By Karen Kelly
125 years. 25 pastors. Time measured in the lives of the people who have graced the buildings FBC has occupied. Time measured in generations. Milestones such as baby dedications, Vacation Bible School, Falls Creek, weddings and funerals take place here. Seasons of life are lived here: nursery, children, youth group, college and career, adults, and senior adults. All of us members of a community of faith, walking through life together, seeking to serve the Lord our God, and one another, as He has commanded. This is who we are.
Our names are part of this history: Brown, Calmes, Craig, Ely, Farthing, Miller, Farrand, Ford, Henson, Hopkins, Hurt, Goode, Owen, Rominger, Wilcox and so many more. Many have selflessly served this community of faith and the larger community of Shawnee. They have given of their time, their talent and their treasure—not for self-aggrandizement, but in service to the Christ, Jesus, whom we serve.
Our numbers are not as they once were in the 1940s, for example, when senior adult member Loretta Miller was a child. She remembers lining up on the outside entrance stairs during Vacation Bible School, as the children marched into the sanctuary. Ms. Miller recalls times the sanctuary and balcony, which then stretched three sides of the second floor, were so full of people that chairs were placed in the aisles. Her parents, Tom and Reba Ely, raised their daughter and two sons in the church, occupying leadership roles throughout their lifetime. Mr. Ely served as a deacon for more than 35 years. Mrs. Ely, who served several years as camp director of Falls Creek, preferred the cradle roll, or nursery, to the “old people” roll. A registered nurse by profession, she used her skills to watch over the little ones in her care.
Roger Henson grew up in FBC. Upon graduation from OU Law School in 1948, his dad, Almon and mother Helen moved to Shawnee. He too recalls the sanctuary filled with people and weekly Sunday School attendance in the 900s. As a young boy, Roger said there would be 300-400 college students from Oklahoma Baptist University in attendance the first Sunday of a new academic year. Many would transfer their membership to FBC while they earned their degree.
Almon Henson served in many leadership roles, including superintendent of Sunday School. Mr. Henson has vivid memories of his dad taking the young men in his class on an annual fall coon hunt. It was an adventure that many of the students would not otherwise have experienced, and it certainly was an experience they would never forget.
Like his late father, Mr. Henson would continue the legacy of investing in young men, serving several years as Boy Scout Master, while his son was involved in the program, and continuing as a charter representative for the church.
Born Dec. 16, the second of four children, Bill Ford has known no other church home than FBC.
He comes by his dedication naturally; his grandparents, J. Lloyd and Francis Ford, moved to Shawnee in 1906, homesteading north of town on land that was part of the Kickapoo reservation at the time. They served on the church’s building committee, and were very supportive of Oklahoma Baptist University.
Mr. Ford’s family emphasized the importance of Sunday School, and throughout the years, he benefitted from others pouring their knowledge and wisdom into him. After marrying Nancy and starting his own family, they would repeat this positive cycle, investing themselves in the lives of young children, once again in Sunday School, only this time they were the teachers.
According to the Bible, and Mr. Ford concurs, there is no time to be idle. It is important to be involved in the community and to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, because “we can make it better.” As the church’s logo states, we need to be about the business of being disciples and making disciples.
The thread that connects us is so very strong. It can be seen in the relationships among members: Bill Ford’s grandparents and Loretta Miller’s parents were best friends; Almon Henson was Bill Ford’s Sunday School teacher. And it can be seen in member’s leadership roles in the community: Shawnee School Board, Salvation Army, Family Promise, YMCA, Boy Scouts and OBU, to name a few.
I like to think that we, the members of First Baptist Church, will continue to serve our community and one another because of the hope of Christ that continues to motivate us. And I echo the prayer of Paul, the apostle, for the Ephesians in chapter three verse 21, “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.