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Cooperation leads to new church plant in Arkansas Delta

HELENA-WEST HELENA, Ark. – April 9 marked a historic occasion in Helena-West Helena as members of Helena First Baptist Church deeded the church property to Second Baptist Church in West Helena on Park Avenue. 

Seeing a decline in membership in recent years due to COVID and other factors, long-time church member Patty Smith said the congregation knew they had to do something, but they wanted the church to continue to be used for God’s will.   

Initially, members reached out to Arkansas Baptist Foundation (ABF) President/CEO Bobby Thomas. He connected with the Church Planting Team of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC) and together, with the legal assistance of ABF Vice President and Attorney Dillon McClain, they worked out a plan to partner with Second Baptist Church and establish a new church plant.  

“Rather than sell it, we decided we would really hope that it could be replanted, that another church would come in,” Patty said. 

Second Baptist Church will be the sending church of Abundant Life Christian Baptist Church – led by church planting candidate Orel Stokes. He and his wife, Kimyada, will be attending Send Network Arkansas/Oklahoma Assessment Rollout Retreat in May at Indian Springs Baptist Church in Bryant. 

“We know this is a hard decision that has been made, but we do thank you,” Stokes said at the deed signing on April 9. “We can guarantee it is being turned over to good hands and the work and Kingdom building will continue right here. I don’t take this opportunity lightly and neither do I take it for granted. This is a golden opportunity along with a golden moment, and I am very appreciative that I have been selected to take on this task.”  

Second Baptist Church Pastor Jarvis Smith described the moment as “passing on a legacy.”  

“This church will not close because of what is happening today. COVID and a lot of other things have been successful in closing church doors all over America, but the devil did not get this one,” he said.  

“We’ve got something to celebrate today…This is a partnership to be celebrated, to be announced and to be boasted about across the state of Arkansas.”  

The hill the church sits on was once sacred ground of the Pacaha Indians and where Hernando De Soto was said to have held the first Christian service west of the Mississippi River. It is also the same location that Sylvanus Phillips – the namesake for Phillips County – built his second home in 1815.  

Later, that same hilltop became Fort Curtis, erected and occupied by Union troops during the Civil War.  

“There are tunnels, if you go into fellowship hall, that were used for the Underground Railroad and those tunnels disperse out all over the city,” Patty said. 

Helena First Baptist Church was built on the site in 1951, which Patty noted was the church’s fourth location since its inception. The church held its final service on Easter Sunday, March 31. 

Over the years, Jarvis said the community of Helena-West Helena has been subject to a migration based upon lean economic resources.  

“People have had to find greener pastures. Most people who are here now have either decided this is our home and ‘I’m ok and I’ll be all right,’ or they don’t have a whole lot of options in terms of leaving for ‘bright sunshine.’ They don’t have that option,” he said. “A lot of the churches that used to operate in terms of mega resources and mega people and all that, they can’t do that anymore because of the migration and economic downtrend and the impoverishment.”  

Helena First Baptist Church hung on as long as they could, structured the way they were structured, Jarvis said. Rather than selling, the members found a way to pass the baton.  

“Not only is that church going to remain vibrant in the community, but now you are going to have people in there doing the ministry who are going to be able to be relevant, energetic and then they are going to also be effective because they have already got relationships,” Jarvis said.  

“What you are going to see is focus on church and focus on outreach and you are going to see people focusing, I think, on Christ in that area more than ever before. We are going to get exhilaration. We are going to get that excitement. We are going to get another swing at the bat to reach some folks who may have walked away.” 

Additionally, Jarvis said this deeding – which came to fruition through the partnership of African Americans and European Americans and young and old – is gaining the attention of the unchurched.  

“The community is already taking note of it,” he said. “This is a situation where everybody is crossing boundaries. We have the attention of the unchurched, the question is what we do with it.”   

Pray for all those involved as they continue this journey.  

“This is a result of a movement of God to push back darkness in the Delta and God’s timing is always right. As long as we stay focused on the Kingdom and the Gospel, He will always bring it to pass,” said Willie Jacobs, ABSC director of new church affiliations and church planting strategist.  

Second Baptist Church in West Helena will have a block party from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, April 20, at 167 Park Avenue.  

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  • By Mary Alford/Arkansas Baptist News