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OUR CHURCH HISTORY

Even before the First Presbyterian Church of Magnolia was organized, it had, for a number of years, been developing roots in the Mount Holly Presbyterian Church, which was organized in 1845. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, this church “embraced all the territory now included in the present Ouachita, Columbia, Union, and Calhoun counties” (1).

In 1884, a small group of Magnolia Presbyterians met to discuss the possibilities of organizing a church in Magnolia. Among the group were Mr. W.O. McKay, Mr. Henry, and Mr. W.B. McNeil. Dr. Dickson of the Ouachita Presbytery met with this group as the officiating minister. Mr. McKay, Mr. Henry, and Mr. McNeil served as the first Elders. They called the Rev. Henry Cowles Moore to be their first minister. Undocumented sources suggest that the first church meetings were held in a building at the location of the present Masonic Hall.

“When the location of the town of Magnolia was made, and the original McCarty survey completed, the commissioner of the county court donated lots to the Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian Churches” (2). Each denomination received two lots. Realizing that they should have a church home of their own, the Presbyterians traded these two lots for land in a more desirable location and began construction of a building.

This edifice, however, seemed not to have been predestined to be the First Presbyterian Church. Problems presented themselves in rapid succession. In the first place, the members started a building that was too large and too expensive for their congregation to finance. The lack of funds caused construction to be terminated long before the building was finished. The determined members moved into the unfinished church. In spite of drafts and other discomforts, they occupied it for some time. The next blow came as the voice of destiny. A bolt of lightning struck the steeple demolishing it and causing other damage to the main structure. Later the bell fell from the tower and caused further damage to the framework and floors. The final disaster, one that might have completely discouraged a less tenacious band of men and women, came when they discovered they did not have a clear title to the land on which they built their church. Undaunted, they sold the building and gave the money to the Presbytery to keep until they decided to use it.

The Dark Years

The following years were dismal indeed. Presbyterians in Magnolia had no church building, no regular minister, and only a small congregation. Some of the members were unsuitable or unwilling to hold offices in the church, and many drifted away to other denominations. One Presbyterian evangelist, who was extremely ecumenical advised them to go in a body and worship in another church and wait for a more auspicious time to establish a Presbyterian Church.

Fortunately, a more farsighted pastor, Dr. J.H. Morrison, surveyed the situation and was encouraged. He was probably impressed by the stamina of the congregation and since there seems to have been nothing else to justify optimism. Dr. Morrison held a series of meetings and advised them to continue their efforts. Mr. R.H. Latham, State Evangelist, shared Dr. Morrison’s cheerful outlook and gave his moral support. “In 1887, El Dorado, Scotland, Ebenezer, and Magnolia were grouped so they might support a pastor” (1).

A Church of Our Own

It was not until 1907 that the church began perceptible growth. On January 20th of that year, a meeting of the Session was called with the Rev. E.D. Allen as Moderator. The Elders in attendance were R.L. Moore, S.D. Lucas, and J.C. Murphy. This Session called a congregational meeting for February 6th. At this meeting, three trustees, J.M. Witt, C.W. McKay, and C.E. Shumaker were elected and authorized to purchase a lot on which the church would be built. The lot cost $500.00.

The church built on this property was a “small homelike frame building painted white. It was sparsely furnished with an old-fashioned organ, regulation pews” in one half of the sanctuary and “inexpensive chairs and sofas in the other” (2). Although the seating capacity was small, it was adequate.

By the end of 1907, the church was debt free, it had a place of its own in which to worship, and it had a part-time pastor, the Rev. Flournoy Shepperson, who shared his time with the Mount Holly Church. He had headquarters in Magnolia and was paid $300.00 a year.

In 1908, Mr. Shepperson was offered a better position and made an effort to be released from these two churches. Magnolia agreed, but the people of Mount Holly liked him so well they refused to let him go. The Presbytery arranged for him to serve Mount Holly and do evangelistic work for the remaining half of his salary.

Also in 1908, the Ladies’ Aid Society was organized to support home and foreign missions.

“The Rev. Paul S. Rhodes arrived in 1912 to supply Magnolia, Garland City, and Mount Holly. He lived in Magnolia and did much of the cross-country travel by motorcycle.”

Although the church membership was small, it contributed much to the work of our Lord. Thomas Murphy, son of J.C. Murphy, was ordained for ministry and later went to Korea, where he served the church for five years. Miss Sulla Murphy, daughter of J.C. Murphy, spent four years in missionary work in Cuba and Mexico.

The Rev. J.E. Parse was installed as pastor in 1930. The following year he “brought to the church his beautiful little bride to share his chosen life’s work. She was not only popular with her own church people, but with everyone who knew them” (2).

That same year (1930), the church building was renovated. “A nice piano, good seats, chairs, pulpit furniture, carpet and rugs were installed” (1). During Mr. Parse’s ministry, the church membership doubled to a total of fifty-six, and a “building fund for a new church and improvements on the old” was started (2).

During the great depression years, the church succeeded in providing an education program for the children and mission programs. The young people assisted the pastor in conducting services at the CCC Camp each Thursday night. An outpost Sunday School class was organized at the cotton mills.

The years that followed World War II brought great change to Magnolia and to the church. With the development of the oil industry came increased population to the little town and increased membership to the church. This created the need for expanded church facilities. A new manse was purchased and the old one was used for Sunday School rooms. A fellowship hall was added to the old church building. It was during this period that an old upright piano in the sanctuary was replaced by a Hammond Organ.

Our New Home

In 1954, under the leadership of Dr. James Butler, Jr., a fund-raising campaign was begun for the purpose of building a new church plant. The plot of land north of our present location was purchased for $10,000.00. This land was adjacent to a plot owned by Mrs. W.P. Florence, Sr. She exchanged property with the church so that our new building would be on higher ground.

In 1955, the old church building on West Union Street, which the congregation had occupied since 1907, was sold to the Christian Church of Magnolia. Later, the city of Magnolia acquired the property and it became the site of Wilson Memorial Gardens. In December of that same year, the groundbreaking for the church we now occupy was celebrated. Dr. G.F. McLeod acted as master of ceremonies. Mrs. Nettie Kilgore read a brief history of the church, Mr. Henry Bacon read the story of the planning, and Col. W. C. McKay had the honor of breaking the ground.

In 1956, we moved into an almost completed new building. The following year marked the completion of the church according to the original plans: the sanctuary, choir room, five Sunday School rooms, a church office, and a Session room. The fellowship hall was added later in 1959, and a second wing of seven classrooms were built in 1967.

Our Good Gifts

Our church has been the fortunate recipient of three gifts which have been used to establish endowment funds. The first was established in 1970 by Mrs. H.W. Bacon in memory of her husband. Before his death in 1968, Mr. Bacon had desired to begin an endowment for scholarships to be used to encourage young people to enter the field of Christian Education.

The second was a bequest from the estate of John Magale as a memorial to Mr. Magale’s sister, Lillian Magale Stevenson. From May 1976 through 1979, the church received a variety of securities: cash, preferred stock, common stock, and bonds. The income from the fund is used by the church for various benevolences.

Finally, the Florence family left a sizable bequest whose proceeds continue to fund scholarships, mission efforts, and seed money for future projects.

Recent Years

Over the last twenty-five years, the congregation of First Presbyterian has been very active in the community, having been a driving force in the formation of the Magnolia Chapter of Habitat for Humanity and of Southern Christian Mission, a local homeless shelter that offers food and clothing to the needy in addition to a warm bed for the night to those who have no other place to lay their head. This church led the community in establishing a youth shelter for troubled teens, a sheltered workshop for the learning disabled, and a nutrition program for the elderly. In 2018, a new after-school program, Kid's Club, was launched to help grow and encourage FPC youth as well as community youth with their involvement in church services and activities. In addition to the after-school program a new mentorship program was started in 2022, to help meet the needs of underserved youth in the community. 

While maintaining the physical plant and facilities in top notch condition, the church has also remodeled the church’s kitchen to accommodate cooking and serving well over 100 people at a time. In 2009, the church dedicated a new state of the art playground on the north side of the existing Fellowship Hall to encourage the participation of young families with small children in church activities. A general updating and facelift were given to the entire facility in 2012 and again in 2018 to increase its overall attractiveness and user-friendliness. Construction of the Sterling and Emma Lee Lacy Bell Tower was started in late 2013 and dedicated on May 18, 2014. In 2022, in hopes to enhance worship services, additional updates to the audio and visual equipment were made along with the purchase of a baby grand piano.

We look forward to new opportunities to serve our Lord and spread the Good News of Jesus Christ wherever we are called.

Our Pastors

Pastors                                                            Dates

Rev. Henry Cowles Moore............................1884

Rev. Elliott Douglass Glen........................1906-7

Rev. Flournoy Shepperson......................1908-11

Rev. Paul Simpson Rhodes.......................1913-14

Rev. William Nichols Lowrance...............1917-18

Dr. Evander Dickson Brown....................1919-26

Rev. John Edward Parse...........................1930-33

Dr. John Franklin Lawson........................1935-41

Rev. George Franklin Johnson.................1941-43

Rev. Harold Quartly..................................1943-45

Rev. Richard P. Keeton.............................1945-49

Rev. Thomas Lovett..................................1949-52

Dr. J.W. Butler, Jr.......................................1952-64

Rev. Sam B. Laine.....................................1964-70

Dr. J.W. Butler, Jr.............................................1970

Rev. George Stewart.................................1970-79

Dr. Gary Hoffius.......................................1979-80

Rev. Richard Rouquie, Jr. .......................1980-87

Rev. James K. Mead..................................1988-95

Rev. Thomas E. Evans.........................1996-2000

Rev. Stephen D. Adkison........................2001-08

Rev. Michael D. Morgan....................2009-2020

Rev. Hal Shafner..................................2020-2021

Dr. Ray Durham............................................2023-

Sources

  1. History of Mount Holly Presbyterian Church, 1845-1920

  2. Nettie Hicks Kilgore, History of Columbia County, Arkansas, 1947

  3. Pastors through 1941: Rev. E.C. Scott, Ministerial Directory of the Presbyterian Church, US, 1861-1941, 1942

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