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Remembering the Church that Shaped Me: Recollections of First Baptist Church, Cleburne, TX


“My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold”
By William Wordsworth

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So it was when my life began;
So it is now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:11-13

What difference does one church make? First Baptist Church of Cleburne is celebrating 150 years. It is natural on such an occasion to reflect on what difference the congregation has made in the community after so much time. It would be hard to say how Cleburne or Johnson County would be different if First Baptist Church did not exist. One could certainly make a case for the church’s impact over 150 years. I can say with more certainty that First Baptist Cleburne made a difference to me. I started attending the church when I was six years old and made a profession of faith and was baptized by the age of seven. Ten years later I preached my first sermon, publicly surrendered my life to vocational ministry, and was licensed as a minister by First Baptist Cleburne. I have been in full-time vocational ministry for about 25 years, almost 15 of those years as a Pastor.

My memories of First Baptist Cleburne are those of a child and adolescent. As an adult reflecting on the influence that congregation had on me, I understand things differently now. Yet, I feel such powerful emotions when the memories come to me. I think the poet Wordsworth has the right of it: the child is the father of the man. My formative years where shaped in a powerful way by First Baptist Cleburne. How did this congregation shape my life?

Probably not by the ministries, no offense to those who worked so hard. I was active in all of them: every Sunday and Wednesday and other days too. I went to Sunday School and worship, Sunday night church training and worship, children’s choirs and youth choirs, Mission Friends and Royal Ambassadors, Youth Bible studies out the wazoo, camps, retreats, mission trips, ski trips Vacation Bible School, all of it. With a few notable exceptions, I remember so little of what took place. I am having difficulty remembering a single sermon preached in that pulpit, even my own!

As I look back, some things come into focus for me. As a member of First Baptist Cleburne I was personally shaped in four specific ways: by the music ministry, through missions, by examples of Christ-like servanthood, and through individual church members who invested in me over time.

I was shaped by the Music Ministry of First Baptist Cleburne. My parents were members at First Baptist for about 35 years, give or take. Some of my earliest impressions of church are of sitting next to my father in Sunday night worship services as he sang tenor and bass parts to hymns led by Coy Simms. My folks saw A LOT of changes in the music ministry over the years. There are many opinions about what was done and why and how. I think the changes were the natural transformations that take place in congregations as decades pass. What the music ministry offered during my time there had a definite influence on me. I was in the choir program from first grade through my senior year in high school. Only Tim Twaddell logged more choir hours than I did among our peers. I sang in countless Christmas pageants and even had a speaking part in one. I remember going to choir festivals that were not very festive but seemed more like the Great White Throne Judgment. We prepared for months, even learning how to stand up and sit down on cue. In all of this I learned an appreciation and love for worship, for hymns, for praise music, for singing a new song to the Lord. I especially learned the importance of a strong choral ministry, how it involves many people in worship, and allows a variety of people to use the gifts given to them by God. In my own church I am committed to the music and creative arts ministry in all its various incarnations. I learned my lessons well.

I had close relationships with pastors, youth ministers, and ministers of education at First Baptist Cleburne. I love and respect them all. The minister who influenced me most, who continues to influence me, is Mike Paslay, a Minister of Music. I have written about Mike before, so I will say now simply that God used Mike at pivotal times in my life to discover who I am, my calling to ministry, what it means to be a husband and father in ministry, what it means to be a part of a diverse staff, and how to stay in ministry over a long period of time. I continually thank God for Mike and his ministry at First Baptist Cleburne.

First Baptist Cleburne also profoundly shaped the way I understand missions in a Baptist church. I grew up at a time in Baptist life when people were immersed in missions education from a young age through adulthood. My mother taught Mission Friends alongside Maxine George and others. I went to Royal Ambassadors (RAs) and worked through workbooks getting badges and other stuff. We were a challenge to work with, our little group of RAs, with many a leader attempting to teach us about Southern Baptist mission endeavors. Most influential was Wayne Rosette. He taught us in the classroom every Wednesday night but also had us out doing other things as well. I vividly remember our campouts out at Bob Lilly’s property near Glen Rose. The men taught us how to camp, build fires, cook over a campfire, tie knots, and other outdoorsy kind of things. First Baptist Cleburne had a missionary residence where missionaries on furlough could stay. These families were treated like celebrities in our church. We heard their stories and prayed for them on a regular basis. My father spent many hours helping to strengthen local Spanish speaking congregations. I remember well the time when our church planted a mission church in Cleburne, sending some of our families to be founding members. That mission went on to become Nolan River Road Baptist Church. When I was a teenager I went on mission trips to various places, trips that had a formative influence on me. There seems to be this mission spirit running through First Baptist Cleburne, as the members teach missions, pray for missions, give to missions, and engage in missions locally and away. Recently I was on the receiving end of First Baptist Cleburne’s mission efforts as they took up a collection of goods and delivered it to my current church and community in Rockport after Hurricane Harvey. I am thankful First Baptist Cleburne is a sending church.

First Baptist Cleburne shaped my understanding of Christ-like servanthood: as a man, a family, and as a minister. My family invested their lives in First Baptist Cleburne over the course of three decades at least. My father was an ordained deacon in the church, serving as Chairman from time to time. He served on many committees and various ministries. He led in Children’s Church when I was a child. He worked on and around the building for years. There was a time when he made my brother and I go with him to the church on Saturdays to mow the church yard and make it look nice for Sunday. I remember the summer my father drove the church bus for Vacation Bible School. My mother served on various committees over the years. She served on at least one search committee that brought a youth minister to our church, Ken Lewis, who influenced me in great ways. She taught in VBS and Mission Friends. There was a time in which my parents served on the Lord’s Supper Committee. Things were much different back then. My mother spent the day before the Lord’s Supper baking all those little wafers. She would roll out the dough and use a pizza cutter to make the squares and then put them in the oven. I got to eat the uneven ones closer to the edges. The juice was put in little glass cups that had to be collected carefully after the service and washed by hand. I distinctly remember hearing someone drop one of the glass cups on the floor during the service. The cup did not break but bounced on the tile floor and rolled its way to the front of the sanctuary. My family was invested in the life of the church. We sacrificed time and resources for what we thought was a worthy purpose. Another example of Christ-like servanthood was the time Dr. Danny Crosby drove at least an hour to attend my grandmother’s funeral. As a pastor I know what a sacrifice that can be, especially when you are not officiating the service. I would not do that for just anybody. It touched me deeply that he did that to express his love and support for my parents.

First Baptist Cleburne also shaped me through individual church members who invested in my life during my formative years. There are too many to mention them all. I am filled with so much emotion as I remember them. I remember Mr. Yeary standing at the doors of the sanctuary handing out bulletins and peppermints. I remember sitting behind Hugh and Laurie Smith every Sunday as a child. She wore a hat every week, and Hugh would always turn around with a big smile and shake my hand. I remember my family riding with Maury Dobbs as he took us around town in his maroon car. I marveled that everything he owned seemed to be maroon. My mom said it was because he was an aggie. I didn’t know what that meant. Still don’t, really. I remember how cold the water was when I was baptized, and Dr. Ron Horton standing in the water telling me how proud he was of me. I remember the first time I saw the inside of the women’s restroom. Wilma Reed took me in there because I had a nosebleed during the service. I sat on the couch while she took care of me, and I wondered at the fact there was a couch in the women’s restroom. Wilma was one who invested in me in many was over the years. My life and ministry have her fingerprints all over them. I remember sitting down on the front pew with the Twaddell family during worship and having to be quiet because Mr. Twaddell had a big ring he threatened to pop me and Tim with if we got too loud. I don’t think he ever did, but the fear was real. I remember that Jane Sims resigned as my fourth grade Sunday School teacher because of four incorrigible boys: Tim Twaddell, Lynn Wheatley, George Walls, and me. I remember that she told us that she loved us but couldn’t do it anymore. I remember my parent’s grief, especially my father’s, over the loss of friends and co-servants over the years, people like Wayne Stewart, Bob Mahaney, Bill George, Marshall Young, and Maury Dobbs, just to name a few. I remember Don Wilson teaching my Sunday School class and challenging me personally to live out my faith as a teenager. He found ways to engage me every week. I remember listening to Jackie Crumpton laugh. I loved to hear him laugh. Hearing him laugh again is one of the things I look forward to most about Heaven. I could go on for pages.

 I have been profoundly shaped by the lives of those who drifted in and out of First Baptist Cleburne over the course of decades. God, in his wisdom, love, and grace, used this congregation in my formative years to shape my understanding of how a church worships, serves, sends, loves, and lives together year after year, decade upon decade, through life and death, joy and tragedy, in big things, and in small things. From these people I learned to have faith, hope, and love. Looking back, I can see clearly that I was deeply loved, by both God and His people.

 Thank you, First Baptist Cleburne. I celebrate your 150 years of ministry in Johnson County. It has made a difference to me.

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