by Riley Manning/ Daily Journal
Auburn Baptist Church near Saltillo and the First Baptist Church in Plantersville are two churches that have seen their share of fire and rain.
Both churches have, at separate times, burned to the ground and been swept away by storms, but their congregations have weathered these trials and will celebrate 125 years of worship in the coming weeks.
Once upon a time, in 1888
Auburn and FBC both began in 1888 as humble, family-minded churches for their rural communties.
The Rev. Jimmy Henry, pastor of Auburn for the past four years, said his church has reached 125 years old because of the old-time faithfulness of its members.
“You can tell there have been a lot of calloused knees in this congregation over the years,” Henry said. “A church doesn’t survive this long without leaders who are really willing to step out on a limb with their faith.”
In 1936, a tornado wiped Auburn’s original building from its slab, then in 1947 the church went up in flames, and in 1992, their facilities were declared structurally inadequate. Auburn’s members combined with Priceville Baptist Church for a season while their current home was built.
Plantersville FBC met its match in a 1903 tornado, then fell victim to a fire due to an overheated flue in 1934.
“If it’s any indication of how times have changed, they built a new church for $3,600,” said the Rev. Danny Balint, pastor of Plantersville FBC for the past nine years. “Our staying power is definitely rooted in the community’s need for us. I think it says that if you are faithful to God, he will reward you with his faithfulness.”
In fact, after the tornado, a nearby Methodist church opened its doors, and after the fire, the congregation met in the local school house.
Rebuilding the past
Both pastors said their church’s disasters gave them a certain uniqueness, but destroyed much of the churchs’ early minutes and written histories. To piece it back together, they have called on their congregations and committees to comb through newspapers and records, and bring in any photographs or information on the early church.
Each church is compiling their histories into booklets to present to each member of their congregations.
“We have a few members who are kind of oral historians, you know, who have been told stories that have been passed down again and again,” Henry said. “We’ve gotten some information from the Mississippi Baptist Commission’s historical committee as well.”
Balint said seeing his members get involved in the process has been an unexpected pleasure.
“It’s been interesting and fun to sit back and watch them reminisce,” he said. “When someone brings in an old picture, they all know the people in them and act like kids opening Christmas presents. In a way, that’s been a way of celebrating our history in itself.”
Balint and Henry said the challenge now facing their churches is making the transition from a small, intimate congregation of families to a larger, more diverse church body.
“Auburn has really developed from a local into a regional, multi-generational church,” Henry said. “Thankfully, we’re seeing lots of young people coming back to serve. We have a goal to reach boys, girls, men, and women.”
Balint said a willingness to adapt was crucial to a church’s survival.
“We’ve seen from our records that we were a very rural church originally, baptizing people in a fish pond,” he said. “As we’ve seen the population grow in Lee County, we’re realizing we can’t reach people with the same methods we used even 30 years ago.”
Keeping a church from getting stagnant, stuck in its own ways, requires, Balint said, soft hands and a soft heart. The sanctuary is now outfitted with perfectly subtle microphones and a projection screen. One member, a violinist, rosins up his bow to provide accompaniment on certain hymns.
AUBURN BAPTIST CHURCH IN SALTILLO will celebrate its 125th anniversary this Sunday during their two regularly scheduled worship services at 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., followed by a catered lunch. At 1 p.m., singers and musicians from the congregation will perform their music.
PLANTERSVILLE FBC will hold a special service during their 10 a.m. worship on September 1st, where former Auburn pastor Dr. David Hall will deliver the message. Lunch will be served after the service, where attendees are encouraged to linger and fellowship.