Old Time Gospel Baptist Church held its 41st annual homecoming service Sunday.
Members of the church gathered under the pavilion to sing and listen to the Rev. Junior Ward give a moving sermon.
“The homecoming service is like the birthday of the church,” Ward said. “It’s been 41 years today. We’re celebrating, I guess, the victory God has given us over the years of trying to reach the community and the people and just bringing God into the picture. Without him, it never would have went nowhere.”
Ward sees homecoming as a way to bring the congregation together. The service also gives those in attendance a chance to appreciate the members of the church who have been there a long time.
“It’s good for young people, too,” Ward said. “It’s good to bring the smaller ones up and let them see — well, maybe not the real small ones, but some 18 back or so — how long we’ve all been in this and maybe they’ll carry it on out. Somebody else will.”
Old Time Gospel started with 14 people in a house 41 years ago. The size of the congregation has since fluctuated. The church moved from building to building to accommodate a growing congregation until it settled at its current location at the corner of Oakland Avenue and Browder Hollow Road. Ward was a part of the effort to help construct the building 18 years ago.
“We’re probably running anywhere from 40 to 60 (people), somewhere in there,” Ward said. “We used to run anywhere from 80 to 90. Things over the year, you know, people move off. We used to have a youth group that was about 35. It’s been up, and it’s been down.”
The small congregation creates a family culture. John Thomas, the church’s only deacon, said he appreciates that the church is his home.
“I’ve been here for probably about 30-something years,” Thomas said. “I’ve watched the little ones grow up to be big ones. I really love the church. … I love each and every one of them that’s in that church with all my heart. I wouldn’t take nothing for it.”
The service was accessible online via Facebook for individuals who might still be hesitant to gather because of COVID-19, but Ward was confident the turnout would be 60 to 80 people.
“We thought about all the things, and we thought it’s good to be outside instead of all cramped up inside, so we’re going to have all the stuff outside — the service this morning and if people want to eat they can carry it out here and eat,” he said. “Most everybody we know. We’re not going to be trying to jeopardize anybody. … Some of them I hug because I know them and some of them I don’t. We’re not so worried about it so far as some will shake hands, some won’t, and that’s fine. I think it’s who you know, and they haven’t been sick. I think it’ll be a good turnout.”
Thomas wasn’t worried about the possibility of having to cancel the service.
“We all left it up to the Lord,” he said. “He handled everything. He did, and here we are today. Thank the Lord.”