First Baptist Church of Benton has reached a milestone: The church is marking its 175th anniversary.
In conjunction with this distinction, a two-day celebration is scheduled Saturday and Sunday, April 2 and 3, at the church, 211 S. Market St. in Downtown Benton. The event is invitation only.
Activities will include a worship service at 10:15 a.m. Sunday, April 3, which will be followed by a fellowship luncheon in Selph Hall.
Activities will get under way on Saturday with a 7 p.m. concert by The Martins. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance at the church or $12 at the door. Additional information is available by calling 315-2270.
As plans have been made for this momentous occasion, leaders of the church have looked to the past as well as the future to reflect on the congregation’s accomplishments.
Dr. Rick Grant, senior pastor, noted that it isn’t possible to “look at our past without considering our future. We cannot stop now. We have come too far and there is still too much that God wants to do.”
Noting that the church faces “the greatest challenges of our history,” he added, “All would agree that the Lord has certainly blessed First Baptist Church over the years.
“God has not changed,” he said. “He is the same as in 1836, 1936, 2011 and for all eternity.”
He referred to his friend and the church’s longtime pastor, the late Dr. Bernes K. Selph, who wrote in 1958 about the future of First Baptist:
“Our future is bright as the promises of God. We hold constantly before us the first statement the Lord uttered about his Christian society, ‘Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’
“Dr. Selph knew something we must not forget,” Grant said. “There is still much of God’s history to be written about First Baptist Church. Until the Lord returns, may everything about First Baptist Benton, from her rich history to her bright future, bring honor and glory to God. And may those who come behind us find us faithful.”
The History Committee of the church prepared an anniversary booklet titled “A Time Line History of the People and Life of the Church.”
The committee was chaired by Gail Blackburn and also included Sarabel Leech, Steve Perdue and Bobby Dusek. Also contributing to the effort were Karen Hammer and Robert Edwards.
According to the historical accounts listed in the booklet, First Baptist began as Spring Creek Baptist Church. It was organized April 2, 1836, one year after Saline County was created by the territorial legislature of Arkansas. The church’s first location was on Military Road near Lee Cemetery.
The Rev. Samuel Henderson was called as the first pastor and David O. Dodd was the first deacon, the booklet notes.
It further notes that several churches in the area formed an association in October 1836. Churches from Saline, Hot Spring, Clark and Hempstead counties were part of the association.
According to historical accounts, the congregation’s first house of worship was a log house on Military Road, which was completed in April 1838.
Some additional information about the church notes that:
•In 1839, a Mr. Hicks was named the first treasurer and was to collect money for the church.
•The 1840s brought pastoral changes to the church. Aaron Bolt served as pastor in 1841 and again in 1856, records show.
•In June of 1841, the church authorized Moses Dawson to receive and baptize Baptist members in destitute neighborhoods.
•In 1846 the Saline Association called for the churches in the state to organize the Baptist State Convention.
•Two years later, David Dodd, George Keezee and Samuel Pelton were sent as delegates to the association and also instructed to represent the church in the Baptist State Convention, which held its organizational meeting at Tulip.
Additional information about the church’s history notes that the 1850s brought significant growth to the church, with 30 joining, 21 by baptism. In 1852, the church acquired 40 acres lying east of Lee Cemetery, where a brush arbor was built to hold revival services and the creek was dammed to form a baptismal pool.
In 1853 the first trustees were elected to attend to legal matters of the church.
The historical booklet includes not just information about ministers and property, but also included a passage on “rules of decorum.” In this passage , dating from June 2, 1855, it notes that it was stipulated that “any member moving or absenting themselves from the bounds of the church and remaining so for twelve months without calling for their letter of dismal shall be excommunicated.”
In June 1859, the church voted to move into town.
A name change occurred in the 1870s. According to a booklet account, “A motion as made to change the name of the church, formerly Spring Creek, to First Baptist Church, Benton because it was the first Baptist church in town.”
The notation about the event stated that the meeting “adjourned in peace.”
In the 1880s the church voted to keep a record of members who had joined and a Woman’s Missionary Society was organized. It was known as The Ladies Aid Society.
In 1882, William Tucker was pastor, but the records state that W.V. Walls was called in 1898 to serve as the church’s first full-time pastor. He served until 1900.
Many leaders came and went in the ensuing years and the church reported numerous accomplishments, which are listed by decades.
Many ministers served pastorates at First Baptist, but the one with the longest tenure was Bernes K. Selph, who served from 1950 to 1976.
Several structures have housed the congregation, but it has been at its downtown location for many years. Numerous additions have been made to the original structure.
Church members will reflect on the past and look forward to the future.