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.
Copyright by Bob Rogers.
“Who will roll away the stone?” Mark 16:3
“Who will roll away the stone?” the women asked as they approached Jesus’ tomb. Their Savior had died, their hopes were gone, and their heads hang in despair as the question lingered in the air. Can you relate to that?
We have stones that need to be rolled away, too. Our way is blocked with giant stones with names like cancer and COVID-19, stones with names like debt and divorce, names like shame and sorrow, and the actual names of people like the crazy co-worker, the insane in-law, the nosy neighbor.
Like the women that first Easter Sunday morning, we too wonder, “Who will roll away the stone?”
In many ways, the message of Easter is like jazz music. Jazz music originated with African-American musicians in New Orleans around 1900, and it often expresses discordant notes of pain that are then resolved with the swing of sweet notes of joy.
Easter is like jazz music. The people loved Jesus for His compassion for the outcast, His inspiring teaching of love, and His healing of the sick. Imagine their despair when Jesus was arrested, flogged, spat upon, mocked with a purple robe and crown of thorns, beat upon the head, forced to carry His cross to Calvary, the Place of the Skull, and then the nails slammed through his hands and feet, and forced to hang there naked and suffering, No wonder Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” It’s bad enough when you and I feel forsaken by God, but here was the Son of God feeling forsaken by God! That despair was shared by Jesus’ disciples. The disciples were hiding out in a room, afraid for their future, fearing they would be next.
But that was on Friday. Very early on Sunday morning, everything changed. The stone was rolled away, an angel in white clothes had bright news, that although they came thinking they would see a dead corpse, instead they saw an empty tomb, because Jesus was crucified, but now He has risen! The One who had been nailed to a cross was now raised from the grave, the One who had been whipped was now being worshiped.
His story was also their story. The wondering women had their stone moved, the shamed Simon Peter discovered that his Savior was alive. Notice verse 7 says to tell the disciples “and Peter.” The frightened disciples became bold preachers of the gospel.
What a crazy change in three days! No wonder they were overwhelmed with emotion.
Verse 5 says they were “amazed” and “alarmed.” Verse 8 says “trembling” and “astonishment overwhelmed them” and that they were “afraid.”
That’s why I say Easter is like jazz— it moves from discord to resolution, from pain to joy, and it requires a certain mystery and faith. Somebody asked Louis Armstrong what jazz music was, and he said, “If you have to ask, you don’t know!”
But you can know the Easter jazz. You can believe in Jesus Christ. His story was their story and it can be your story and mine.
The apostle Paul put it this way in Ephesians 2:1, 4-6: “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins… But God, who is rich and mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with Christ, even though you were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! He also raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavens in Christ Jesus.”
Listen to 1 Corinthians 15:19-20, 51-52: “If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone. But as it is, Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep… Listen, I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed.”
Easter does not mean that we will no longer have problems. The music of our lives will continue to have bent notes and broken cords. But because of His resurrection, the discord will be resolved with the sweet sound of hope for all of us who believe.
What stones do you need to have rolled away? What hope do you need to hear? Shh! Listen closely. I think I hear Jesus playing jazz!
Twisted scripture: “God doesn’t put on you more than you can handle”
Article copyright by Bob Rogers
(NOTE: This is the second in a series of blog posts I am doing on some of the most commonly twisted and misinterpreted verses in the Bible.)
As a hospital chaplain, I seek to guide patients to find the spiritual strength to handle their problems. After hearing their story, I sometimes ask, “How are you handling that?” Many people will reply, “Well, God doesn’t put on you more than you can handle.” Others will say, “The Bible says God doesn’t give us more than we can bear.” That sounds nice, but it’s not what the Bible says! People get this idea from a misreading of 1 Corinthians 10:13. Here is what the entire verse says [italics mine]:
“No temptation has overtake you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make a way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13, NKJV
Many people seem to think that this verse says that God will not allow you to be tested beyond what you can bear. But read the verse again. Is that what it says? No! It says God will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able. Some people correctly argue that the Greek word can be translated “tested” or “tried,” instead of “tempted.” However, almost all translations prefer the word “tempted” in this verse. Why? Because of the context. A rule of thumb for Bible interpretation is to read the context. So when we read the whole chapter, we see that 1 Corinthians 10 is about temptation. The first part of the chapter gives a series of warnings against falling into disobedience through unbelief. Verse 12 warns, “So, whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall.” Fall into what? Temptation. And verse 14 says the solution to the temptation is to “flee.” So the context of 1 Corinthians 10:13 shows that it is about temptation.
But if 1 Corinthians 10:13 does not say God won’t put on us more than we can bear, do other verses teach this? Ironically, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:8 that “we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.” In other words, God put more on him than he could handle! But he goes on to say in the next verse, “But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” The scripture frequently says that when we cannot handle things, God can give us the strength we need (See 1 Samuel 30:6; Philippians 4:13). (Unfortunately, Philippians 4:13 is also misinterpreted, and we’ll discuss how in the next blog post.)
Here is the bottom line: God is not saying that we won’t face more than we can handle, but He is saying that He will give us the spiritual strength to handle whatever we face.
10 Biblical steps to getting out of debt
Back at the beginning of “The Great Recession” in early 2009, our church went through a study on how to get out of debt, using the teaching materials of Crown Financial Ministry. Here is a summary of 10 wise and Bible-based principles for getting out of debt:
1. Pray for God’s provision (see 2 Kings 4:1-7 for an example).
2. Start giving regularly (Malachi 3:8-10).
3. Don’t go further into debt. Stop charging with credit cards!
4. Establish a written spending plan by writing down every penny that you spend for a month, and then developing a spending plan that is realistic and living within your means.
5. Open a savings account and contribute faithfully to it until you have $1,000 in savings for emergencies. (This prevents further debt because you can use your savings for unexpected expenses.)
6. List everything you own and see if you can sell unnecessary assets to eliminate debt (Proverbs 27:23).
7. Make a list of everything you owe.
8. Establish a debt repayment schedule. Pay off the smallest debts with the highest interest first. When that debt is paid, apply that payment amount to the next second debt, and so on. See Crown Financial Ministries for free calculators and tools that can help at www.crown.org/Tools/Calculators.
9. Consider earning additional income.
10. Consider a radical change in your lifestyle (Romans 12:1-2).