Category Archives: church
How Mississippi Baptist churches struggled during the Great Depression
Copyright 2022 by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.
During the Great Depression, nearly every church had financial struggles, whether the church was large or small. First Baptist Church in Natchez had already begun a new building when the stock market crashed, dedicating their building in 1930. Unfortunately, the debt of approximately $25,000 proved a heavy burden during the depression, and it took them until 1945 to pay it off. The pastor, W. A. Sullivan, asked that his own salary be cut, and the difference be applied to the church debt. Despite this and other sacrifices, in January 1932 the church was unable to pay the interest on their loan. To avoid default, the church took out another loan to pay the interest on the first loan. It was not until 1939 that the financial situation improved enough that they began to pay down the principal on the debt; it took the Natchez church until 1945 to get out of debt1
First Baptist Church in Clinton borrowed money to build a new building in 1923, but struggled to pay the debt, as it was a small church, with a large majority of the members being college students with little income. The Clinton church’s building debt was a third of its income when the Great Depression came, and the church had little means to pay. In April 1933, the deacons recommended that the pastor serve a month without pay, and that payments to the debt be deferred for six months, paying only the interest. It would be another ten years before they finally paid the debt.2
Calvary Baptist Church in Jackson was a large congregation of 1600 members in 1930, but many members lost their jobs and left Jackson seeking work elsewhere. The hard times caused them to appoint a five-man committee to present a plan to cut expenses. At first, they proposed moderate cuts, eliminating salaries for choir members, getting rid of one telephone, and urging “strictest economy” in electricity and water use. But as offerings continued to fall, they slashed other salaries and stopped purchasing Sunday school literature.3
When the Great Depression started, C. J. Olander was pastor of several churches in the Rankin County area, including First Baptist of Brandon, Bethel, Fannin and Pisgah churches, and he started the church at Flowood. Olander wrote later, “The depression became so severe that the members [at Flowood] moved out for the time being and came back and reorganized.” The Brandon Church paid him $450 a year. To supplement his income, Olander sold milk to townspeople and kept a good garden for food. In 1935, Olander went to the Delta to pastor five churches at once, even though a friend warned him that if he went there, “you will never be heard of again and the folk will starve you to death.” Olander said, “It was bad, it was bankrupt, yet today as a result of that ministry there are six full time churches. There was Morgan City, Tchula, Blaine, Cruger, Sidon and Harmony.”4
Some churches managed to thrive despite the Depression. A. L. Goodrich was called to pastor First Baptist Church, Pontotoc, just 30 days before the banks closed. Rather than let it dampen his spirits, Goodrich focused on sharing the gospel and helping his community. The energetic pastor joined local civic clubs, he took leadership positions in his Association and the State Convention, and he organized the “Pontotoc Cotton Plan” to give hundreds of dollars to the Mississippi Baptist Orphanage. God blessed the church with an increase of 232 members during his years as pastor, 1931-1935. The Pontotoc church’s Sunday night worship attendance was equal to morning worship; they started three choirs, paid off an old debt and installed a pipe organ.5
Dr. Rogers is currently writing a new history of Mississippi Baptists.
1 “A History of First Baptist Church, Natchez, Mississippi, 1817-2000,” Unpublished document, Archives, Mississippi Baptist Historical Commission, 17-19; Daniel A. Wynn, “History of First Baptist Church of Natchez,” in Forward to Freedom: The 175th Anniversary Celebration, First Baptist Church, Natchez, Mississippi, April 26, 1992.
2 Charles E. Martin, A Heritage to Cherish: A History of First Baptist Church, Clinton, Mississippi, 1852-2002 (Nashville: Fields Publishing, Inc., 2001), 93-96.
3 Randy J. Sparks, Religion in Mississippi (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001), 183.
4 Tom J. Nettles, The Patience of Providence: A History of First Baptist Church Brandon, Mississippi, 1835-1985 (First Baptist Church, Brandon, Mississippi, 1989), 69, 72-73.
5 The Baptist Record, January 3, 1935, 5.
The racial segregation in Mississippi Baptist churches after the Civil War
Copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.
One the most significant social changes among Mississippi Baptists after the Civil War was the racial segregation of churches. Before the war, African slaves constituted a substantial portion of Mississippi Baptist congregations, as I have discussed in previous blog posts. In the decade after the war, black Baptists gradually celebrated their new freedom by separating into independent, self-governing churches. In some areas this happened suddenly, and in other areas of the State it was more gradual. The First Baptist Church of Clinton, for example, had a membership of 283 in 1860, including 113 black members. In 1866, with the absence of college students and withdrawal of black members, the Clinton church was reduced to 36 members, and worship was only held once a month, led by a pastor from Raymond. In 1864, Jerusalem Baptist Church had 65 black members, but all of them were gone by 1866. Bethesda Church in Hinds County agreed in 1867 to allow blacks to hold a separate revival meeting, and later in the same year the church granted the following request: “The colored members signified a desire to withdraw from the church to organize an independent church and asked permission for the use of the church house one sabbath each month.” Likewise, black members of Academy Church in Tippah County met separately after the war, and had a black preacher, but used the Academy church building until the 1870s. Charles Moore, a former slave and preacher after the war expressed the common desire of black Baptists, “I didn’t spec’ nothing outten freedom septin’ peace an’ happiness an’ the right to go my way as I please. An’ that is the way the Almighty wants it.”1
In other areas, black members continued to worship alongside whites in the same churches for a decade or more. Ebenezer Church in Amite County continued to refer to “colored” members frequently through 1874, and then there was one more mention in 1877 of a “colored” member who asked to be restored so that he could join New Hope Church. Although most churches remained integrated for several years, tensions began to arise, sometimes fueled by resentment over events of the war. For instance, in September 1865, five months after the war ended, “Eliza a colored woman” joined Sarepta Church in Franklin County by her experience of faith, and “it was moved and seconded that the right hand of fellowship be extended which was done with the exception of one brother who refused to give the right hand of fellowship to the colored woman Eliza.”2
Despite this occasional white resentment, most white Baptist leaders expressed goodwill to black Baptists. In 1870, Salem Association in Jasper County recommended that if black members “wish to form churches of their own, that they should be dismissed in order and assisted in doing so, but where they wish to remain with us as heretofore and are orderly, we think they should be allowed to do so.” Black membership in Salem Association declined from 206 in 1865 to 122 in 1870. As late as 1872, 81 blacks continued to worship in biracial churches in the association, and blacks continued in the records of Fellowship Church as late as 1876. The Mississippi Association reported 131 black members in 1874.3
Segregation of Mississippi Baptist churches started out as a celebration of freedom for blacks, but by the 1890s, it had also become an expectation of whites. The Mississippi Baptist Convention assumed that their churches were made up of white members only. For instance, the 1890 State Convention referred to itself as: “The Mississippi Baptist Convention… representing a denomination of 80,000 white Christians…” However, the State Convention maintained friendly relations with “colored” Baptists, as they were politely called. When the General Baptist Convention of Mississippi, made up of African-Americans, met at the same time as the Mississippi Baptist Convention, they frequently exchanged telegrams of Christian greetings. Mississippi Baptist pastors frequently led Bible institutes for black Baptist pastors and deacons, and the State Convention encouraged white pastors to donate their time to teach at these institutes across the State.4
1 Charles E. Martin, A Heritage to Cherish: A History of First Baptist Church, Clinton, Mississippi, 1852-2002 (Nashville: Fields Publishing, Inc., 2001), 36; Randy J. Sparks, Religion in Mississippi (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001), 139.
2 Minutes, Ebenezer Church, Amite County. November 1, 1873, May 2, 1874, October 3, 1874, July 1, 1877; Minutes, Sarepta Church, Franklin County, September 1865.
3 Sparks, 139-140; Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Association, 1874.
4 Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1890, 31; 1891, 14; 1897, 20-21.
Dr. Rogers is currently revising and updating A History of Mississippi Baptists.
FBC Columbus, MS: One of the finest antebellum Baptist church buildings in the South
Copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.
Columbus, Mississippi had one of the finest antebellum Baptist church buildings in the South.
First Baptist Church, Columbus, MIssissippi, in Lowndes County, built a magnificent brick house of worship before the Civil War. Construction began in 1838 and was completed in 1840. The building was demolished about 1905 for a new sanctuary, so descriptions are based upon existing photographs. Richard J. Cawthon, author of Lost Churches of Mississippi, says “it must have been the most elegant house of worship in Mississippi and one of the largest and finest Baptist meeting houses in the South.” The annual meeting of the Mississippi Baptist Convention was held in this building on November 10-13, 1853, and the Southern Baptist Convention was scheduled to meet in this building in 1863, but the meeting was cancelled due to the Civil War. It was located at the northeast corner of Seventh Street North (originally Caledonia Street) and First Avenue North (originally Military Street). Facing westward, it was a rectangular temple-form building, had a tetrastyle portico with four fluted columns in front. Above the triangular arch near the front, was an eye-catching, unusual steeple that appeared to copy the five-tier octagonal spire that Sir Christopher Wren placed on St. Bride’s Church in London in the late seventeenth century. The steeple had a square base, which ascended with five tiers of eight-sided drums, each tier proportionately smaller as it rose higher. The windows indicated that it had a split-level interior with stairs to an elevated auditorium and stairs down to another level below, perhaps for classrooms. Its similarity to the Lyceum at the University of Mississippi, designed by architect William Nichols, indicate that the Columbus Church could have also been designed by Nichols, who was also the designer of the Old State Capitol in Jackson.
Richard J. Cawthon, Lost Churches of Mississippi (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2010), 41-46; Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1853 Annual, Southern Baptist Convention, 1861, 13.
Dr. Rogers is currently revising and updating A History of Mississippi Baptists.
Prayer for guidance in the culture wars
(Below is a prayer written by my colleague and fellow hospital chaplain, Vance Moore. It is shared with his permission.)
So it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. – Romans 12:5
Daily we are faced with culture wars: liberal beliefs, conservative beliefs, and it seems everyone has a unique worldview or ideology. Even in our churches, we are divided. While scriptures tell us we are “one in Christ,” we continue to separate ourselves along the line and issues which are important to us. Your word is clear that we are to be one with You and keep our “eye on the prize.” Help us, Father, to align ourselves with the only worldview/ideology that is acceptable in Your sight. Keep us vigilant and moving toward the only worhty goal– of our relationship with You. Bless us and bless our service this day.
In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.
Breaking news: LifeWay to republish the Holman Christian Standard Bible
It’s not official yet, but as the administrator of the Facebook fan page for the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), I have been privy to some internal discussions from editors of LifeWay and Holman Bible Publishers, who have quietly been considering republishing a print edition of the HCSB.
The HCSB was first published in 2004 by Holman Bible Publishers, but discontinued in 2017 in favor of the Christian Standard Bible (CSB). When first published, the HCSB won praise among evangelicals for being more accurate than the popular New International Version (NIV), yet more readable than the reliable New American Standard Bible (NASB). However, it received some criticism for some unusual characteristics, such as occasionally using the literal “Yahweh” for the Old Testament name of God (traditionally translated with all capital letters, LORD), and for taking non-traditional translations, such as interpreting “sixth hour” in John 4:6 to mean that Jesus met the woman at the well at 6:00 in the evening, rather than the sixth hour of the day, at noon. The awkward name, Holman Christian Standard Bible, was also ridiculed by some as the Hard Core Southern Baptist translation, as Holman is owned by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Thus in 2017, Holman Bible Publishers made a major revision of the HCSB, keeping most of the language but removing most of the non-traditional elements of the HCSB, and gave it a simpler name: Christian Standard Bible (CSB). The CSB was released in 2017, and Holman discontinued printing the HCSB, although digital versions were still available on platforms such as YouVersion and Olive Tree Bible app. Holman Publishers hoped to market the CSB to a larger audience, and they did. The CSB consistently ranks in fifth place among purchases of new Bibles, according to ECPA.
However, there remained a faithful and loyal group of people who preferred the HCSB. As the administrator of the Facebook group dedicated to the HCSB, I know. And since I am the administrator, LifeWay CEO Ben Mandrell contacted me recently to discuss the interest in making a simple leatherflex print edition of the HCSB available, as a test market. He emphasized that they are still committed to the CSB, but thought there might stll be a niche market for the HCSB, just as some people prefer older editions of the NASB.
If you are interested in a print edition of the HCSB, do not contact Holman Bible Publishers or LifeWay, because they will not know what you are talking about, since this is an April Fool’s joke.
Top 10 signs you’re in a bad church
Copyright by Bob Rogers.
I’ll admit it, some people have bad experiences with a church. Here are the top ten signs you’re in a bad church:
10. The church bus has gun racks.
9. Church staff: senior pastor, associate pator, socio-pastor.
8. The town gossip is the prayer coordinator.
7. Church sign says, “Do you know what Hell is? Come hear our preacher.”
6. Choir wears leather robes.
5. During greeting time, people take turns staring at you.
4. Karaoke worship time.
3. Ushers ask, “Smoking or non-smoking?”
2. Only song the organist knows: “We Shall Not Be Moved.”
- The pastor doesn’t want to come, but his wife makes him attend.
If your church is that bad, you might want to look for another church. But the fact is, that there is no perfect church, because the church is made up of imperfect people. The phrase the Bible uses to describe us is “sinners saved by grace.” So before you give up completely on the church, remember this: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25, ESV). If Jesus considered the church worth dying for, then we ought to consider the church worth living for.
An unknown poet put it well:
“If you should find the perfect church, without fault or smear
For goodness sake, don’t join that church, you’d spoil the atmosphere.
But since no perfect church exists, made of perfect men,
Let’s cease on looking for that church, and love the one we’re in.”
(This article will be part of my upcoming book about taking a humorous yet serious look at the Christian life, called, Standing by the Wrong Graveside.)