More than a decade ago, when Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church began a building fund for its present building, it got a hand from its neighbor a few miles down Gholson Road.
First Baptist Church of Gholson made a monthly contribution each month during the capital campaign to help Pleasant Grove build the sanctuary, which was completed in 2009.
The contribution was the natural result of longtime relationship between Pleasant Grove, which is historically Black, and First Baptist, which is historically white. The churches had long held joint activities and celebrated each other’s anniversaries in this rural community of about 1,150, northwest of Waco.
Just how far back their history intertwined came into focus this summer, when pastors of the two churches realized their congregations were both turning 150 years old. This month they are celebrating together, with the goodness of God as the theme.
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“It’s a great achievement to celebrate 150 years,” Pleasant Grove Baptist Church Pastor Darrick Ervin said in a Thursday interview alongside First Baptist Senior Pastor James Stevens. “It’s a blessing to know that First Baptist also is celebrating 150 years. It’s an even greater blessing to celebrate these anniversaries together.”
Pleasant Grove met for 11 a.m. worship on Sept. 11 at First Baptist Church of Gholson, and Pleasant Grove will reciprocate this weekend.
“Nearly their whole congregation attended to our 150th anniversary celebration, and we’ll attend theirs at the 3 p.m. this Sunday,” Stevens said with a smile.
Ervin’s congregation invited Pastor Melvin Petty, of Greater Mount Olive Baptist Church in Waco, to be the guest preacher at the special 3 p.m. service Sunday, Perkins said.
Steven said a delegation of his members would attend Pleasant Grove on Sunday.
“Their church has many more members than ours,” Ervin said. “We don’t want to overflow our sanctuary.”
Stevens added that both leaders wanted to leave some pews available for members of Petty’s congregation who would no doubt want to attend as well.
The partnership between the churches predates the tenures of Ervin and Stevens.
“I got here before you did, and we had already been doing this for quite a while,” Ervin said to his First Baptist counterpart.
Stevens said his son goes to school with Ervin’s grandson, and they know each other that way as well.
Both church leaders looked at each other, looked up toward the sky, and declared that the credit really belongs with God.
“It is God that has done this, and enabled the two of us to be leading our churches at this time,” Ervin said.
About 14 years ago, Ervin and Stevens and their congregations decided to pursue more joint activities, such as swapping pulpits every February.
“My congregation really likes that, when we swap pulpits on the same Sunday,” Ervin said.
The two leaders saw the tradition as a way to honor the legacy of slain civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who once observed that “11 o’clock on Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours, if not the most segregated hours in Christian America.”
During its 150-year history, Pleasant Grove has had three permanent buildings, according to Perkins’ research of church records compiled by Ruth Powell, a church clerk of Pleasant Grove for some 40 years, and his search through McLennan County records.
The cornerstone from each of the prior buildings is included in the foundation of the present building, the first from 1920, the second from 1963.
“Both of the prior buildings were razed, and each of the following buildings erected about a month later,” longtime Pleasant Grove Deacon Charles Perkins said in a Friday phone interview.
Ervin and Stevens said Thursday that they would like their congregations to worship together more often and do more activities together.
“We’re all going to be together in Heaven,” Stevens said. “We’re all going to worship together up there, so we need to start doing that together down here.”