Baptist History Spans 150 Years
It was on the threshold of the War Between the States that First Baptist of Jonesboro took root
By Mary K. Hamner
|The entrance of First
Baptist Church in Jonesboro opens into a well-appointed
sanctuary, and the eye is drawn from the pulpit up front
to stained glass windows encircling the walls. First one
and then another picture in ten tall colored glass
windows illustrates the life of Jesus Christ. Compared to
His history, birth, death, and resurrection over 2000
years ago, the history of Jonesboro Baptist pales in
comparison. However just as the life of Jesus is the
foundation of our faith, churches such as this one serve
as the foundation carrying Christ's mission forward. A
visit with lifelong members serving the church today
cause one to believe that the future of this church is
full of promise of growth and opportunities for ongoing
mission opportunities. A look back at the congregations'
journey over the past 150 years is educational, and
Jackson Parish History, a compilation of history related stories published in 1982, traces the name Jones all the way back to 1860 when Joseph Jones and his wife and their children migrated into the hills of North Louisiana. "He reached Jackson Parish in January of 1860 and purchased land in what is now the town of Jonesboro. At that time there were only two log cabins in the area: one on the hill where the courthouse now stands, the other on the ridge of the present site of Jonesboro Cemetery. Previously a family had established a private burial ground at the latter location. Because of this Joseph Jones set aside a plot of land four acres square for a public cemetery and churchyard. He and his wife are buried there."
"It was on the threshold of the War Between the States that the First Baptist of Jonesboro took root in the form of the little Macedonia Baptist Church in Jackson Parish. Tradition places membership at 100 back then. The log cabin in the cemetery was possibly the first "meeting house" of the settlement known as Macedonia where services were held during the Civil War." As soon as settlers had established homes and improved surroundings, they built another church building near the North entrance of the present Jonesboro Cemetery. Records show that later Joseph Jones' family members, son, Richard Henry (1873), and granddaughter Lizzie Jones Franks (1878) were members of the early church congregation."
This church, like all community churches of early days, was the center of the life of the settlers, serving not only as a place of worship, but a place where short terms of school were held during the summer months. In 1902, both church and school were moved from the cemetery site to new and separate locations, however, the cemetery plot had been reserved as a cemetery and church yard when Dr. W.S. Jones sold the surrounding land in 1900.
After the organization of the town of Jonesboro (1901), a new location consisting of two lots was secured from Mrs. Mary E. Jones on the corner of First Street and Cooper Avenue, now called Wafer Hill. A new frame building was constructed, which, by mistake was painted red. The "Little Red Church" served the Macedonia congregation for about seventeen years, progressing from a once monthly meeting to a half-time church, (two worship services per month).
As the years passed, the members of "The Little Red Church" increased to two hundred, and Sunday school attendance demanded more space. Then it was decided the church was too small, that it needed to be in a more centralized place. On May 3, 1919, the Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church purchased Lots 7 and 8 in Block 24 of the Resurvey of the town of Jonesboro from the Rock Island, Arkansas and Louisiana Railroad Company. The "Little Red Church" was torn down; the lumber was to be used to build a tabernacle on the new site when finances were sufficient. The congregation began meeting in the Odd Fellows Hall.
In 1920 construction of the new church began on the corner of Allen Avenue and Main Street near the location of the Jonesboro Cemetery. It was completed in 1921 and again, the congregation moved, into the first brick building in Jonesboro. In 1921, church membership was 200; Sunday school enrollment was 136, BYPU was 30 and there were 31 enrolled in the WMU. The church met on the second and fourth Sundays. The total value of the church property was $3000, the pastor's salary was $300, and total gifts for all causes was $3,981.78.
Artwork fronting three publications compiled at 100 year, 125 year, and 150-year anniversaries illustrate the changes made in the church buildings as the congregation advanced and grew. With the 1921 brick building the church roots seemed firmly planted near the cemetery where they started. In time more buildings were added, changes were made to others, Macedonia Baptist acquired the name of Jonesboro Baptist Church (1932). It became The First Baptist Church of Jonesboro after 1948.
The church buildings today are stately and suitably placed near the entrance to Jonesboro's Main Street. Tall steeples on the two-story brick Chapel on the West housing adult Sunday school rooms and the three-story Main Sanctuary on the East, draw eyes upward. Betty Hall and Martha Gilbert, lifetime members of the church, accompanied a guided tour throughout the large facility. Entering the sanctuary from an entrance on the bottom floor of the building into Sunday school and meeting rooms, we walked up stairs to the main sanctuary on the second floor. Pastor's offices and church staff offices are also on this level. The third floor is used for youth activity and meeting rooms.
The Family Life Center, the newest addition to the church complex houses a gymnasium game room, a kitchen, choir room, and Sunday school classrooms for senior adults. It is multi purpose, has been used for banquets, receptions, and showers. It also served as emergency shelter for refugees during recent hurricanes. The M. C. Walker Memorial Prayer Garden in between the sanctuary and chapel is a landscaped entryway into the front of the Family Life Center.
His Hands, one of many missions sponsored and staffed by church volunteers, are housed in two buildings west of the Chapel. This ministry serves 125 families in the area by making donated clothes and food available for their use in times of need.
Pulling from a wide area, Quitman, Weston, Dodson, Sikes and other towns within the perimeter of Jonesboro, First Baptist enjoys an active growing membership of believers.
Dr. Charles Wesley, pastor of First Baptist hopes the church will continue to grow.
"As we celebrate our sesquicentennial," Wesley said, "We continue to have a vision of witnessing about Jesus Christ and sharing His love through ministering to persons in need. Our vision is really simple. We are a fellowship of believers who serve together to bring people to Christ. This means that we see children, youth, young adults, middle-aged adults, and senior adults serving side by side to share the love of Christ with others here and around the world. The founding vision of First Baptist Church is still our vision for the future."