HISTORY OF HESSMER BAPTIST CHURCH
Constituted November 9, 2008
Have you ever wondered how churches get started in certain locations? Many churches are begun by other churches. They are begun by people whom God has inspired with dreams of reaching lost people for Christ. Today we are looking at a dream come true which started in First Baptist Church, Bunkie in 1979, a dream that Hessmer Mission had in 1996, and now we are dreaming new dreams. This is how the dream of the members at First Baptist Church in Bunkie, started this mission here in Hessmer more than 29 years ago.
The First Baptist Church was organized as a church, not a mission, February 21, 1897, by the Bayou Rouge Baptist Church in Evergreen. Since its beginning, First Baptist Church has organized three additional churches in Avoyelles Parish and one mission.
The mission was Hessmer Baptist Mission, and the dream became reality on July 11, 1979, when two lots were purchased at the intersection of Highways 114 and 115 in Hessmer for $39,000. A churchwide workday was organized to clean up the old house on the property and the surrounding grounds. Within a month the official inauguration and dedication of this new mission was held on Sunday, August 12, 1979. The original house, with an addition in 1983, served as the worship center for a little over eighteen years.
Reverend Carl Hudson, the pastor of the First Baptist Church, Bunkie in 1979, traveled to Hessmer each Sunday morning for ten weeks for an early service before the morning worship service in Bunkie. By October 1979, Reverend E. C. Sheridan, a student at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary became pastor, but resigned, after three months.
Turning to someone closer home, the church called Reverend E. T. Carruth as pastor. Carruth was also the Circulation Manager of The Baptist Message, the paper published by the Louisiana Baptist Convention in Alexandria. He served faithfully as pastor for seven years – from January 1980 until his sudden death in December 1986.
At that time the Hessmer Mission called Reverend Charles E. Blackmon as pastor. This popular minister had been the pastor at First Baptist Church in Bunkie in the mid 1950’s. He left Bunkie in 1956, but because he had a fondness for the area and the people in Bunkie and Avoyelles Parish, he returned to Bunkie in the late 1980’s when he thought he was retiring from the ministry. However, when his pastor friend Reverent Carruth died, the mission called Brother Charlie, as he was affectionately known, to be the pastor in the spring of 1987. He served for 8 ½ years until he retired again in September 1995.
Reverend Jim Lofton from Pineville, Louisiana, served as interim pastor of the mission after Brother Charlie’s retirement. He had preached at the mission as supply pastor many times during Carruth’s tenure and the years following. The mission congregation grew to love Brother Jim. He was jokingly called “assistant pastor.”
On June 1, 1996, Reverend Norris P. Landry from Loreauville, Louisiana, became Hessmer Mission’s first full-time pastor and the first pastor to live on the church field. Of French descent and fluent in the French language, Brother Landry is particularly fitted for the ministry in Hessmer.
Many members of First Baptist Church in Bunkie helped with the work in Hessmer. Four who faithfully helped year after year are Albert and Gladys Townsend, Mrs. Eleanor White, Mrs. Ruth Townsend. Sterling Bain, Sr. and Mrs. Robert (Fannie Mae) Wright served faithfully at the mission prior to their deaths. Ms. Louanne Bain began serving as one of the instrumentalist in 2000.
By the close of 1996 it was evident that a larger building was required to meet the needs of the church growth. In the spring of 1997 Hessmer Mission began a building program. The church building project was under the direction of Reverend Ed Jelks, Louisiana Baptist Convention Missions Builder. A beautiful new building was erected including a sanctuary, four classrooms, pastor’s study, secretary’s office, and four restrooms. The dedication service of the new church was held November 23, 1997.
Over $100,000 was pledged to pay off the indebtedness which was incurred for the building project. God blessed this vision and His people in a mighty way. The church was able to pay off its loan in two years. To celebrate this victory a note burning ceremony was held November 21, 1999.
The year 2000 began with the purchase of one-half acre of land directly behind the present facility to accommodate future expansion and serve as a recreational area.
As the Hessmer body of believers continued to grow, plans were made to begin an addition to the 1997 building. The mission undertook another capital funding campaign, and in 2003, plans to begin phase two for the building program “Continuing the Dream” became a reality. Through pledges, donations, and grants from the LBC the project was fully funded prior to beginning the construction. The slab was poured in May 2004, and construction began June 7, 2004, under the direction of Ed Jelks, LBC Missions Builder and Steve Hayes, Church Builder. Again, hundreds of volunteer mission builders came to the site to help erect the new building, which consisted of a kitchen, fellowship hall, four class rooms, restrooms and storage. The new building was quickly put into service. Vacation Bible School was held the week of August 2, 2004, with an enrollment of 102. A new 12 passenger van was purchased in March, 2005.
On December 15, 2004, The Hessmer Baptist Mission voted to sponsor the start of the Mansura Care and Hope Ministry Center in Mansura. Those instrumental in beginning the Mansura Ministry were Brother Norris Landry, Ms. Carolyn French and Ms. Royce Rodgers. The ministry is temporarily located in the old Mansura Town Hall, and open on Monday mornings and Wednesday afternoons. It currently distributes food and clothing and ministers to the Mansura community. A Thursday night Bible Study has recently begun there. The Mansura Ministry is staffed by Hessmer Baptist Mission and financially supported by supplements from the Hessmer Baptist Mission, Marksville Baptist Church, the Louisiana Baptist Association, and the Louisiana Convention Mission Ministries.
A fund was started in August 2005, with plans to purchase property adjoining the Hessmer Baptist Mission property on the rear.
In August and September of 2005, hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged our state. Many people from the New Orleans and coastal areas subsequently relocated to central Louisiana, and the mission body was blessed with further growth.
Construction of two parking lots completed the Dream Series. In November 2005, the mission celebrated completion of the north lot with Van and Parking Lot Dedication along with Thanksgiving dinner. The south parking lot was completed in September 2006.
In 2006, the mission demonstrated recognition of its congregational maturity. In March, member Zachary Neely was licensed to preach. In September, the mission held a Deacon Ordination for Kyp Paul Normand and Gary Wayne Guillot, and Deacon Installation for Rusney Gremillion, Jr. Deacon David Hilleren was activated September 12, 2007.
The last property acquisition occurred in February, 2007, when four acres were purchased adjoining the rear of mission property. As the Lord leads, the purchase of this property will allow many possibilities for future expansion.
The mission has seen excellent growth through the years. VBS enrollment was 150 for 2008. Sunday School attendance has grown from an average attendance of 45 in 1999 to an average of 62 for 2008. Enrollment in Sunday School is 160. Sunday Worship attendance has increased from an average 60 in 1999 to 85 in 2008. Since April of 2000 the mission has added 142 new members. Eighty- one of these came by baptism and 61 transferred from other churches.
The mission has also, matured in financial stewardship. The budget has grown from $59,000 in 1999 to almost $85,000 for 2008. The tithes and offerings for 1999 were in excess of $42,000, while current 2008 undesignated receipts total more than $88,000.
The Mission formally recognized its desire to become an independent church by voting in July 2005 to constitute and began at that time inquiring about the process. The first Constitution Committee Meeting was held August, 2007, with five congregation members and ex-official member Pastor Norris Landry. After almost 15 months, today is a culmination of the collaborative efforts of these committee members along with involvement of the entire mission membership, and the original dreamers and faithful members who came from First Baptist Church in Bunkie, under the direction of Reverend Carl Hudson, to start this work. Acknowledgement is given to the Louisiana Baptist Convention, the Louisiana Association, other churches, individuals who have supported God’s work in Hessmer with grants, donations, and encouragement, and to the many hundreds of volunteers who have helped build the buildings, work Vacation Bible Schools, and serve as temporary teachers and pastors.
Now, Hessmer Baptist Church is on the threshold of going forward in a great work for God, much as the Israelites when they approached the Jordan River after Moses’ death, when God said to Joshua Now then, you and all these people get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land that I am about to give to them…… Joshua 1:2
Let us therefore go forward with the presence of God, with the protection of God, and with the provision of God.