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Clarke Association church celebrates ‘holy heritage,’ 125 years of ministrycomment (0)

November 9, 2006

By Jeremy D. Henderson

Had little Evergreen Baptist Church, Jackson, given itself a traditional birthday cake during its recent commemorative dinner on the grounds, there would have been more than enough candles to set the Clarke County woods completely on fire.
One hundred and twenty-five years have come and gone since the congregation’s spiritual forebears first gathered for worship on the outskirts of Jackson. 
Although the Clarke Baptist Association church didn’t have such a cake, a holy heat can yet be felt from its still new — “and paid for, praise the Lord” — sanctuary because, spiritually, the Baptist flagship of the tiny community of Evergreen remains a roaring blaze. 
On Oct. 15, in the midst of special music, guest sermons from former pastors and recognition of the church’s oldest members, Pastor Howard Gaston set forth a vision for his church’s next 125 years. Behind its pulpit for just 27 months now, the trivocational pastor — who, in addition to his church work, teaches physical education and drives a school bus — is nothing if not ambitious.
“We had a spiritual vision for us to mature as believers, and then we had a physical vision of a new multipurpose building that we’re paying for and praying about right now. We haven’t broken ground yet, but we’re looking (to do that soon),” he said. 
That Sunday morning, 175 people attended Evergreen Baptist — 83 more than its active membership. “One of our former pastors, Joe Leverette, delivered the message out of Malachi that morning and it was just super. But I told him he better not drop his Bible because I’d sure pick it up to preach to that number of people,” Gaston said.
For 86 years, 91-year-old Mary Lee Criswell has been one of those people. A member since she was 5, Criswell said her memory goes back to when dinner on the grounds at Evergreen Baptist was as commonplace as pond baptisms and tin lizzies. 
“It was really the only one in the community then that could fit a good many people,” said Criswell of the only church she’s called home. “It’s the first church I went to and I stayed there.” 
And though she’s rarely heard a sermon preached outside Evergreen Baptist’s walls, Criswell maintains she’s seen her share of preachers.
“We’ve had several ministers along the way. I can’t recall them all,” Criswell said. 
“She’s something else,” said Gaston of Criswell, crediting her and others for the powerful holy heritage he hopes to continue.
“Our church is one that really tries to reach out to the community, and we’ve made the Great Commission our No. 1 emphasis,” Gaston said.

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