The faith community in Union County has continued its tradition of active service, taking on and expanding projects and organizations that work to benefit the area and its residents.
Churches and schools
Though its initial program started several years ago, Wyatt Baptist Church’s Adopt-a-School mentoring program was able to grow in the past year, thanks in part to a grant from the SHARE Foundation for its role in the Union County Violence Intervention Plan. The plan focuses on several different categories with the ultimate goal of reducing crime and violence in Union County. It was rolled out in early 2018, with 10 area organizations being selected as the first grantees, including Wyatt Baptist, which received a $52,400 grant to help expand the program, which had about 25 mentors at the time who started working with students when they were attending Yocum Elementary.
Since then, Vicki Harmon, mentoring coordinator, said the group has 50 mentors and now has a presence in Gardner-Strong Elementary and Parkers Chapel Elementary, as well as Retta Brown, Yocum, Washington and Barton in the El Dorado School District. That increase represents a growth in mentors who have come from five other churches that have gotten involved, mentoring students and helping them improve their grades, attendance and even behavior.
“We’ve seen great improvement for everything in Union County that we’ve done so far,” Harmon said earlier this year.
The VIP grant for Wyatt Baptist was renewed for 2019, with the program receiving $58,250, and Harmon has said she hopes to gain at least five new churches and another 25 new mentors to continue the program’s expansion.
“You see what it can be like where churches start working together,” she said.
Another area church that sought to aid local students was Curry Chapel Church. Members of the church came together to purchase about 30 pairs of shoes for students in need at Gardner-Strong Elementary, with the shoes being gifted to the students in December.
The church had asked teachers at the school to keep an eye out for students who may need new shoes in order to decide who would receive a pair. The idea, called Comfort for the Sole, was started in 2018 by the Rev. Keith Granberry as a way for the church to give back to the community. The hope is that the endeavor will become an annual tradition for the church and will only grow as it moves forward.
At the start of the 2018-19 school year, another church hoped to have an impact on area students.
In early 2018, a tragedy unfolded in Florida as an active shooter went into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High and claimed 17 lives. Events such as that shooting in Parkland led the members of Maverick Cowboy Church in Urbana to gather at area schools as the school year began and pray at the entrance for students, teachers and staff. Congregants said they believed in taking the initiative to go to each school’s location and pray as being something that was vitally important and helpful.
“It’s not only important to pray for the protection of my children, but for everybody else’s child,” Pastor Chad White said at the time. “It’s done out of love.”
While 2018 was the first year that members of the church undertook this initiative, they said they planned to make it an annual event.
Continuing a longstanding tradition of community involvement, many area churches have found different ways to try to give back or highlight something that may otherwise be lost.
One such project in 2018 was by the members of Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church, which used member donations to purchase a brand new stone to be placed at the entrance of the church’s cemetery that sought to recognize those who are buried there, but have no markings on their graves.
The stone, which was placed in the cemetery in early August, states “In loving memory of those lying in these hallowed grounds whose resting places are known but to God. Dedicated by the members of Ebenezer Baptist Church August 1, 2018.” Larry Richmond, pastor of the church, which was started in 1861, said at the time that he was hoping to start a movement to motivate people in the community to take care and keep up other local cemeteries.
“I’m asking that we as children of God, will take time and attend to the final resting place of these, our sister and brother,” Richmond said at the time.
Another initiative was taken on by Norphlet United Methodist Church, which placed several U.S. flags on its property around Memorial Day 2018 that were dedicated to several Norphlet soldiers who had died while serving in the armed forces.
Church member Doug Long said the flags honored:
• Pvt. Henry Gene Pannell, who was killed in action in 1942.
• Ensign Alvin Lycester Varnado, a naval aviator who was killed in a plane crash in the Southwest Pacific in 1943.
• Sgt. Charles Cain, who went missing in action while flying a B-24 Liberator over Hungary.
• Staff Sgt. Albert Evans, who was killed in Germany in World War II.
• Sgt. J.T. Keith, Jr., who was killed in action over Germany in World War II.
Other area churches have been more focused on needed improvements to their own facilities, to ensure they can continue to serve local residents for years to come.
Immanuel Baptist Church completed its move to a brand new location in November, holding its first service at the newly built church on West Hillsboro Street on Nov. 18, and marking the church’s first move in over 50 years.
The new facility includes a main worship center, a kitchen and social area, a wing of rooms for classrooms, and a wing of offices. The property also includes additional land behind the building, allowing for future expansions when needed.
Finishing construction and the move was a bit of a milestone for the church and its membership. Brian Ricker, chairman of the relocation committee, said in November that when he started at the church in 2007, people were already talking about the move, and the church has owned the 48-acre property for about that entire time period. Groundwork itself began in June 2017, after demolishing the old structures on the site.
Moving to the new facility marked the end of Phase I for the church, which has two more phases planned to continue its growth. As of this week, the church staff is still getting settled into the building and has not yet begun serious planning or movement on the other two phases.
Another church project being undertaken in Union County began in early 2019, as the First Presbyterian Church of El Dorado started its long awaited preservation of the historic carillon housed in the bell tower. A carillon is a type of musical instrument consisting of many different bells or chimes.
The 16-note carillon housed at First Presbyterian was manufactured by J.C. Deagan, Inc. and is one of only 440 ever built by the company and one of only two located in Arkansas. The preservation project began when lightning struck the church in 2016 and church officials discovered the support beam that holds the 8,000 pound instrument had begun to dry rot.
In an effort to prevent complete catastrophe that would occur if the carillon fell, the church suspended ringing the instrument, which had rung on the quarter hour, after the lightning strike. The church set about fundraising the $250,000 needed for the preservation effort and, while more than $200,000 has been raised already, W.L. Cook, chairman of the church’s bell committee, said that in early February, they were still collecting as they did not yet have an estimate on what the final cost of the preservation would be.
In early February, workers from Milam Construction removed the carillon from the bell tower. It will be cleaned while a new support frame is made, which could take three to five months, though church officials are hoping it will be ready earlier so they can have the carillon re-installed in time for Easter services.
Madeleine Leroux can be reached at 862-6611 or email@example.com.