Carthage Nazarene Church celebrates 100 years

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Carthage First Church of the Nazarene members Terri Knell Rushing and Bryan Hann wield the Carthage Chamber of Commerce's giant scissors to cut the ribbon marking the church's 100th birthday celebration in the parking lot of the Bright Futures Carthage office at the corner of Chestnut and Grant. This parking lot was the location of the Nazarene Church's original building when it was founded in 1922. John Hacker / CNO

CARTHAGE, Mo. — The First Church of the Nazarene has a spacious church at the corner of Fairview and Grand avenues in Carthage, so it might be surprising to some to see members worshiping Wednesday evening and gathering again Thursday morning in a tent in a parking lot about two miles north at the corner of Chestnut and Grant streets.

It turns out that parking lot is a part of the church’s history, according to Nazarene Church Pastor Dustin Ledford.

“One hundred years ago this year the Carthage Nazarene Church was founded here at the corner of Chestnut and Grant,” Ledford said at a Carthage Chamber of Commerce Ribbon Cutting honoring the anniversary on Thursday.

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“The original members had a revival at Fourth and Lincoln, which is where the county jail is today, earlier in 1922, and God did incredible work,” Ledford said. “Then the church was formed and they bought an old Presbyterian church here at Chestnut and Grant in 1922 and they worshiped here until 1965. Then they relocated to where we are today.”

According to a written history prepared by the church this year, in late summer 1922, Rev. W.I. DeBoard, pastor of the Nazarene Church in Joplin, and Rev. W.L. Dodson, former Nazarene District Superintendent, held that tent meeting at the corner of Fourth and Lincoln in a tent with the capacity of about 300 people. But the crowds overflowed the tent and the meetings continued for about five weeks.

From those meetings, 49 people banded together to form the Carthage Nazarene Church and managed to raise $1,600, a sum equal to over $27,000 in 2022 dollars. The group bought the church at 800 Grant with had been built in 1891 by the Westminster Presbyterian Church, and even though title to the building wasn’t obtained until Nov. 28, 1922, the Nazarene Church held its first service there on Wednesday evening, Nov. 1, 1922.

Only a few people remain who remember services in the old church.

Kay Newman, a member of the Nazarene Church since 1971, said she and her husband, E.J. Newman, attended two or three services there as guests of friends before the congregation moved to the church at Fairview and Grand.

“I was used to going to a small church and it seemed like there were so many people here, but they were very friendly,” Newman said. “I remember it seemed to be old and dark. I was just a guest at that time and I was afraid to look around too much. I can’t fathom 100 years. So many of these churches last maybe 10 or 15 years, something like that. We’ve had very good leadership and good pastors, compassionate people and that’ll bring you back to church.”

Ledford said three stories from the church’s history stand out to him and show the church’s resilience and dedication to serving the community.

“During the Great Depression they started a soup kitchen to serve the community because people didn’t have money,” Ledford said. “So they needed to expand but they didn’t have space, so men brought picks and shovels and wheelbarrows and they dug a basement under this church so they could expand.”

Then in the 1940s, the church decided to build an educational wing.

Carthage Nazarene Church Pastor Dustin Ledford stands next to a stone on the front of the Carthage Bright Futures building at 800 Grant Street that speaks to the building’s connection to the original Nazarene Church building. The congregation met at a church located where the Bright Futures parking lot is now and built this building in 1951 to house the growing congregation’s Sunday School classes. John Hacker / CNO

Ledford pointed to a stone on the front blue concrete block building that still stands on the lot that is owned by the Carthage School District and currently houses the Carthage Bright Futures program. That stone reads “Sunday school Annex 1951.”

“In the late 40s, it was finished in 1951, our church built that building as we continued to grow,” Ledford said. “And of course it’s Bright Futures Carthage now and that’s still a compassionate arm of the schools district ministering to lots of kids.”

Ledford said in the 1960s when the country was being rocked by violence, the church took the lead in trying to unite the Black and White communities in Carthage.

“During the 1960s and the social unrest of the Civil Rights Movement, the church voted to say people of all colors would be welcome to worship here,” Ledford said. “They wanted to be open to all.”

According to the written history, in 1961, under the leadership of Pastor Wendell Paris, the church decided to search for a place to build a new building.

Later that year, the church bought a six-acre tract of land with an apartment house on it at the corner of Grand and Fairview and went to work raising the money to build a new church.

They bought an adjacent three acres just south of the that property and in 1964 the church incorporated under the name First Church of the Nazarene.

The written history says the church borrowed $100,000 from a local savings and took out an additional loan of $42,000 on the church at Chestnut and Grant. Using that along with $53,212 pledged by members, an architect was hired and work began on a new church.

On Oct. 18, 1964, at the close of morning services at 800 Grant St., the congregation traveled together to Fairview and Grand for the groundbreaking ceremony for the new church.

Opening day at the new location was June 13, 1965 and a dedication was set for July 11, 1965.

Ledford said the church is marking its 100th birthday throughout October.

“We’re celebrating all month long,” Ledford said. “Every Sunday in October we have a person coming back who grew up in this church who was called into the ministry. That’s for two reason, one for the church here to see that their ministry is beyond just the local church. They’ve literally influenced around the world. Second our prayer is that men and women will be called into the ministry at this time.”

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