Bonham -- The first service ever held by Bethlehem Baptist Church of Bonham was actually a meeting in 1871 that took place in a crowded log cabin between Preston and Lee streets. By contrast, the church's 138th Anniversary and Homecoming was held in the roomy, brick building the church now occupies on Franklin Street in Bonham.
But, in many ways, the special service Sunday afternoon at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Bonham was very similar to the services held by this historic congregation for the past 138 years.
Songs of praise filled the air and a heartfelt worship service followed.
Although, obviously, back in 1871 no one had ever heard anything quite like Kenneth Whitfield's synthesizer or seen a mime move like Tim LaVergne.
Among the many things this church has done very well over the years is to hold on to its heritage and yet still be open minded about how to make services relevant to a changing community.
A former church member that was back in town for the special occasion congratulated Bethlehem Baptist Church for what he saw as healthy growth.
"If you plant a tree and come back five years later," remarked Bobby Higgs, "you would expect it to have changed and grown."
A large number of the Higgs family attended the service Sunday to witness a commemoration in honor of Jesse Higgs.
Mr. Higgs served as a deacon at Bethlehem Baptist Church for a remarkable 59 years. The church and all of Fannin County lost a great friend when Mr. Higgs passed away January 11, 2009, however Bethlehem Baptist Church has found a very fitting tribute. The church library was officially dedicated as the Jesse Higgs Memorial Library. Mr. Higgs was an indispensable employee at Sam Rayburn Library for 40 years and a friend of Speaker Rayburn, who introduced Higgs to LBJ and Lady Bird Johnson, as well as the judge who oversaw desegregation in the Dallas Independent School District, Barefoot Sanders. A picture of Mr. Higgs will prominently displayed in the church library named in his honor.
His son knew exactly what words of wisdom Jesse Higgs would pass along to his progeny.
"He'd be saying, 'Son you need to live your life so that one day they will be hanging your picture in church,' " said an emotional Bobby Higgs.
Another portrait will soon be displayed in Bethlehem Baptist Church and it also has special meaning in a church established by freedmen. Local artist Philip Blander unveiled a wonderful likeness of the 44th President of the United States and the first African American to hold the nation's highest office, Barack Obama.
The special service featured a variety of inspirational music and a powerful sermon by Dr. Leslie Draper, III of Tree of Calvary Baptist Church in Simmesport, Louisiana who urged the audience to meet challenges head on, but with compassion. It isn't all that hard to find someone concerned about the people and issues around them, Dr. Draper observed, but it is far more difficult to find people who care enough to make a difference.
"The Levite and the priest were concerned," he explained, using the universally known parable from the Gospel of Luke. "The Good Samaritan had compassion."
Rev. Stuart Courtney of Bethlehem Baptist Church reminded the congregation of how this church started in 1871. The first services were held in a log cabin owned by Annie Garrett. Rev. Courtney pointed out the historical significance and personal sacrifice made by Mrs. Garrett.
President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation had an effective date of January 1, 1863, but it wasn't until June 19, 1865 that enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in Texas. It didn't take Mrs. Garrett long to decide what she wanted to do with her freedom.
"Six years later and she was already giving it all to God," remarked Rev. Courtney.