property. Temporary meeting locations were considered, and a new asking price for the property was established. Also the church gave the finance committee the rights to negotiate the sale with any new offers with a minimum price established and minimum time of occupancy after the sale.
In July of 2015, the church voted to have The Plan Store (Jason Barnett and Brian Cooper) to complete the construction documents for the New Construction Project. Things were really beginning to move on this project.
Then in October 2015, First Baptist Church received an offer on the church building and the fellowship hall from Crosspointe Church. The Finance Committee negotiated within the parameters previously voted on to come up with a counteroffer, which was accepted by Crosspointe Church. The following is the resolution adopted by First Baptist Church:
The membership of First Baptist Church hereby ratifies the counter offer made by the Finance Committee to Crosspointe Church, LLC, on October 5, 2015. The membership of First Baptist Church accepts the Real Estate Contract offered by Crosspointe Church, LLC, on September 21, 2015, as modified by the October 5, 2015, counter offer, and agrees to sell the real property at 311 and 401 North Reynolds Road, Bryant, Arkansas, to Crosspointe Church, LLC, on the terms set out in the Real Estate Contract as modified.
After a prayer to seek the Lord’s guidance, the motion carried with a unanimous vote.
On Friday, January 29, 2016 at First National Title Company in Benton, AR, First Baptist Church closed the sale of her Sanctuary Building and Fellowship Hall to Crosspointe Church, Bryant. On the same day, First Baptist Church opened a construction loan with Malvern National Bank and signed a one-year lease with First Southern Baptist Church for the building and property at 8800 Hwy 5 in Bryant to use as a temporary location while construction is being completed on the new building on Hwy 5. There is no other explanation for how all this came together but that the Lord did in His timing.
The church has successfully moved to the temporary location and enjoying great worship services and fellowship. The church is strong, growing, and unified. The New Construction Project is underway and should be completed in 2017.
Only God knows what He has in store for First Baptist Church through this move and through the years to come. What First Baptist Church must do is what it has always done: remain faithful in obedient service to the Lord. Inconveniences, challenges, obstacles, sacrifices, and great blessings await us as we continue in the Lord’s work.
Let me end this summary of the History of First Baptist Church with this passage about God:
Acts 17:24-28 24 "God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. 25 "Nor is He worshiped with men's hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. 26 "And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 27 "so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 "for in Him we live and move and have our being.