Pauls Valley Democrat
Pauls Valley, Oklahoma —
Historical record in any community reflects most positively on individuals who left the largest impacts, though at least as much as if not more instrumental is the influence generated by some of the founding houses of worship.
One such prominent parish in Pauls Valley has been First Baptist Church and though ties go back to before the town was formed, the current sanctuary of worship reached its own milestone at 100 years, said pastor Joe Elam. It is these years going back to 1911, which will be remembered as a part of a special service Sunday, Oct. 30, offering both celebration and reunion.
“It’s a great milestone for the church and in a way a milestone for the community,” said Elam, adding how they are prepared even if the house is packed. “We’ll put chairs in the aisles if we have to.”
According to church records, some of the earliest members began the first steps toward the congregation around 1895, meeting in Indian territory at other locations before building the first part of the current structure along at the corner of Ash Street and Grant Avenue. The building had pieces added on throughout the next several decades, before the outside received a uniformed renovation in the 1980s.
However, the sanctuary itself retains most of the features it had in the beginning, save a technological upgrade here and there and Elam said the community itself has seen much more change even in just the 30 years he’s spent at the pulpit. That’s not to say he’s not enjoyed other advances like personal computers, which removed the need to use a very messy small printing press process to print their own newsletters.
The changes Elam’s most honored to be a part of have included bringing in a younger congregation as older members have passed on and taking part in plenty of baptisms. This is complimented by the spirit of the church being much more active and even recognized for their evangelism efforts.
“One of the rewarding things to think about is around 2,000 people have been baptized in that sanctuary,” said Elam, noting how one can still find the house where the first pastor, J.B. Reeves, lived at 917 S. Chickasaw St.
“It’s just rewarding to be a part of what God does in that sense.”
Other impacts of the church throughout the years have been the founding of other southern Baptist churches through mission work, said Elam. This has included Beatty Baptist near Pauls Valley, First Baptist Church of Paoli and even some well out of the region like in Arizona.
Though all of those who first saw the sanctuary aren’t alive today, there are some members who have seen even more history with the church, like 100-year-old Parnell Collins, who has been attending most of her life, said Elam. It is often memories passed down which have kept the past preserved and will be passed along again during this milestone.
The celebration is not much beyond the regular Sunday services with Sunday school at 9:45 a.m. and the main service at 11 a.m., but there will be moments throughout where former ministers as well as staff can speak on their years spent in Pauls Valley, said Elam. There are a few of the former ministers still around in other communities and the hope is at least one of them will stop by for the occasion.
While there is no celebration meal planned for the 100th year, it also happens to fall on Elam’s final Sunday as pastor at the Church. This reception honoring his years of service is an unintended bonus since he didn’t even know he would retire when planning for the centennial began over a year ago and will take place from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. in the fellowship hall.
“The lord works in mysterious ways and it’s a blessing when it gets us there,” said Elam. “This church has tried to think of someone besides itself.”