HISTORY OF THE FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF TALLULAH, LOUISIANA 1914-1972
Author Unknown – Submitted by Janet Byram Newsom
Approximately fifty-eight years ago, in April, 1914, fourteen concerned Christians met at the Madison Parish Court House and organized the First Baptist Church of Tallulah. These charter members included Dr. and Mrs. G. W. Gaines, Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Ward, R. W. Gandy, Mrs. D. G. Green, Mrs. Hattie Blair Gilpin, R. W. Howe, G. W. Jordan, R. W. Moreland, T. F. McGhee, L. Z. Naylor, P. B. Owen, and Paul R. Gaines.
L. Z. Naylor served as the church's first clerk; R. Paul Gaines as treasurer; Dr. G. W. Gaines as Sunday school superintendent; W. H. Ward as associate Sunday school superintendent; Miss Ellen Shellman as Sunday school secretary and treasurer.
In 1915 Mr. W. A. Odom was elected church clerk to be replaced by Mr. T. W. McGhee the same year. Mrs. R. S. Gayle was elected as the church's very first pianist.
In its fifty-eight years of existence, the First Baptist Church has had fifteen pastors. The first pastor to serve after the church was chartered was Reverend C. C. Perryman, who remained for less than a year. Following Reverend Perryman was Reverend A. Finch of Livingston, Texas. For $50.00 a month - twenty-five from the church and twenty-five from the State Board - this clergy-man served both the Tallulah church and the Lake Providence church.
From January 14, 1915, until October 14, 1917, the church was without a pastor. V. E. Duncan was called at this time. Reverend Duncan served for almost a year before he was replaced by Reverend J. A. Tinnin, who came April, 1919, and stayed until April, 1921. In July of 1921 H. M. Demoss was called on a full-time basis with the exception of the third Sunday when he would preach for the Presbyterians. The pastor's salary was raised to $150.00 per month. On May 22, 1922, Reverend Demoss resigned to be replaced in September, 1922, by Reverend C. N. Kimberlin. This minister served the church for ten years. He and his family were the first to reside in the Mulberry Street pastorium.
Following Reverend Kimberlin was Brother L. A. Materne, who served for four years. Brother Materne became the field representative for the Baptist Children's Home in Monroe. Following his ministry was that of Reverend Clarence Crow, who has preached in our present sanctuary. Brother Crow stayed in the community for ten years. Then Reverend Shirley Briggs became pastor. Brother Briggs remained for seven years. Reverend Irvin Cheney served as pastor for four years after which Reverend Lucian Conway came to minister to Tallulah Baptists. After serving for two years, Reverend Conway went to Baptist Headquarters to serve on the Relief and Annuity Board. Reverend Conway and his family were the first occupants of the new pastorium on Ella Street. Reverend A. B. Pearce came to the church in 1959 and stayed for two years. From 1961 until 1963 Reverend Oster Daniels served our church as pastor. Then Reverend John Swint Hurt became the pastor. After the four-year ministry of Reverend Hurt, Brother Crawford Williams, our present pastor, came to the church.
The spacious church plant which we now enjoy came about through much prayer, planning, hard work, and money. The first building committee in the church's history was appointed November 25, 1917, and was composed of Dr. G. W. Gaines, W. H. Ward, P. W. Moreland, and T. F. McGhee. In January, 1918, the church voted to purchase ¼ square of a lot from John E. Yerger at a cast of $75.00. On this same day $385.00 was subscribed to the building fund.
In February, 1919, a contract was let for a church building not to exceed $5,000.00. Following a year of construction, the first service was held in the new building at the corner of Cedar and Askew Streets. Because of the illness of the pastor, Reverend Tinnin, Reverend Waters from Mississippi College had charge of the service. There were about fifty people in attendance.
During Reverend Kimberlin's pastorate the growth of the Sunday school necessitated the addition of six rooms and a hall to the original building. Also during Reverend Kimberlin's ministry, four and one-half acres of land located in the bend of Eagle Lake were obtained by the church to be developed and used as a recreation center for Christian youth of the community. The center was never developed because of the pastor's resignation.
Under Reverend Crow's leadership the church paid off all indebtedness and at the same time found more room was needed. To meet this need, a three-room building was erected across the back of the church with Reverend Crow himself doing most of the work. During Reverend Crow's ten-year ministry a lot for a new church was purchased and a substantial building fund collected.
Reverend Shirley Briggs led a campaign to raise money for the new church building. When the amount of $100,000.00 was obtained in cash and subscriptions, the present building was begun. The sanctuary and one end of the educational building were completed with the first service being held in February of 1951.
During Reverend A. B. Pearce's ministry the right wing of the educational building was erected and occupied.
Under Reverend Crawford Williams' leadership the church is again debt free and now enjoys a beautiful, adequate church plant valued at $487,000.00.
The Tallulah First Baptist Church has always been mission minded. In 1914, when the pastor's salary was $50.00, the church pledged $40.00 to missions. Mission emphasis is again noted in the sharing of the pastor with the Presbyterians in 1921. Also, during this same year the Presbyterians, meeting in the Baptist Church building, organized their church. They were granted the use of the building each third Sunday until they could build their own house of worship.
The First Baptist Church began a mission church under the leadership of Reverend Lucian Conway. That mission is now an independent Baptist church that exerts a great influence in Tallulah.
Presently the church contributes $4,200.00 or about 6% of its budget to the Cooperative Program. The budget for 1973 plans an increase to 10%.
Other significant facts in the First Baptist Church history are the first deacons - Dr. G. W. Gaines, W. H. Ward, W. T. Lee, senior deacons; and R. W. Moreland and T. F. McGhee, junior deacons. This five man board has expanded to the present twelve member board. First Baptist Church now has twenty-two ordained deacons in its membership.
In 1918 the first trustees were selected. These men were Dr. G. W. Gaines, W. H. Ward, and G. W. Jordan. Six trustees comprise the present board of trustees.
Mrs. R. S. Gayle, who has been a member of the First Baptist Church longer than any other resident member, has greatly influenced the pages of church history. She has served as pianist, Sunday school secretary, church secretary-treasurer, and president of the W. M. S. During Reverend John Hurt's ministry Mrs. Gayle was made "Mother of the Church."
In its fifty-eight years, the First Baptist Church of Tallulah has grown from a charter membership of fourteen to a resident membership of 745 and a non-resident membership of 455, from a building worth approximately $5,000.00 to a debt-free plant valued at $487,000.00, from mission giving amounting to $40.00 a year to $4,200.00 a year. Its many years of growth and development were climaxed on Sunday, November 5, 1972, when the note on the building was burned, symbolic of the debt-free status of the church. Commemorative ceremonies held on this occasion will be a landmark in the church's history as it goes forward to attain even greater heights in the future.