Church organized in 1818 moves

Sunday, May 13, 2012

POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. -- A local congregation is celebrating another chapter in its nearly 200 years of history by moving to a new building.

Black River Baptist Church was schedule to host an open house last Sunday, followed by a dedication service with testimonies, hymns and prayer.

The church was founded in the early 1800s after traveling missionary the Rev. James Edwards came to the Black River area from Cape Girardeau to hold revival meetings. The church was officially organized in June 1818, and members say it is the third oldest Baptist church west of the Mississippi River.

Although the church is now affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, the convention didn't exist when the church was founded so it was called Black River Missionary Baptist Church. Its first location was a log structure at Wilby, Mo., south of the Hendrickson area and on the Elliott farm.

Most past moves for the congregation have come on the heels of a building fire. In 1868, fire destroyed the original building and the church moved to a location on JJ Highway.

In 1885, the church moved near Keener Springs, but that building too later succumbed to fire in 1924. They rebuilt on the same location. The church still owns records dating back to 1885.

As the geography of the membership shifted, members decided in 1949 to move the church to a second location on JJ Highway, a mile and a half west of Highway 67. The new building was dedicated in 1954, and the congregation held services there until April 2012.

About a year ago, members began discussing another move.

"In February last year, God just put it on our hearts to start a building fund," said pastor Henry Pasquet. "We knew we needed a new building and new location."

In October, the congregation learned of land off Route T, just north of Poplar Bluff. New Bethany Baptist Church formerly occupied the property, but the building was torn down due to black mold, according to Pasquet.

"The people who donated the land wanted it used for a church," he said.

The congregation voted on the land with a secret ballot.

"It was unanimous, including all the kids," Pasquet said. "If we had had one [no] vote, we would not have done it."

The Cane Creek Stoddard Baptist Association owned the land at the time, and decided to donate it to the historic church. Construction of the 4,400 square foot building began in November, and the congregation held its first service there April 8.

Pasquet said volunteered time from members and donated materials -- from members and those not affiliated with the church -- helped keep construction costs low.

"We built it for a fraction of the appraised value," he said. "It's just the hand of God, everything that went into it. People gave sacrificially."

"We would need sheet rock and all of a sudden [member] Jerry [Russell] would walk into Home Depot and someone would say, 'Hey, do you need sheet rock?'" Pasquet explained.

While giving a tour of the new facility, church historian Carolyn Russell and clerk Kay Jewel pointed out features that had been donated, from the sanctuary doors to the combination pulpit and baptistry, built by a church member for a fraction of the cost.

Although the church moved about 15 miles, Pasquet said the congregation is staying true to its namesake.

"We're actually as close, if not closer to the Black River," he said.

The other location was also more out of the way for most members.

"We've got three families that drive a little bit further, but everybody else is so much closer," Pasquet said.

Russell helped with construction and said the move is a good one for the congregation.

"It did not seem like the community where we were located was supporting the church," he said. "Most of our members were coming from Poplar Bluff or Harviell. For the majority of the members, the church is just a lot handier, a lot closer."

"I think everybody's elated about it," Russell added. "The old facility was really outdated. I think everybody is thrilled to death with the new building."

Jewel said in its long history, the church only temporarily ceased services once.

"They broke for a short amount of time during the Civil War," she said, about 1862 to 1866. "Sometimes it's just gotten down to a few members."

Although she enjoys studying the past, Jewel says members are more excited about the future.

The small congregation is already experiencing growth. Pasquet said the church was averaging about 20 people before the move, but that has grown to about 30. On Easter Sunday, more than 60 people attended services.

"The whole reason we did it was the great commission," Pasquet said. "We want to see people come to Christ and have lives changed."

For more information about the church, contact Pasquet at 573-322-5747.

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