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‘Only death’ can take members from small Goodsprings churchcomment (0)

September 11, 2008

By Ashley McCleery

When Paul Jean, senior pastor of Goodsprings Missionary Baptist Church, thanks the Lord for his family, he makes sure to include his congregation. For Jean, the members of the Walker Baptist Association church are part of his “family.”

“Everybody loves everybody,” he said. “It’s like one big happy family. It’s the most loving church I’ve ever come in contact with.”

According to him, this loving nature has been an attribute of Goodsprings Missionary Baptist since its conception in 1948. Jean also said the church member’s love for each other is one of the main reasons each pastor has served there.

Although the first pastor, Fred Bedenbaugh, only stayed on staff for a year, the next pastor, Broox Thompson, ministered to the church from 1949 to 1954 and then again from 1967 to 1975.

Jean said he used to wonder why Thompson stayed for such a long time — until he came to the church.

“Now I know it’s because it’s such a loving church,” Jean said. “And I’ve been serving here off and on since 1976, and I don’t want to leave.”

In 1985, he suffered a massive heart attack and the members nursed him back to health with home-cooked meals, visits and prayers.

But this display of hospitality is not uncommon for church members, according to Associate Pastor Charles Harbison.

“If somebody is sick, they go to a tremendous effort to take care of each other,” Harbison said. “When my wife, Betty, had a bout with cancer, you wouldn’t believe the church’s support. The pastor and congregation were there throughout the surgery.”

The coalfields surrounding the church have not been so kind, however. In 1961, during the heyday of coal mining in the area, the church boasted a Sunday School enrollment of 221. 

But over the next several years, each of the six coalfields was shut down, forcing people out to obtain jobs. As a result, throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the church’s membership declined. In 1987, only 43 people were enrolled in Sunday School and the weekly attendance was 28.

Over the past 20 years, attendance has stayed roughly the same with 25 people attending weekly.

Although the congregation has stayed small, it continually pours into its community by visiting shut-ins, hosting an annual fish fry and baking for those who are ill. Members also reach out to touch the nations with their Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong missions offerings.

And they are reaching hearts for Christ. Harbison said several elderly people in the area have recently accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior.

“Seeing them come to know the Lord at such an age is one of those things that thrills your heart, and you can’t lay it down,” he said.

Another thing that thrills the hearts of members is the upcoming celebration of the church’s 60th anniversary Oct. 12. Former pastor Broox Thompson’s son J.B. will address the congregation, and the Royal Masters Quartet and the Disciples will provide the music.

Georgia Pridemore, chair of the anniversary planning committee, said the event will celebrate the life of the church and the lives of the dedicated members.

“We are very small but we work really hard. The Lord doesn’t expect us to accomplish but to be willing to work,” Pridemore said.

As Harbison hopes for growth as the church enters its seventh decade of ministry, he said he’s thankful for the committed members.

“Only death is going to take people away from it now. You won’t find a better place to worship or better people to worship with.”

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