Lawson writes . . . sharing thoughts and memories

December 10, 2012

My First Church

Filed under: Uncategorized — lawsonjolly @ 5:00 am

flagbranch-yard-001Over 56 years ago, the Flag Branch Baptist Church, near Iredell, Texas invited me to preach. I understood it was in view of a call to be their pastor. This church, like many others, used student pastors. I am not sure there was any real consideration of seeking God’s will, but simply that they had someone to preach for them. The church was located in an area where people lived miles apart, either farming or raising cattle. They did not expect to grow. Yet, they made a real contribution to the Kingdom of God because of using young men like me who had so much to learn about ministry.

The church did call me as pastor. This was my first church. I was thrilled beyond expression. The church had services only on the first and third Sundays of each month. My salary was $7.00 a week. The reputation of this church was that it had been the first pastorate of Dr. W.A. Criswell when he was a student. One family had a bedroom where he had stayed on the weekend. But they had sanctified the room and placed a plaque over the door. They would not even offer the room to me.

It was about 150 miles round trip. I did not have a car and I depended upon other people to transport me. I would give them $5.00 of the $7.00 I received. We would stay all day on Sunday. Various families would have us for lunch. The afternoon was for rest or to call upon any member that might need a visit from the pastor.

My main transportation was my roommate, Hutch. He had an old 1946 Hudson. One Sunday, as we neared the church, an ice storm had occurred and the road was very slippery. As we attempted to go up a small hill, the car would not quite make it because of the icy road, and it would begin to slip back down the hill. Wrapping some cloths around my shoes for traction, I was able to get behind the car and push. This added power got us over the hill.

The church building was one room. There were no divisions for classes, although the two or three children met in a corner while the others sat up front for Sunday School classes. There was a pot-belly stove just in front of the pulpit, but since there was a center aisle it did not block the vision. However, it did provide for those who wanted to be hidden from the pastor’s vision by lining the stove pipe up to block eye contact. There were wooden benches made by the men in the church. Custodial care was done just before the services. The broom and other items were always convenient up front by the pulpit. There was a captain’s chair on the platform, and a chalk attendance and giving board was visible. On a good Sunday, we would have 15 to 20 present.

One Sunday afternoon as I was attempting to clean the storage area in the pulpit, I found slips of paper that had been used for voting to call a pastor. I discovered something! I had not been in view of a call, but was one of three young men they invited to preach, and then they voted on the one they wanted. It was really a popularity contest! I found 12 slips of paper. One student got 4 votes, another 3 votes, and I got 5! So I was chosen as their pastor! It did not bother me. I had a place to preach and a church to pastor. That was my desire and God had simply given me the opportunity, even if by only one vote!

After a few weeks, I received an invitation to preach on my “off” Sundays at another church. I accepted the invitation. In the next few months, my parents arranged for me to have an old Plymouth that would make it possible for me to make these weekly trips to the two churches. Carter-Munch Baptist Church, where I was preaching on my free Sundays, asked me to become their pastor. It would be a full-time church in the sense of preaching every week. As this decision weighed upon me, I was leading in the offertory prayer at Flag Branch Baptist Church. In the prayer, I said, “God, bless these tithes and offerings here at Carter-Munch Baptist Church . . . .” I realized what I had said. And were those people at Flag Branch surprised! They had never heard of the other church because it was 100 miles in the other direction. Certainly, they were confused. But it was my answer. I then explained to them about Carter-Munch Baptist Church, and I offered my resignation.

It was awkward to resign prior to the message, but I had no choice. They were due an explanation. I did not sense they were terribly disappointed. I am not sure that I was real disappointed to leave. After all, the one prominent family would not let me stay in that special bedroom, and then I had only gotten 5 votes!

The church does not exist today. As with many rural, family churches, the older folks died and all the young people lived closer to cities. I have discovered that a very prominent Texan, Walter Mize, an international businessman, philanthropist, and founder of the Christian Heritage Foundation had the steps of the church moved to a home he built in 1974, near Cleburne, Texas. In an interview he spoke of Flag Branch Baptist Church. He spoke of his conversion experience and said, “This was the most important event in my life and it occurred at the Flag Branch Baptist Church.” At least through this one life, Flag Branch Baptist Church lives on! And I am forever indebted to that congregation for giving me my first opportunity. May they be blessed!



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