First Baptist Church of Checotah will celebrate 125 years of service this Sunday, June 25 at 10 a.m.
Rev. Steve Dennis, pastor of the First Baptist Church, would like the community to come celebrate the church’s history in a special commemoration service and luncheon served at noon.
Jerry Faught, Jr. and Wade Longcrier will be the guest speakers. Aer the luncheon there will be games and activities for all ages.
eldest member of the church and also the person who has been enrolled as a member the most number of years will be recognized during the celebration.
History of the church
Reverend David Samuel Cromer began the original church, June 19, 1898, with _ve charter members. Cromer was a circuit-riding preacher, who established 81 churches in Oklahoma, beginning around Red Oak.
After he moved to Checotah, his family remained in this area. He died in 1929 and is buried in the south west section of Greenlawn Cemetery.
After the 100th anniversary celebration of the First Baptist Church in 1998, Luther Wood searched in Greenlawn Cemetery until he found Cromer’s resting place, which had a small I didn’t find marker. That’s when Wood decided that the man who spent his entire life in service to others should have a more prominent stone which he ordered, and had placed on Cromer‘s grave. The new stone contains the information about the founding father of First Baptist Church. From those original five members, the church has now ground to 450 in 2023.
From small beginnings
When Rev. Cromer began the church they met in First Christian Church from 1898 to 1900. In 1900 once they had enough members and enough money, they built a small frame church and purchased lots on the corner Second Street and Jefferson.
The story has been told that a Buffalo watering hole had been in that location. The water in the hole had to be filled with dirt before they could even build. Whether or not that story is true, the members were plagued through much of the 20th century with water that would seep into their building. However, the church has remained in the same location since 1900 and has progress from a small frame building church to the church it is today.
When the church began outgrowing its small beginnings, a second building was proposed. It was to be a three-story building with a basement, a ground floor, sanctuary and classrooms on the top floor.
Once the basement was finally completed in 1923, the congregation moved in and celebrated their 25th anniversary under the pastorate of Reverend E. A. Spiller.
Years later, a two-story addition of classrooms was built in the east end but the ground floor and top floor were not added due to the lack of finances.
The depression was underway, and it took the church years to pay off the loan they called the basement building. Spiller would lead many fundraisers to try to pay off their debt, along with other pastors, until it was finally done. Spiller would be the only pastor to serve three different terms, beginning in 1921-1927; then from 1934-1936 and finally from 1949-1953.
Rev. George McDow was the longest serving pastor in one continuous pastorate from 1958-1969.
It wouldn’t be until 1974 that the Baptist congregation would finally build their current sanctuary and have their first worship service in that building on March 7, 1975. By this time, Wayne Brown was the pastor.
Chester Ward, Jr. was also a long-term pastor from 1978-1989.
Rev. Steve Dennis became the 40th pastor of First Baptist Church in 2006 and has continued to be the pastor for the past 17 years.
Revivals in rural areas
During the 1920s and 1930s First Baptist Church sponsored numerous revivals in rural areas. Many would be tent revivals or brush Arbor meetings. Others were conducted in rules schools and became missions. Some places where the revivals were held include: Mount Zion, Prairie View, Central High, Soda Springs and Minton. Spiller conducted many of those revivals, as well as Reverend J.M. James and Reverend Charles T. Ricks.
Mrs. Ola McCullough recalled of those revival days that they often had disturbances in the services, especially those outside of town. One night during revival, Rev. James had heard a rumor that someone was threatening to come and break up the meeting. Then while he was preaching he noticed a man poking his head into the window, so he stopped preaching and said, “Get out of that window or I’m going to call the sheriff.” To his surprise it was the sheriff! Someone had called and asked him to come by Central High in case of trouble. He was just peeking in to see how things were going. James continued the service, as if nothing had happened, even though he was slightly embarrassed that he had technically threatened the County Sheriff.
Missions of the church
Leaders of the members of the First Baptist Church have supported missions, locally, nationally and internationally for years.
Locally they have provided meals each fall for the football team and even the band. They also provide a meal for the teachers at the beginning of the school year.
Internationally adult groups from the church have gone on mission trips to Mexico, along with other individuals who have traveled to England, Japan, China, and Thailand, for missionary work.
The church’s most important ministry, its Sunday School program, has been successful for all age groups, especially with its youth. The junior high and high school youth choirs have traveled to churches in the area, and have also went on choir trips to Missouri, New York, and Mexico.
Over the years, the church has had many mission projects. One project called “Let Your Stomach Growl” occurred May 18-19, 1985, when the youth were challenged to fast for 24 hours. During this time they would learn how it felt to be hungry as a severe drought and famine were going on in Ethiopia. Each young person had a sponsor who paid for each hour that they fasted. Their project earned $900 which was sent to New York and onto Ethiopia to help feed the hungry.
Many young people who have grown up in the church have gone on to become ministers, youth leaders, musicians, teachers, nurses, ranchers, and Christian leaders in all walks of life.
Favorite memories of the church
In 1998 the church celebrated its 100th birthday with a special service, including former pastors, former music, directors, and many former and current members.
The centennial anniversary committee had Ellen Vinson as chairperson and Jerry Faught as secretary, along with other members, Luther Wood, Emma Lee Heard and Mack Keathley. Historical tidbits were put in the church bulletin that came from old newspapers and previous church history. Wood found a treasury of information in the McIntosh County Democrat and Checotah Times about the Baptist church over the years.
While Vinson was church secretary, Esther Blackwell came into the church office and told Vinson that someone needed to write the history of the church, while many older members were still living and could share their memories. So Vinson collected many stories from the congregation to include those of Jerry and Zula Faught and also Bob Hogan. She went on to write a book called God’s Garden of Roses (1898-1978) commemorating the church’s beginning and the years that followed. Then she wrote a second book for their next 20 years from 1979-1998.
Truly, the First Baptist Church has had hundreds of weddings, showers, funerals and meals for every occasion. All these special memories and people with their stories continue to live on 125 years later, not just in the community but also in the memories of the church congregation.