Lottie Baptist reborn thanks to prayers of six memberscomment (0)
April 26, 2001
By Sue Ann Miller
Faith is no longer in short supply at Lottie Baptist Church. Just five years ago a half dozen dedicated women were the only active members of the small church nestled in the rich timberland of south Alabama. All that has changed now, with the church boasting a story of unwavering faith, answered prayers and modern-day miracles.
A modest, red brick grocery store and two small country churches are the only visible signs that a community exists in Lottie. There is no red light, stop sign nor major intersection. The population of 250 people is scattered throughout the beautiful farmland of north Baldwin County.
Several decades ago Lottie Baptist Church was a thriving and active church. As slowly as the weather started eroding the small sanctuary, so did circumstances and apathy start sapping the church’s growth and vitality. As time passed, the once active membership of around 80 dropped off to a handful of God’s believers. But the determined women wouldn’t accept the disintegration of their church. They refused to shut the doors.
Not having a preacher, the six Chris-tian women would gather around the piano in the dingy, weather-damaged sanctuary and sing hymns on Sunday mornings. They took turns leading a devotion. But most of all — they prayed.
And not surprising to any of them, God answered their prayer — and in a very big way. He delivered a one-of-a-kind preacher — Dempsey Bell — who immediately began the task, with God’s guidance, of breathing life back into their ailing house of worship.The 42-year-old Bell was called into the ministry as a teenager. After graduating from the University of Mobile, the Atmore native attended Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky., and received a master of theology degree. Although he worked full time as a sales representative after seminary, he always maintained work in the ministry as a bivocational pastor at small churches that could not afford a full-time staff member. And one day he received a call, and another and another.
“These ladies had heard of me through my bivocational preaching at Eureka Baptist in Monroeville,” Bell said. “The church had grown to the point of needing a full-time pastor, and I guess they heard I was available. They asked me to come and preach which I did several times. They kept calling me back. They wouldn’t give up,” he recalled. “I felt so sorry for them that I finally told them I would stay for a year as a part-time interim pastor until we could get the church back on track.”
But Bell soon discovered that God not only had plans for the church but plans for him as well. One year ago, after serving as interim pastor for four years, Bell accepted the position of full-time pastor of the church to the delight of the growing congregation that has blossomed under his leadership.
“Those women did everything those first nine months,” Bell said. “All we did initially was organizational work. When I got there the church budget was written in pencil on a small piece of paper. This church had never paid a pastor more than $40 a week.
“There wasn’t any pulpit furniture and the paneling in the sanctuary was in real bad shape,” he explained. “Every time they would give me a check I would turn around and endorse it back to the church,” he said of his first days with Lottie.
Bell readily admits that he’s not a “shirt and tie” kind of pastor and is more at home in blue jeans and cowboy boots. His laid-back personality is reflected in his modest office where an old wooden door doubles as a makeshift desk that adorns two small filing cabinets. The walls are visibly absent of educational diplomas or recognition certificates.
“I’ve got them around here somewhere,” he said absentmindedly, “but I don’t see any reason to display them. I learned a long time ago that people don’t care how much you know until they find out how much you care,” he said of his personal philosophy.
What does adorn his walls are newspaper clippings on a bulletin board, a quarterly calendar indicating weekly activities and copies of signs that reveal the church’s goals for upcoming projects. The newspaper clippings testify to the work that Lottie Baptist members are doing for God’s cause. More than five different papers have covered the amazing response that this once obscure church has received from its live Christmas nativity and outdoor Easter passion play.
“Being called to this church and helping to build it and watch it grow has been such a humbling experience for me,” Bell said. “I’ve never known a church with such a big heart. I’m just as happy here as I’ve been at any church where I’ve served,” he added.
“The concept of the kingdom of God is essential to our church,” he said. “We’re in the fourth year of our five-year plan. Our church council is made up of 22 people that meet every month. Every committee member has a copy of this book,” he said, holding a thick binder that encases the church’s goals, objectives and long-range plans.
“The response from the community has been wonderful. The people here are very community-minded,” he said.
Lottie Baptist Church has increased its membership by 1,400 percent in the last five years. There are now around 125 people who attend church on a regular basis with 60 to 70 in Sunday School every week. “We started a Monday night Bible study six months ago with a steady attendance of 12 people,” Bell said. Last year on Easter a last-minute decision was made to park a new van in the church parking lot with a sign attached: “God give us this van.”
“The church had grown to the point of needing a van,” Bell explained, pointing out Lottie’s youth group has approximately 25 students under the direction of a full-time youth minister. “We asked a dealership to loan us a van over the weekend. That morning, without there being any announcement, $16,000 was donated for the van fund,” he said. “Now that’s a miracle. That’s God at work. There are no deep pockets in this church,” he added. “These people care. Their hearts are in the right place.”
His enthusiasm building, Bell waved another piece of paper with the words, “God give us this land,” written on it. He explained that a sign with these words was being printed to stretch across the seven acres of adjoining land next to the church.
“It’s currently owned by a paper company but we need it to expand our church,” he said. And Bell, like his congregation, is confident their expansion needs will be met because they know from firsthand experiences that God continues to perform miracles in Lottie.
Just ask the six women who prayed for the rebirth of their dying church.
Small Lottie church draws large crowds
Few people have ever heard of Lottie, Ala., let alone Lottie Baptist Church. But thanks to God’s intervention through the leadership of Pastor Dempsey Bell, and the dedication of almost the entire church membership, Lottie Baptist is attracting crowds by the thousands.
Masses of visitors from seven different counties and two neighboring states have made the pilgrimage to the small north Baldwin community of Lottie during April. Their mission is to view an outdoor presentation of five different scenes that depict the Easter story.
Lottie’s unique and effective presentation of outdoor biblical productions is becoming a trademark for the Escambia Association church.
Nearly 100 church members ranging in age from 7 to 70 participated in the time-consuming Easter passion play. “Our planning committee started working on the Easter production in December. That’s how dedicated and excited these people are about their witness,” Bell said.
Echoing these sentiments, Robert Hughes, who plays the role of the Apostle John said, “This passion play is all about glorifying the Lord. If we can save just one soul every second of the work we have put into this will have been worth it.” Hughes, who owns the only business establishment in the community, Lottie Groceries, said he invited everyone who came through the door to the passion play.
“A girl came in yesterday who didn’t go to church and I invited her to come,” he said. “I’m honored and pleased to be a part of this production.”
Two years ago Josh Plant was asked by Bell to handle the lighting and music cues for the church’s productions. Although it was a big assignment, the then preteen handled the job flawlessly. “I haven’t missed a cue yet,” he said as he expertly twisted the control knobs on the electronic board. One of the unusual aspects of the passion play is that it lasts only 18 minutes and is repeated for several hours. Although last year’s production involved cars driving through the church’s parking lot to view the play, the anticipated crowd for this year’s production of more than 15,000 resulted in bleachers being brought in for viewers. Almost all church members help out in some capacity — directing traffic, bringing food every night, sewing costumes and painting scenery.
Annette Roberts, one of the six ladies whose unwavering faith kept the once lethargic church alive, now happily sews the many costumes needed for the play. “We’re doing God’s work,” she said.