Mt. Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church dedicates new building
By Errol Castens
KOSSUTH "What a fellowship, what a joy divine," sang the congregants and guests at Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church Sunday afternoon. The fellowship they celebrated was a joyful one, with blacks and whites praising, praying, rejoicing and weeping together.
The atmosphere of elation was much different from that of June 17, 1996, when the congregation's nine-year-old building went up in flames within minutes of the time fire also destroyed Central Grove Missionary Baptist Church four miles away. Both fires were judged to be arson, but no arrests have been made in either case.
"I've been a member of this church all my life," said JoAnn Barton, "and it hurt when our church was gone. But the Lord is so good to us, and we can see that here today."
Guest speaker Rev. Levon Kinard, pastor of St. Matthew Church in Houston, urged the 200-plus worshipers to see God's hand bringing good out of disaster. "All things work together for good to those who love the Lord," he quoted from the book of Romans.
"Satan meant this (arson) for evil, but God meant it for good," echoed Mt. Pleasant Pastor John Edgeston, pointing to the new sanctuary and the assembled crowd.
Church clerk Charles Dilworth added an amen. "This is the beginning, not the end, of our rebuilding efforts," he said. "A lot of people have put a lot of work into this job, and now the church has to grow, spiritually and in membership."
Members and visitors some who came from as far as Indiana gave an offering to continue the work begun by diverse groups. Many of the guests were former members who had moved away, and others who couldn't attend sent offerings to help with the construction costs.
"I never thought I'd see the day when we'd have this kind of building and the people to fill it," said Rev. Arthur Barnett, assistant pastor of Mt. Pleasant. "Just look at the folks that turned out today to celebrate God's goodness." The 135-member church typically has 75-80 in attendance for its bimonthly services.
Mayor Steve Lambert brought greetings to members and out-of-town guests on behalf of Kossuth. He expressed the community's shared anguish of last year's tragedy and its joy in seeing townspeople join together in the reconstruction effort.
One guest speaker pointed out the fact that church had hired a white contractor, Danny Seago, to build the new facility. "We got one of our home boys," he said, drawing laughter from the congregation.
The church fires in Alcorn County drew international attention last year, with media representatives from all over North America and Europe covering the event.
Hundreds of individuals as well as Protestant, Catholic and Jewish groups have given to Mt. Pleasant's "resurrection fund." Since the fire, Mt. Pleasant had been able to secure a dome-shaped structure from a ministry called AmeriCares for its temporary sanctuary. The dome will now become a center for church youth activities.
Comparing Sunday to 16 months prior, Kinard summed up the church's reversal of fortunes: "God can take a mess and make a miracle."