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Oak Grove celebrates 125 years

By Staff
GIVING THANKS The Rev. Roy Dabbs and his congregation will celebrate the 125th anniversary of Oak Grove Baptist Church on Sept. 9. Photo by Marianne Todd/The Meridian Star
Ida Brown/The Meridian Star
Sept. 1, 2001
The 125th anniversary of Oak Grove Baptist Church will not only be a celebration of the church's perseverance, but also a homecoming of former pastors, ministers of music and members.
Scheduled for Sept. 9, the celebration will include a morning anniversary sermon, dinner at noon and an afternoon program of music.
The Rev. Leon Adams, who served as Oak Grove's pastor from 1980 to 1994, will deliver the 10:30 a.m. worship service. During his tenure at the Bonita community church, Adams also served as chaplain of the Meridian Police Department. He is currently pastor of Southside Baptist Church in Opp, Ala.
Myron Burris, who served as Oak Grove's minister of music from 1982 to 1989, will direct music for the morning service. He currently lives in Convoy, Texas.
At 1 p.m., a program of music will be led by Bobby Jones, another former minister of music of the church. Jones currently serves at Main Street Baptist Church in Hattiesburg.
In 1875, David A. Ray began inviting families of the Bonita community to his home on Sunday afternoons for a time of spiritual hymn singing. A song leader of the old Sacred Harp School, Ray soon had a group of gospel singers. The meetings which developed into prayer services and were occasionally presented in other homes are largely credited with influencing the movement that led to the establishment of Oak Grove Baptist Church.
In early 1876, Thomas J. Stroud and Joshua McLemore, both of the Bonita community, were hunting in the same area and, by chance, met. The two discussed how they both had growing families of children with no church or school background. As a result, the men became determined to lead a movement to build a combination church and school at a central point in the community.
With the cooperation of others in the community including C.H. Yarbrough, R.A. Yarbrough, M.E. Gary and Ray the men set out to meet their goal. At the time, the South was in the midst of Reconstruction and had not recovered from the chaotic financial condition. However, the group managed to collect funds to pay for lumber and nails. The men assumed carpentry work duties, with occasional work donated by others in the community.
The 28-foot by 40-foot structure was built box-type, with up and down outside walls, battened strips covering the seams, a roof of hand-drawn boards and homemade wooden shutters for windows and doors. The floors were of rough lumber, but the pulpit and seats were hand-dressed. The only glass window was one small light or sash above the pulpit. Lighting for night services was provided by tallow candles in homemade wooden holders. These lights were augmented by one small kerosene lamp placed on the stand to aid the preacher in the scripture reading and singing of the hymns.
125 years later
Since its humble beginnings, Oak Grove Baptist Church has undergone numerous transformations.
In 1902, a plot south of the original building was acquired and plans set in motion to erect a more complete and convenient church home. In 1920, the structure was badly damaged by a cyclone and had to undergo reconstruction. This building continued to serve the congregation until attendance began to outgrow the limited facilities.
Soon after construction of a new building began, the Great Depression transpired. In spite of the setback, rebuilding was completed and the new building dedicated in 1932. The building is the current site of the church.
During 1949 to 1976, Oak Grove underwent three general phases of remodeling, including the rearrangement of three large rooms; remodeling and redecoration of the sanctuary; installation of stained glass windows; and improving the Christian Education facilities.
Renovations and additions in recent years have included the installation of a new sound system; the addition of a residence for the minister of music; renovation of former minister of music residence into parsonage; and the purchase of a new church van.
More than bricks, stained glass windows
Although the building of the church has been a driving force for Oak Grove's congregation over the years, Dabbs said the heart of the church is its members.
In the next five years, Dabbs hopes to double the church's current membership of 224. The church's locale is often considered a factor in its limited public awareness.
Dabbs said he plans to "get the word out" about Oak Grove through media promotions, mailings and, most of all, word-of-mouth.
Oak Grove Baptist Church is located at 801 Oak Grove Drive.