EL RENO — Members of First Baptist Church wrote a new chapter in their church's history with a final worship service in the building they had called home for 87 years.
Hundreds of members bid farewell Sunday to the brick building at 401 S Bickford in downtown El Reno. The Rev. Charlie Blount made it clear this wasn't the end, but a new beginning.
“We are not dying. We are alive and well,” Blount said.
The congregation has sold its property to El Reno Public Schools. A new church building, south of SW 27, should be ready to occupy about a year from now.
The old building will be torn down so the high school can expand. Until the new church is ready, worship will be at the high school. An auction of items such as pews, chairs and kitchen equipment is set 10 a.m. Friday at the church.
Sunday, the focus was on faith and people. Blount read from a newspaper article from the 1920s that chronicled the opening of the building.
“I liked the language back then,” he said. “They referred to the pastor then as ‘beloved.' I'd like to be known as beloved,” he said with a laugh.
“They had obstacles to overcome, and we do, too,” Blount said. “When we commit to the Lord, He always provides. In the year 2013, there is still a need for people to hear about Jesus, and there will be for the next 100 years.”
John Chennault, pastor from 1983 to 2006, spoke about mission trips during his tenure to Venezuela, Brazil and Africa.
Chennault said the spiritual highlight during his time with the church was that 848 people decided to follow Christ.
“We also helped hundreds walk with the Lord with commitment,” he said.
Billy Hughey has been a part of church heritage for 44 years.
“It's a bittersweet time, but it's nice to see old friends,” he said.
He said most votes taken on whether to move received more than 90 percent approval. Hughey thought moving closer to Interstate 40 would give the church a greater presence in El Reno.
He has lots of memories in the building, but his best was from 1969 when he was 17. He pointed to the balcony where he sat 44 years ago and decided to commit to the faith.
“That was when I gave my life to the Lord,” he said.
Many people said they were excited about a new building.
That was the case with Jeanette Maness.
“I'm excited about this and will be welcoming people next week at the high school,” she said.
“Our new building is going to be a big, big improvement. But I understand this is change, and change can be hard for some people.”
Lucky Eisenhour said he's been at First Baptist 34 years.
“I've seen a lot here,” he said. “My mother had her funeral here.”
Eisenhour said God spoke to him there during times of need. He went there to seek comfort and healing after the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and the World Trade Center attacks in 2001.
“I came here to ask why,” he said. “And God told me it was all going to be OK.”