A Short History of the Lula Baptist Church

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Growing up in the Lula Baptist Church during the 70s and 80s was an amazing time.  There were activities for kids of all ages and a positive feeling for the future and the present shined over everyone. There were both youth and adult groups and Sunday school was always full of smiling and happy members.  Preachers were dynamic and reached out to the communities around Lula drawing in large congregations every time the doors opened.  They visited homes and businesses and were truly leaders in the community.  Deacons were strong and demanded only the best ministers. The elders of the church continued the traditions of the past and we youngsters took it all in. Churches cooperated and I remember visiting the Methodist Church and them visiting us. It was a magical time that had a tremendous impact on me and the friends I grew up with.  I was in high school when Lula Baptist Church celebrated it’s 125th anniversary and a history was published.  The following is that history.

The Mississippi Delta is a land of contrasts.  It has provided a living for all creatures that has been both easy and hard.  Before farmers came to clear the land, the mosquitoes and red panthers found life here easy.  Those who came to work the land found the way hard.  The great forests were cleared and the swamps were drained through the herculean efforts of the pioneer settlers.  The people and the land are joined in the delta with a firm tie.  Whether a family owned thousands of acres or share cropped, the land became personal.  Wherever people go, they begin churches.  Families moved to the delta and began clearing the fertile soil in the Pre-Civil War era.  The so called “hill” counties of Mississippi contained Baptists who were concerned for the spiritual condition of the delta.  Spiritually, the flatlands were considered a “Sodom” and preachers were sent to alert its inhabitants of the gospel message.  The work was slow.  The first church in the delta was organized at Shuffordville, near present day Lyon Mississippi in 1845.  According to the minutes of the 1859 Coldwater Baptist Association, the next church organized in the delta was the Moon Lake Baptists Church, near present day Lula, Mississippi.  Delegates sent from the church were Pastor John Cheek and two laymen, E. and R. Barbee.  While the church took the name of the lake, the church actually was located east of Moon Lake probably on or near the Barbee lands.  The Civil War interrupted life for all Mississippians.  The church apparently declined.

Rev. Lewis Ball became the pastor of the Moon Lake church in 1866.  He had been a colonel in the Confederate army and used that title throughout his ministry.  Interest grew while he was with the flock but floods and disease forced him to move.  the church languished.  Colonel Ball came to be known as the “Abraham of Mississippi Baptists” and is truly one of the most colorful early missionary pastors in the state’s history.  Rev. T. J. Sparkman had come to Moon Lake on a fishing trip in 1870 and saw the need for preachers and churches firsthand.  He returned to Okolona, Mississippi and urged his fellow pastors to help him in a revival and church planning campaign.  Only one other man took up the challenge, Reverend A. D. Brooks.  These two men were compared to Paul and Silas for they zeal in the delta.  They began their preaching mission in Shuffordville and then moved to Jonestown.  At Jonestown, a church was organized and Rev. Sparkman was called as their first pastor.

The Complete History of Mississippi Baptists  (Leavell and Bailey) tells what occurred next:

“From Jonestown, they traveled to the community of the Barbees or the place where the Old Moon Lake Church was organized.  Long had been the waiting of the people for the coming of the missionaries.  The evangelists stayed two weeks.  The windows of heaven were opened, and they had a great feast of soul. A great number was baptized in the Yazoo Pass. (pages 975 – 976)

The Moon Lake church was reorganized under the same name and called Rev. Sparkman as pastor.  The revival these men spread caused the Sunflower Baptist Association to be formed in October 1870.  It was the first Baptist Association in the delta of Mississippi and included six churches, Shuffordville, Jonestown, Moon Lake, Friars Point, Sunflower,  and one church in Bolivar County.  By 1877, the association had grown to 22 churches over a five county area.  The association was halved with the northern half of the delta retaining the name Sunflower Baptist Association.  The southern half came to be known as the Deer Creek Baptists Association.  The churches of the Sunflower Association did not fare well. According to the minutes of the 1887 associational meeting, there were just 9 churches with a combined membership of 148.

Judging from the examples of the past, the Moon Lake Baptists Church faded out of existence during the lull of the 1880s. In its place a new church was organized  in 1889 with the name, Lula Baptist Church.  Certainly many of the same people who made up the old Moon Lake Church became members of this new congregation.  The present church was constituted with the present name in 1889 but the history of the congregation begins in 1859. The Baptist witness began around Lula in 1859, long before there was a Lula. That witness had its ups and downs.  We can claim the early date of 1859 as the genesis point for our congregation, the present day Lula Baptist Church.

The date and construction of the first meeting house is unknown but it possibly was built by 1895.  The first pastor of the church was Rev. J.W. Collins.  He was born in 1843 into the home of an anti-missionary Baptist preacher preacher in DeSoto County, Mississippi. He fought through the Civil War and was converted to Christ as a rebel soldier.   After failing in business attempts in Memphis, he felt the call to the Baptist ministry and graduated from Mississippi College in 1885.  He settled in this area and became pastor of the church in 1889 and served as such till 1895.  He proved to be a very successful pastor.  By 1900, Rev. Collins apparently had left the Baptist ministry by “falling out of line with the Sunflower Association.”  (The Complete History of Miss. Baptists. page 1001). Reverend D. H. S. Cox, who lived in Friars Point, was called as pastor in 1896.  He continued to serve through 1900 but it is not known when he left left the pastorate of the congregation.  The next mention of the Lula Church was in the 1906 Sunflower Associational minutes.  Rev. J.R.C. Hewlett, who like the pastor before him lived in Friars Point, was recorded as the pastor of the church.   Preaching services were held on the first and third Sundays of the month.  Mr. B. F. Edwards, church clerk, made the following report to the association on the Lula Baptists:

  • Gains – 3 by Baptism
  •               6 by Letter
  • Losses – 3 by Letter
  • Total membership – 51 persons
  • Sunday school – 25 scholars and 4 teachers

The church building was a simple white frame structure which stood on the exact location of the present church building.  In 1917, the building was sold and moved.  The reason for the sale of the building was the newly planned house of worship on which construction began in the same year.  It was finished in 1918.  The church had worship in the Masonic Hall while the building was going up.  Ten years late, the church was threatened with closure by a local bank.  Mr. and Mrs. G.R. Perryman mortgaged their home to make the church’s not to the bank good.  Many individuals contributed money to help the church through its first real financial crisis.  For example, Mrs. B.F. Latham donated a bale of cotton to the debt of the church.  The debt was finally paid in full.  The receipt is still intact today.  The 1917 church building was a handsome brick edifice with a Colonial design.  It had seating for 500 persons and was the largest building in Lula.  It contained a large balcony and curved pews in the auditorium.  There were eight rooms in the church.

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The early records of the church were tragically lost.  For a 20 year period, form 1906 to 1926, information is extremely scarce.  We do have the names of four of the pastors of the period but do not know the order in which they came.  They are Rev. Ousley, Rev. Harry Douglas, Rev. D.A. McCall, and Rev. L.F. Gregory

In October of 1920, the Lula Baptist Church along with other churches in Bolivar, Tunica and Coahoma counties formed a new association.  Seven women represented the church as messengers to the organizing meeting.  Mrs. C.M. Prichard, Mrs A.W. Pasley, Mrs B.F. Latham, Mrs. E.H. McGee, Mrs. W. M. Moore, Mrs. R.S. Cox, and Mrs. W.T. Birdsong helped to form and name the Riverside Baptist Association.  Rev. R. A. Eddleman of Webb, Mississippi  was called to the pastorate of the church by 1926.  The church rented a house for Rev. Eddleman and his family in 1928 and he moved on the church field.  This was extremely important in the life of the church since till this time all the pastors rode horses, trains or cars to make their Lula preaching appointments.  Rev. Eddleman was the first pastor to actually live in Lula.  Worship services were held only twice a month because pastors sometimes had as many as five or six churches to attend in their circuits.  By 1928, the church had a membership of 105 and provided an annual salary of $1,250.00 and a rented house for the pastor.  The next year Rev. Eddleman was forced to move for health reasons.  As he moved on, the Great Depression moved in.  The next pastor, Rev. Robert McCulley, could only be paid $887.50 by the church in 1931.  Rev. E.C. Hecksher replaced him for only a short time the following year.  Rev. Hecksher would be paid $414.25 and lived in the back of the Dundee Baptists Church with his wife and goat.

One of the best things the Lord ever gave the people of Lula was the Rev. J.E. Kinsey.  He was by all accounts a compassionate yet firm man who lived out his convictions.  He came to Lula in late 1933 and stayed through 1946.  During his tenure he pastored five churches.  He provided pastoral care for Lula, Dundee, Belen, Birdie and Hollywood.  In 1935, the church purchased a house beside the church building which served as the parsonage for 35 years.  His salary remained fairly constant through all these years, averaging $900.00 a year.  During Rev. Kinsey’s time, a number of Chinese families moved into Lula.  The public schools would not allow their children admission.  The church volunteered its building and the Chinese families hired a tutor for their children’s education.  This continued for several years until the policy barring Chinese for the public schools was ended.  The Lula Baptists Church made an outstanding witness with this act of sharing.  Rev. A.H. Childress followed Rev. Kinsey and stayed two years.  While his time wit the church was short, a very big event happened under his leadership.  The church entered into a major building program and worship was held at the Lula-Rich school in the interim. The new church was built with brick form the dismantled 1917 building.  The large stained window scene of Jesus in the Garden was taken from the older worship house and placed in the front of the 1948 building.  Another window equal in size was not used and was put into storage and eventually lost.

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These were exciting times in the life of the church.  A young man named Rev. Henning Andrews was called to become pastor in 1949.  He remained with the church till 1964.  During his pastorate, the church experienced tremendous growth numerically and spiritually.  In his first year, 1949, the church gave only $920.00 to mission causes.  By 1951, the church had increased mission giving to $5,722.00.  The church roll grew to 252 by 195 with a Sunday school enrollment of 281 and an average attendance in Sunday school of well over 125.  During the late 1940s, the church began a mission in the Green River community in nearby Tunica County.  The Green River Mission was given church status in 1966 but as people left their community the church closed and the building was sold.  The Lula Baptist Church built an education annex in 1959 to accommodate the Sunday school.. It was built at a cost of $2,900.00.  Rev. Andrews took the church one step further.  In 1961, he broke the long standing arrangement with the Dundee Baptist Church of sharing a pastor.  He moved worship services from twice a month to weekly worship services.  This was a major step in the history of the church and a great improvement.

The church was pastorales n 1965 but called Rev. Kelly Dampeer form the New Orleans Baptists Seminary in 1966 to be pastor.  His salary was $4,800.00 and the church was sending 25% of all offerings to the Cooperative Program.  Rev. Quinn Fisher came to the church in 1967 as pastor. He and his wife began mission work with Mexican workers who were living and working near Lula.  Lula Baptists have a heart for missions.  In 1969, during the pastorate of Rev. Fisher Humphreys, the church gave $90.00 in the name of the LuRand Mission so that the mission would have an offering for the Riverside Baptist Association.  Rev. Wayne Smith followed after Rev. Humphreys.  During REv. W. Smith’s pastorate, the church purchased the current parsonage for $20,000.00.  He was the first pastor to live in it.  All churches are like people.  Each one of us has ups and downs.  The history of Lula Baptist Church clearly shows that too.  It was during the pastorate of Rev. Dick Smith of Memphis that the church suffered its most serious problems of recent times.  Several members of the fellowship left the church and the work was hindered by our loss.  Rev. Dick Smith came to serve the church as a part time pastor in 1973 and resigned in 1977. Rev. Lee Hudson accepted the pastors title of the church in 1978 but only stayed through 1979 citing health concerns in his departure.  Rev. Jerry Smith was called as the pastor in the final months of 1979 and arrived on the field on January 1, 1980.  He used excellent methods in increasing the attendance for Sunday school but resigned the church to accept a position with a McComb, Mississippi church in 1982.  In August of 1982, the church called the pastor, Rev. Bob Parsley.  In January of 1984 the church spent $20,000.00 for a renovation of the church auditorium.  New stained glass windows, pews, carpet, and chancel furniture were added. Since this original history was written, there have been two more pastors.  For a number of years Gerald Castilo of Dundee pastored Lula Baptist Church.  He had grown up in the Green River community ,so he was very familiar with the church.  After his retirement, the current minister Byron Roberts of Phillips County, Arkansas took over.

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Civil War Record of J.W. Collins, the first pastor of Lula Baptist Church:

J.W. Collins joined Captain B. Moore’s company of the 9th Mississippi Regiment on March 27, 1861 in Panola.  His age was listed as 20 years old. Not long after enlisting, he became very sick and was discharged January 31, 1862 by General Bragg.  He listed his home as Horn Lake.  Even though he was discharged, Private Collins apparently returned to duty. On June 31, 1862 he was transferred from Company H to Company E. His name appears on the list of enlisted men paroled on April 26, 1865 at Greensboro, North Carolina in the army of General Joseph E. Johnston.  He was pastor from 1880 to 1895.

Sources:

Fold3.com: Records for J.W. Collins of the 9th Mississippi

A Short History of the Lula Baptist Church: written for anniversary of the church. Author unknown.

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