A BRIEF HISTORY OF JONESVILLE BAPTIST CHURCH

A BRIEF HISTORY OF

JONESVILLE BAPTIST CHURCH

Rev. Kenneth F. Pierpont

A word of explanation and apology: This very imperfect attempt at capturing some of the background and highlights of the history of our dear church will leave some who venture to read it disappointed that certain persons and events were omitted. This was not a matter of design on my part but rather a combination of ignorance and need for brevity. Please take heed and indulge me with your forgiveness and understanding. Thank you.

September 2005

In the fall of the year in 1955, Rev. Orris Porter with Mr. Bruce Bennett and certain other believers came to town to “start a gospel testimony in Jonesville.” A building was bought at 201 Water Street. This brick structure was used as a parsonage as well as a meeting place. Souls were saved immediately. Later, a block building was erected in the rear of the parsonage to be used as a sanctuary.

In 1956 another building was purchased at 214 North Street and was used as a parsonage. These building were purchased by way of land contract and promissory notes and the group valiantly worked to pay them off.

Rev. Porter continued on with the work until June of 1958 at which time he resigned. A new pastor was called and on the first Sunday of July Rev. Kenyon Wirick took office. Later that fall the interior of the concrete building was redecorated. Up to this point the church was called “Grace Baptist Church.” On December 7, 1958 the congregation voted to change the name to “Jonesville Baptist Church.” Seventeen members were present for the vote.

A charter was formally organized and presented for the signatures of the membership. On September 21, 1958 a constitution was presented and adopted and the charter was closed. The following names are listed in the Church Minutes as signers of the charter: Lew Webster, Edith Small, Earl Mallery, Marie Mallery, Betty Gibbs, Stanley Gibbs, Bruce Bennett, Betty Bennett, Dorothy Price, Bert Porter, Mabel Bisel, Mrs. Bill Coburn and Mr. and Mrs. Russell Morrison, fifteen names in all.

Work progressed on the newer building which needed to be readied for use. On the first Sunday in July in 1960 the first services were held in this building. This was exactly two years into Pastor Wirick’s tenure.

A young people’s group was functioning at that time and the youth attended the Gull Lake Bible Conference. A two-week Vacation Bible School was held. Both these were in the summer of 1960.

The new building would accommodate 200 persons and the public was invited to an “Open House” on Sunday, January 8, 1961. At that time the work had risen from an initial 20 in the summer of 1958 to a record high for two Sundays in 1961 of 81.

On August 7, 1964 the present tract of land came into the hands of the church. Mr. Frederick Craddock, a single man, sold eight- plus acres of land to the church on the extreme southeast corner of the village for the sum of $4,000. A down payment was made and the balance paid off to allow the church to relocate out of the downtown area.

For many of the church’s early years it was militantly evangelistic. The record shows that from 1959 through 1965 no fewer than 525 persons claimed Christ. The total membership as of June 1961 stood at about 160. The converts were gleaned from Sunday school, youth groups, calling and the services themselves

The church struggled with internal problems for some time during the period around 1966 and some members were lost but the congregation kept its support behind Pastor and Mrs. Wirick and the storm was weathered.

One characteristic of the church has been in evidence nearly all its life. The attendance at the business meetings has usually been fewer than twenty members. Some meetings years ago were attended only in the single digits, as now. Often important decisions were made with only a handful of members present. Decisions included numerous notes and mortgages undertaken between members and financial institutions to keep the work solvent and progressing. A faithful few remained strong and the work moved ahead.

The work continued under the leadership of Pastor Kenyon Wirick and a bus ministry was established which eventually included four buses purchased primarily from local school districts. The buses ranged through the area with 20-30 students each and were effective in those earlier years in reaching out to the community. Attendance averages are known for a few of the years in this general period: The year 1961 averaged 71 in attendance. In April 1962 the average rose to 91. In the year 1963 the average was 88 and in 1975 the average attendance stood at 94. In 1975 forty-two persons professed faith in Christ, fifteen of whom were baptized.

As for the building of a new facility on the newly purchased land, small amounts of money were borrowed and the work was anticipated. In March of 1965 a committee was appointed to guide the church in the construction of the new building on the large tract of land. In April 1965 the Building Fund balance stood at a mere $246.00! Nevertheless, by the use of small loans here and there earth was moved and the work began on building the lower part of the existing building. At this point, the church struggled with typical building questions: Which end of the building would be used for the platform? Would the cross on the front have square or rounded corners? Should the front doors have full-length windows? Would there be a carport?

On October 25, 1966 the old church building was sold and concentration was made to occupy the lower floor of the new building. Long hard days and nights were spent in the labor. Finally, in the heart of the winter of 1967 the furnaces were installed and the church transferred its furniture to the fellowship hall and occupied the lower floor. Meetings were held there for several years during the continuing building program. Evidence that the platform occupied the south section there is still visible today.

From the early days to the present Jonesville Baptist Church has fellowshipped with the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches at the national, state and regional levels. Numerous entries in the Minutes announce the names of messengers to these meetings. Upon occasion, the regional meetings have been held here locally, the most recent being in the winter of 2005. Additionally the church fellowshipped with the American Council of Christian Churches, a sister fundamentalist group, and though the church dropped out for a time, in recent years it has realigned itself with the ACCC.

Several years of hard work and dedication were needed to bring the upper part of the building into use. By 1969 the entryway on the lower side had been added and in 1970 work began to raise the superstructure. In September of that year the roof was finished and the building was roughed in. By September 1971 most of the brickwork was done and the inside work progressed. Outside work continued as well. The cross was hung in place and work on the main entrance was begun.

At this point the church purchased the nice Hammond Organ it still has which is known to be one of the best of its kind. On through the year of 1971 and finally on March 19, 1972 the last service was held downstairs. After the services the pews in use downstairs were carried upstairs and the way was clear to use all the new building, including the new organ. Thousands of man- hours had been invested and there remained many things to do, but the church now had the opportunity to use all its facilities. The final project outside was to erect a carport that was expected to shelter churchgoers from the elements. After a number of years it was removed because, as was stated in a business meeting, “it was an eyesore.”

It had become necessary to take a long-term loan from the bank of $40,000 to pay off the many responsibilities incurred in building. Total spending to construct the building reached $66,000. Since that time numerous projects and improvements have been undertaken, usually without borrowing money to complete them.

By 1972 a new parsonage was under construction and the old one on North Street was sold. Later, the parsonage underwent additional work downstairs and in 1999 the lower bath was finished and made separate from the bedroom on that floor. In 2003 the entire upstairs was redecorated and new carpeting was installed. The presence of this building on the campus has been a key to a number of ministries, particularly in recent years.

The church continued its ministries with buses, youth groups, Sunday school and other ministries and in 1975 it was reported that forty-two had come to the Lord that year. Jet Cadets and Awana became regular ministries and the evidence remains today of an extensive teaching ministry among youngsters in the Sunday school. Elaborate files were maintained in those years of visual aids and Bible lessons, a solid tribute to the faithfulness of some of God’s servants of the past.

By the fall of 1977 Pastor Wirick had served the church nearly twenty years. Rev. John Garris had come for a speaking engagement that year and it was about this time that Pastor Wirick tendered his resignation. Rev. Garris was voted upon and called to the church. On January 1, 1978 Rev. Garris and his wife were brought into the membership having accepted the church’s call. Rev. Garris began a ministry here that was to last through July of 1984.

A problem the church always seemed to struggle with was consistent attendance in any numbers. Attendance averages peaked at just over ninty during the early years and began slowly to wane. Many members who were brought in during earlier years fell away and numerous meetings were held to cleanse the rather large membership rolls of those who had broken fellowship over the years. Average attendance in 1972 had declined to seventy-five. In spite of this, the Minutes of the 1977 Annual Meeting show that no fewer than 165 souls claimed Christ during the year. Nevertheless with the ouster of many inactive members, the church was beginning a new phase. Primarily this situation was the most graphic during the years of 1978-1981. Many dozens of members were discharged primarily for in-attendance and breach of other covenant obligations. However, during Brother Garris’ tenure, numerous members were added to the membership rolls. And, there are testimonials in the church Minutes of victories in people’s lives.

The bus ministry had also peaked and the older buses were sold. However, in 1981 the church purchased a van that was used primarily to transport church youngsters to area Christian schools. The bus ministry was finally discontinued in 1985 with the sale of the last full-sized bus.

In 1979, the church continued to struggle financially as it had always done. Often the earlier pastors had gone without their pay, had even helped the church pay bills, and bills were in arrears frequently, though the church did its best to keep up with them. Pastor Garris lived on a salary of less than $11,000 annually and the church finished 1980 with just over $3,700 on hand in all accounts. In 1983, the decision was reached to hold evening and prayer services in the fellowship hall as a cost cutting measure. The pastor’s salary had been reduced that year as well. During this period, however, the giving to missions was about twelve per cent of the church’s income.

Rev. John Garris resigned his position as pastor in July 1984 and Rev. Arthur Hicks was appointed the same month to serve as Interim Pastor. Rev. Marvin Potter was called upon to fill the pulpit for the Wednesday services. This continued until March 16, 1985 when Rev. James Hinkle was called to serve as pastor. Brother Hinkle accepted the church’s call and labored here faithfully as the church’s decline continued, running in the 60s and 70s in 1985. By the early 1990s averages had dropped to the 30s and 40s.

Several efforts were made to establish renewed outreach under Pastor Hinkle but core members began to waver and numerous entries in the Minutes reveal that previously faithful members began dropping out. However some members were added during Rev. Hinkle’s ministry and he was instrumental in working with the church to save considerable sums of money on the church’s indebtedness.

Pastor Hinkle regularly conducted a very useful ministry of taping his sermons that were distributed to shut-ins and others for a considerable period of time. Later, a large collection of these tapes was sent to Brother Hinkle after he had left for another work as he had a continued to use them in his ministry.

In the mid-nineties attendance had declined to the 20s and 30s in the Sunday services with the evening and prayer services attended by the core church only. One decision reached during this period was to erect a pole building for storage. The men of the church did this work and this building meets a vital need today. During this period the church sold the van and by 1993 all transport vehicles were eliminated.

On November 17, 1993 Rev. Hinkle tendered his resignation and moved to a new field of ministry. Again Rev. Arthur Hicks and Rev. Marvin Potter were called upon to fill the pulpit and inquiries for a new pastor went out to various schools in an effort to secure a new pastor. In the meantime the membership was further eroded by the departure of members who had become discouraged or disappointed in decisions that were made.

An important milestone was reached, however, during this period of time without a pastor. Mr. Don George, Chairman of Deacons, led the church to consolidate some monies on hand to pay off the remaining balance of the mortgage, about $7,000. On April 13, 1994, the last payment on the facilities was made to render the church at last debt-free.

On April 10, 1994 Rev. Kenneth F. Pierpont filled the pulpit for the Sunday services and was invited to continue doing so for the remainder of the month. He was invited by the deacons to become a candidate for pastor and on May 1st received a unanimous call from the fifteen members present in a business meeting called for that purpose.

At this point an important change was made necessary by the church’s small size. Rev. Pierpont’s call stipulated that it was understood he would continue work outside the church to supplement his income “until such time as the church’s financial condition improves.” Unfortunately, that same situation prevails to the present time with numerous cost- cutting measures made necessary by the weakness of attendance and limited giving to support the ministry.

Shortly after Pastor Pierpont took office a restroom upstairs in the church building was constructed by Brother Larry Roan with the help of others and other improvements were made outside by Brother Roan and Deacon Wayne Holland who had been one of the original builders.

With the presence of Pastor and Mrs. Pierpont, both of whom were educators, the possibility of establishing a Christian school came into being. In January of 1997 Mrs. Pierpont was directed to open a small school to serve as a pilot project of the church. In July of the following summer, the school became a permanent ministry of the church, known in the community as “The Christian Learning Center.” Much work was done to turn the fellowship hall into a learning center under the curricula of Accelerated Christian Education. A few church members and parents of students assisted in making other minor changes that helped accommodate the students.

It was hoped that eventually the presence of the school would attract adult workers to the church to begin again some of the ministries that had been curtailed by the departure of most of the seasoned Christian workers from the church. Mrs. Pierpont as founder and principal of the school labored faithfully, assisted by the pastor and a few aides, mostly from among the parents of students and the school eventually reached a total of just over fifty students with two students reaching high school graduation. After three and a half years Mrs. Pierpont’s declining health necessitated the closing of the school after graduation in June of 2000.

Meanwhile, various programs were instituted and attendance averages reached into the 40s twice over about a three-year period. Attrition, though, began to take its toll. By the year 1999 all core members of the church who were present when Pastor Pierpont came had either dropped out, had died or had moved away from our parish area. By that time only two persons who were in the church when the Pierponts came were still in attendance.

In 1999 the church extended a call to Rev. Kevin A. Pierpont, the Pierponts middle son, to become Associate Pastor. “Pastor Kevin,” as he came to be known, continued to support his family with his computer skills as arrangements were made to accommodate his family on the church grounds. This continued until June of 2000 when Pastor Kenneth Pierpont resigned to take up a ministry in Ohio. Pastor Kevin was immediately called as Senior Pastor.

By the 1990s it was becoming evident that rather extensive maintenance and repair were necessary to keep up the facilities and to improve them. The church did have some savings and numerous projects were undertaken to protect the church’s interest in its property. One project accomplished under the leadership of Pastor Kevin was the roofing of the main building in 2001. Volunteers were secured from a sister church in Fenton, Michigan, and from other workers both within and without the church. In June of that year, the roofing was completed in a single day, a Saturday, at substantial savings to the church in time and money.

In January of 2002 the church extended a call to Rev. Kenneth Pierpont to return to the work in the role of Associate Pastor under Pastor Kevin, an almost exact reverse of the situation of 1999. Work was begun under the leadership of Mr. John Steingass, an officer of the church, to construct a modest apartment on the lower level of the building to house Pastor and Mrs. Pierpont who agreed to return after the two-year ministry in Ohio. Pastor Kevin sacrificed his salary to make the return of his parents in the work a reality and in April of 2002 the move was complete and the newly-completed apartment was occupied.

Numerous prospects were secured through calling and follow-up during this period but almost without exception none of these joined the membership and a few of the newer members fell away leaving the church with no real gains.

In February of 2003, Pastor Kevin Pierpont resigned to take a full time pastorate and Pastor Kenneth Pierpont was again called to serve as Senior Pastor. The same budget problems that had plagued the church for many years continued with the church failing to meet its established budget year after year from the mid-nineties on. Nevertheless, the sacrificial giving of the few who remained made it possible to continue improving the property and twice insurance underwriters reclassified the church upwards.

In spite of limited finances, the church has kept up its commitments to its missionary family and in 2004 the church finished the year with a little over 21 per cent of gross receipts going to missions. The church has excellent credit and is held in respect for the generosity of gratuities given to visiting speakers and missionaries.

Worthy of note is the ministry of release time Bible classes in the church’s facilities, led by RBM missionary Rev. Paul Spotts. In 2005 Jonesville became Brother Spotts’ largest ministry reaching a total of 338 students during the year with a high day of 290. The presence of the church here makes this outreach possible.

During the summer of 2004 the storage building roof was replaced by Rev. Jim Evans whose family occupied the apartment during that year. The Evans family are missionary candidates and the use of the apartment for several months assisted them toward their support. At present plans are underway to roof the parsonage during the summer of 2006.

To summarize the situation with regard to the property, we need only thank the Lord for His wonderful provision. Land that was purchased for a mere $4,000 is today worth many times that figure, particularly in view of the presence of the new high school as the church’s neighbor. The church building, constructed for about $66,000 together with the parsonage and storage building and all contents today have a combined insurance value that was placed in 2005 at over $930,000!

What does the future hold for Jonesville Baptist Church? In a way, this is a frightening question. Church attendance by Americans that peaked years ago has steadily slid since then. Attendance declines and lack of commitment of church members today is widespread whether in fundamental or liberal churches. We are now in a period which historians call “Postmodernism.” The principal feature of postmodernism is a rejection of absolutes. This is particularly true of the things of the Lord. While we are still firmly committed to the final authority of Holy Scripture in this church, as the church has always been, others reject final authority. Many people today, even professed believers, choose other activities and commitments, especially on the Lord’s day. As a result, church attendance in our area, as in others, is extremely low. The church is seen by many in the community as merely another “charity organization.” Very frequently, we receive phone calls from people near and far asking for money for rent, utility payments, gasoline, et cetera. One call, received recently, specified that we were being asked for groceries but the caller rejected canned goods as not to his liking. The real mission of the church is the saving of souls for whom Christ died. Tragically, most of these go on their way ignorant and uncaring for eternal things.

While the church has helped and continues to help those in need, we know our primary mission is to present the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is our plan to continue to do so as long as this work stands, hopefully to the day our Saviour returns for us and we meet Him in the air. Never mind that most people do not want to hear the truth. That fact does not relieve us of the responsibility to declare it and to present it to a dying world.

Fifty years ago this fall, a group of humble believers gathered in this town to “establish a gospel testimony in Jonesville.” While there are other churches in Jonesville, they are related to denominations that are part of the National Council of Churches, an apostate organization, with which we would never compromise. We here at JBC will never tire of presenting Christ as the ultimate need of every human being. The old-fashion altar call will never be an embarrassment here.

We, in no way hold ourselves aloof from our neighbors and friends who need Christ. In fact we have done many things to win their respect and hopefully their ears. But our view is that a church of the blessed Saviour ought not to be known for card games, soup suppers, rummage sales and paper drives. Rather, our mission is to preach, teach and live by example, the saving graces of the Lord Jesus Christ. This, God willing, we will do, as we continue our mission of establishing and maintaining “a gospel testimony in Jonesville.”

I close this humble historical sketch of Jonesville Baptist Church with a reminder of just what the Gospel of Christ really is. The Bible says the gospel is: “…how that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures” [I Corinthians 15:3-4]. Jesus said: “Behold I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” [Revelation 3:20] .

The Bible makes it plain that when Christ comes in to the life of the repentant sinner, that he or she is a “new creation.” Jonesville Baptist Church desires above all else to stand unashamedly for the cause of eternal salvation for every believing sinner and to train those believers to present this Gospel to lost people everywhere, both here and abroad..