by Riley Manning
TUPELO – Gloster St. Church of Christ, the “mother church” for most Churches of Christ in the area, will mark this month the centennial of their formation, and of an idea.
The first congregation consisted of only three or four families, and met in the courthouse way back in 1914, courtesy of congregation member and two-term sheriff of Lee County, George Washington Long.
“You have to understand the historical setting in which our congregation was founded,” said Elder James Segars. “Each denomination has their own set of man-made rules that divides them. Essentially, the first congregation wanted to come out of that division and adhere solely to the New Testament for direction. They wanted to restore Christianity and the church as it was in the first century.”
Segars said that Gloster Street Church of Christ is and always has stood independently as a church. They don’t report to any district, conference, association or otherwise. For their first 11 years, the original congregation kept meeting in the town’s courthouse before building their first home in 1925.
In digging through the church’s history, Segars found the original members may have been few, but their influence was considerable. In addition to Washington, his brother, a dairy farmer named T.D. Long, and A.R. Phillips formed the nucleus of the congregation. T.D.’s daughter married into the McCollough family, who owned the land now crossed by McCullough Blvd.
“That was the beginning,” Segars said. “In the first few years, they attracted four or five other families, and kept growing as Tupelo grew. Strong leadership has always been present here, a true commitment and sympathy toward the original goal.”
Segars said the church’s education program is active and crucial. Children growing up in the Church of Christ know what they believe, he said.
In 1948, the congregation constructed their current home, just a few blocks down from their original location. According to the church’s preacher, Chad Ramsey, they have about 300 members and host between 250 and 260 each Sunday, about an 83 percent attendance rate. Mid-week Bible studies draw the same number. To make sure everyone is familiar with each other, Ramsey said the congregation is divided into four smaller groups, called “Care Groups,” that meet, eat, and carry out ministry projects together. The groups are rearranged every year.
“We’re very fortunate,” Ramsey said. “The camaraderie among our members is excellent. We’ve managed to stay away from cliques within the church. Anyone who has visited will tell you it doesn’t take long to get comfortable.”
In addition, the Gloster Street church helped begin Churches of Christ on east and west Main Street, in Verona and Sherman.
Setting the record straight
Ramsey said when it comes to the general population, the Church of Christ is often misunderstood.
“When you explain to people that we are just deeply invested in restoring what the New Testament says Christianity is supposed to be, it’s not a concept people object to,” he said. “It’s the practice that throws them off. People think we’re exclusive, but we just don’t want to be pigeon-holed by any kind of creed book.”
Segars agreed and said conceptions about Church of Christ members believing only their church will go to heaven are ludicrous. The church is merely trying to eliminate the divisive clutter of denomination, and minister with solely the New Testament as a foundation. For this reason, preachers aren’t called pastors or reverend, because, Segars said, those titles don’t come from the Bible.
“[Ramsey] is a minister, an evangelist,” Segars said. “A preacher of the word of God.”
It’s exactly this back-to-basics mindset that Ramsey says will carry the church into the future.
“The thing about our approach is that our standards aren’t changing,” he said. “Our call for unity on the New Testament may be refreshing to some. Our goal is not to be one church among many. We want to be the same church you read about in the New Testament. If we do what those men did, we can become what they were.”
The 100th anniversary celebration will take place at the church on Aug. 24. After the church’s regular 9 a.m. service, longtime church members will share their memories of the church and how it has affected them. At 1:30 p.m., the church will hold a service celebrating its heritage.