Archive for Thursday, May 29, 2003

Church recalling Golden memories

May 29, 2003

When the First Southern Baptist Church in Eudora celebrates its 50th anniversary Sunday, the parishioners will worship in a church laid on a foundation of volunteerism -- literally.

Church historian Nellie Hicks said a volunteer crew of men from the congregation laid the church's basement, which served as its sanctuary until one was completed in 1957. Hicks joined the church in 1955, and her husband was on the building committee, she said.

As First Southern approaches the half-century mark, founding member Mary Beem said that sense of volunteerism lived on. For proof, Beem said one only needed to look at the church bulletin and see the number of committees and Sunday School teachers, whom the congregation nominates.

"Sometimes they need a little prodding," she said.

Volunteers are helping to shape Sunday's festivities, which include 10:45 a.m. worship followed by a dinner and social time. Hicks and Beem said the church expected many former ministers and members to return, including Beem's brother and sister-in-law, who are cancer patients going to great lengths to return to their home church, which first began meeting in Myrtle and James Long's home as a mission in 1953.

"They're very church-family oriented," Beem said of the congregation.

Hicks added that Beem was often the person who sent flowers to parishioners, and church members furnished funeral dinners and took meals to parents of newborn babies. It's little wonder, then, that a church whose first pastor, the Rev. Wilbur Noble, led services out of a home and later at the old Victory Theater downtown, has been able to grow into a congregation of about 180, spurring several additions to the current building and the pursuit of land to build a larger facility.

Beem and Hicks take pride in the growth of the church's young population. At one point, they said the only children in the church nursery were the pastor's. Now, the nursery flowed over into three rooms, Hicks said.

Moreover, the church also supports AWANA, a children's Bible club, and That ONE Place, a teen center downtown, both of which are open to children of any denomination.

When Beem was a teenager, the church didn't have a teen center Sunday nights, and instead of getting to stay home and watch Elvis Presley's famous first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, Beem was required to babysit at the church nursery. However, she convinced a friend no one would miss them if they snuck into the parsonage to watch Elvis shake, rattle and roll.

At the time, the house to the west of the church, which sits at 11th and Main streets, was the parsonage. Built by volunteers in the congregation, the church has since sold the home.

"A lot of pastors lived in there for a lot of years," Hicks said.

Attesting the closeness of the congregation, when the Rev. Don Clark left, Hicks said her daughter cried because he was the only pastor she'd known.

Before 1957, when the church got a baptismal, Beem said parishioners were often baptized in the Kansas River. Beem herself was baptized in a mud hole in Weaver Bottoms left by the 1951 flood.

"Now they put off the baptism if the water isn't warm," Beem said laughing.

Another sign of the times, Hicks and Beem said, was the style of worship. In the church's early days, they said, things were much more formal.

"We do more praise songs," Beem said. "Our service is a little more laid-back."

Although the church has always had a choir, Hicks said sometimes it's been smaller and sometimes it's been larger. But Beem said she was amazed how even though getting everyone to practice at the same time was difficult, when the choir from the "little country church" would perform on Sunday, the songs would often come out sounding perfect.

But a congregation reaching its golden anniversary can't always run perfectly, and Beem said First Southern had its share of trouble, including splits within the church.

"That's been 30 years ago," she said. "I kind of think we got a bad rap.

"But it's kept going and going, building and building."

The church will have its third annual youth slave auction at 7 p.m. Friday at the church.

Participants will have a chance to "purchase" a youth's services and put him or her to work. Proceeds from the auction will assist the youth in paying for their summer mission trip with M-Fuge to Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

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