5 years without a pastor, church retains 'high hopes'
STEVENSON, Ala. (BP) -- Sometimes if a train comes through town at just the right time, the service might start at 11:15 instead of 11. Or they might start a little late if it takes a minute to get all the children to sit down.
In recent years they've "only missed two services and that's because of flooding in the area," church member JoBeth Gamble said.
That in and of itself is an amazing sign of God's provision, she said.
Mid-July will mark five years that the little church in Stevenson has been without a pastor in the northeast corner of Alabama.
"It's in a very, very remote setting but they've never missed church because they didn't have somebody to preach," said Dwight Everett, director of missions for Tennessee River Baptist Association.
The church, which backs up to a mountain, was built in 1900 after local doctor Pleasant H. Helton passed away and his wife donated the property to build a church. The building has the original bell, and until a couple of years ago its water source was a gravity-fed spring off the mountain.
The church is on the North Alabama Hallelujah Trail, a list of 32 churches that are at least a century old, still stand on their original sites, are accessible to the public and still hold services. Round Mountain Baptist Church in Cedar Bluff also is on the trail as is Church of the Forest in Houston.
Helton Memorial "is a sweet, sweet fellowship," Everett said. "They've said they have always known they were a starter church for young preachers, but young preachers just don't come this way anymore."
Their last pastor stayed as long as he could, preaching from a stool behind the pulpit until his health wouldn't allow him to anymore. Now others, including Everett, fill in each week.
Gamble said she feels like God is still blessing the church.
"We're there for a reason," she said. "We have high hopes God is going to send us another pastor."
It's a small congregation but they have some young families, and last year with the help of other churches in the association they conducted Vacation Bible School.
The association also jumped in to help rebuild some of their classroom floors after flooding caused them to rot.
"It's totally amazing the way God has provided -- I just have to sing His praises," Gamble said. "We can still pay the bills and there are still people coming. I love that place and I know it's where I'm supposed to be."