The cool October air and the blessing of God's own sun made that morning, the 5th of October, special at the First Baptist Church in Chester. The congregation was joyous in their amazing celebration of 175 years of worship, friendship and learning. Families who had logged three generations of church-going lives celebrated with relatives both close and distant. They rejoiced together in the grace of their history. They gathered that morning in true fellowship, and with that affability came wonderful moments that will, in time, build memories never to be forgotten. Memories that will endure through more generations of brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, cousins and friends. Each time some long forgotten aunt or uncle remembers the day, the church, the pastor and those blessed moments of folks long gone will live again.
That is the great reward of sharing time and history that is meant to endure. That is being a collector of noteworthy happenings. It is being a connoisseur of good times; it is compiling things in one's life that have brought pleasure and dreams to be shared by friends and family. Those moments stay with us through our lives and through word of mouth and written notes. We keep them safe, and they become more valuable than gold in our hearts and minds. Through communicating, we share with others and soon those memories become legends.
The moment when the Rev. Clay Waldrip stepped forward and welcomed all of the congregants, friends and families, it was an introduction that included history, interesting happenings and a few laughs.
Special recognition was offered to folks who had given time and untold energy to the church, families, teachers and the sick and needy. However, it was John Mark Cann, son of the late Rev. J.M. Cann, who served in Chester from 1971 to 1984, who bought gales of laughter from the audience. The story of his important teenage role as Raggedy Andy in the Chester Christmas Parade was a memory of absolute delight, for it was in those days that this parade was the most important one of the season, and young John Mark had to wear a red ruff around his neck and "Mary Jane" shoes with stripped socks. Even Sunday, remembering this experience, his face pinked with absolute embarrassment. For after all, he was a football star and an absolute bon vivant.
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Flora Heinlein sat with the children, who had proceeded bravely down the aisle of the beautiful sanctuary. They listened and she talked in a gentle voice, giving to those young one's a plethora of memories.
Carol Shockley delivered a never-to-be-forgotten offertory prayer, and the talented musicians Missy Hartis and Page Austin presented an organ and piano rendition of "I Stand Amazed in the Presence." The congregation sat silently, no doubt remembering past moments of their lives in that lovely old church.
It was the heartwarming, down-to-earth sermon of the Rev. William R. Bussey that made this writer realize the magnificent importance of what I was hearing. For in very simple words, he pointed out to be true things I have believed since reaching the age of reason -- at about 75 years old. His sermon touched many avenues of everyday life. He told unvarnished truth, no legends or grand descriptions of what we are all surely facing. His words portrayed intense faith and a profound logic that adds to the truthfulness of our lives and the things that we all believe to be true.
I was told the day before that hearing him would be a treat, and it was just that. I shook his hand on that important Sunday morning, and I learned from him in a fast few minutes that indeed memories are our greatest gift.
The first church was founded in November 1833. The land on which the church now stands was given by Maj. John Kennedy, better known as the "The Father of Chesterville," and his gift demanded that the 1.25 acres "be used as a place of worship forever."
It was the traveling minister, a Rev. Fowler, who held baptisms at a beautiful clear stream now known as "The Tanyard Branch," where he constructed a site for this sacred sacrament.
The first Sunday school was organized by Mary Ann Coleman, Kennedy's daughter, in 1852 or 1853.
February 1884, a mighty cyclone roared through Chesterville destroying the church, but the reed organ was only slightly damaged and the Bible that withstood the event now sits regally in the vestibule. The first service in the second sanctuary was held on March 15, 1885. In 1907, the church was remodeled, adding an annex in the back. In 1923, the first Education Building was completed.
In 1958, a short history was written and published by Louise Kelley Crowder. Nov. 30, 1958, the congregation celebrated 125 years of church-directed society, and on or about that day, it was decided to start making plans to build a new church. Jan. 31, 1960, the third sanctuary was dedicated. Its colorful windows told a story of joy and togetherness of people. It was that very place where we sat on that Sunday morning in 2008 to celebrate 175 years of religious and social worthiness. It was easy to explain the tears that started to ruin my already rheumy aged eyes when the choir sang, "Jesus is Calling," a hymn I remembered from long ago.
I sat next to Betty Sue Bagley, who had welcomed me with open arms when I asked about the vacant seat next to her. "Sit right here," she said, "And let me introduce my friend, Mary Alice Bridges. She worked on the Pictorial Directory." Mary Alice was quick tell me two things: "I did not do much on the directory, and we are mighty glad to welcome you here."
Those two women spoke for the church, and I was grateful to be there and delighted to know all the folks I met that lovely day and grateful to be invited by Peggy Billings. That day certainly was a gift to me.