Jesus asked His disciples, saying, “Whom do people say the Son of man is?” And they said, :Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Simon Peter answered and said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it.” (Matthew 16:13-18)
By the same great commission and confession of faith in God, in 1903 a number of Baptist believers in the Oakland community were moved by the Holy Spirit to unite and form a church. Also, this eliminated the trip to other communities by wagon or buggy which took a considerable amount of time.
The church opened its doors under the name of Oakland Missionary Baptist Church, being organized by the pioneer families of James L. Stephens, Joseph Johnson Reid, John Umpstead Reid, and Killis Almon Reid. Other members that have been mentioned are Mr. and Mrs. Jim Peterson, Mollie Carpenter and Clemmie Stephens.
On September 21, 1904, the land for the first building was deeded to the church by James Lafayette and his wife Mary Jane Burks Stephens. The first building was built on one acre of land purchased for one dollar. The Stephens and Reid families oversaw the first building project, which resulted in a twenty-foot square building crafted from hewed oak. The original site, according to the deed, was located one-half mile southwest of the present site and across the road from the Davis Stephens house.
The Oakland Missionary Baptist Church located on a parcel of land situated in Van Zandt County, Texas, and being a part of the Levi Landers survey, abstract number 467, and is described by meets and bounds in the original deed. The deed stated that the land and all improvements shall be used exclusively by the Oakland Missionary Baptist Church and that at all times shall adhere strictly to the doctrine taught and maintained by the church and at all times be, and because of the doctrine taught by them shall be worthy of seats on any association or working body of Missionary Baptists in this state or elsewhere.
It was the turn of the 20th century, a different time. Morals were absolute. The church was very strict in upholding standards of Christian conduct and many lectures were given on temperance. If a person was accused of a wrongdoing, a committee of three was appointed to visit with that person. If found guilty of a sin, the person had to apologize to the church and promise not to make the mistake again.
In the 1900’s travel was by wagon or buggy over roads that were muddy with deep ruts in the winter and in the summer there was the deep white sand and, believe me, you could get stuck in the sand. By the 1930’s, the hand cranked Model T was beginning to appear in the community; but you could not go much faster than 25 mph. Old Model T Fords were like old horses, they didn’t like to pull a hill, especially a sandy hill in Oakland. Some drivers even had to back their vehicles up hills because the reverse gear provided more torque and power.
In the beginning, services were held only once a month and that was on a Sunday afternoon. One of the first known pastors was D. H. Richardson, who was also the pastor at First Baptist Church in Canton, Texas. He had a one-horse buggy and dog who made the circuit rounds with him on Sunday afternoon.
On October 3, 1923, there was a decision to move to a new location and erect a new church building on an one-acre oak tree wooded tract. This new location was one-half mile northeast of the original location with Oakland Cemetery being directly across the road from the church. The land was purchased from the Gibbard Investment Company Partnership which included J. J. Gibbard and W. W. Gibbard of Dallas, Texas. Trustees for this transaction were J. L. Stephens. J. J. Reid, and K. A. Reid. The new church was built as a one room building with a small platform at the front of the church where the pulpit stood. Curtains were hung to divide Sunday School rooms. But with fabric as walls, each class could hear what was being taught next to them. The homemade slated benches were not made for comfort. The only heat provided in the winter was the old wood burning stove that stood in the middle of the floor, almost in front of the pulpit. They did not have much trouble with “back seat Baptist” in those days. Everyone wanted to sit up front, close to the stove. One of the members, or the preacher, would go early to build a fire so the building would begin to warm up before the rest of the people arrived.
In the summer time, there was no air conditioning like today. The area funeral homes furnished churches with pictured cardboard fans with their advertisement on the back. They usually stood in the rack on the back of the benches with the songbooks so they could be used for the next service. Sometimes it would be so hot inside that they just moved outside where a breeze might possibly be blowing.
According to Loretta Wheeler Olsen, “John U. Reid thought the Oakland Baptist Church should join with the Southern Baptist Association which his brother, Killis A. Reid, thought the church should remain with the Missionary Baptist Association.” As, Loretta recalls, “after many heated arguments on the subject inside and outside the church, the members voted to affiliate with the Southern Baptist Association.”
Due to the loss of original records, it is not known exactly who, or how many, served as pastor at Oakland from 1903 to 1945.
In November 1946, at eighteen years of age, Bro. Bill Thomas came to Oakland as a half-time pastor. Preaching every second and fourth Sunday of each month at Oakland, and preaching at Silverlake Baptist church the other two Sundays. He was attending Tyler Junior College at the time and graduated in the spring of 1947. In the fall, he began attending Baylor University.
On September 14, 1947, the church went into conference and called Bro. W. I. (Bill) Thomas as full-time pastor. The Lord truly blessed us by sending Bro. Bill to be our pastor for two years. He was a young nineteen year old student and pastor. He had many challenges ahead. He attended college during the week and came home every weekend to fill his position as pastor. The salary was raised to $40 per month. Since the church was in need of a piano player, he brought Shirley Oliver, who was also a student at Baylor, with him to play. She usually stayed with Thomas and Oleta Reid on week-ends since they were about the only members that had indoor plumbing at that time.
The church began to grow in number and great spiritual revivals were held during Bro. Bill’s pastorate where the people saw a great movement of the Holy Spirit at work. There were forty-five new members added the first year with thirty-six of those by baptism. Bro. Bill, being a new preacher and not knowing that a church usually only had two revival a year, decided to hold three revivals because the Holy Spirit was moving so greatly.
The first revival was held in June of 1947 where twenty-three people were baptized at Metzger’s lake. The second was held in August and another in the fall. The Holy Spirit was still moving and between two more baptisms held in Luther Buyer’s tank in the community, thirteen more people were added to the church. This was truly a great time.
Bro. Bill relates the story of Grandpa John Lambert’s Bible about 1947: Bro. Bill and his parents resided in Grand Saline, but always came to worship at Oakland with their son Bill. On this particular Sunday, Mr. and Mrs. Wylie Thomas could not stay for the preaching service, so they swapped cars with their son. It just so happened that Bro. Bill’s Bible was in the car that that the Thomas’ drove home. What does a preacher do without a Bible on Sunday morning? he decided to borrow Grandpa Lambert’s Bible for Scripture reading. When asked, “may I borrow your Bible,” Grandpa Lambert replied, “Preacher, your sermon ain’t in my Bible.” Bro. Bill replied, “Well, if it ain’t in your Bible, we got problems.” Mr. Lambert was a great mentor to this young preacher.
Bro. Bill would visit people in the community on Sunday afternoon, sometimes using Mr. Lon Fuller’s horse and buggy, sometimes by Jeep, and sometimes by just walking. In the winter time, when the roads were impassable, Bro. Bill would borrow George Crume’s Jeep from Grand Saline to go around to pick up members to go to church. Some of them were not too eager to climb in that “so called vehicle” and Mr. Joe Reid was one of them. He just did not think he wanted to ride in that thing. But he changed his mind and traveled to church.
On December 15, 1957, in a special conference, the church called Bro. Harold Threatt as pastor of Oakland. His home was in Greenville, South Carolina, but he was attending Southwestern Seminary in Forth Worth, Texas. Bro. Threatt celebrated many milestones while pastoring at Oakland. he graduated from the Southwestern Seminary in May 1962. Bro. Threatt resigned on January 9, 1966 and returned to South Carolina where he continued his ministry.
In February 1960, the church decided to build a new pulpit. Mr. Jimmy Morgan built the new pulpit, communion table, and cut down the two large high-back deacon chairs placed at the front on each side of the pulpit. The chairs originally came from an old army chapel at Camp Fannin in Tyler. The chairs were stained a dark walnut and trimmed in white. The pulpit was likewise painted white and trimmed in dark stain.
On June 25, 1961, during a special conference, the church voted to build a new auditorium and preference to an educational building. In October of 1961 it was decided that the new building would be located adjacent to the old building on the east side. The new church was built by Mr. J. A. Morgan and Malcom Strickland, with the help from other church members.
The new auditorium was completed with dark paneling and white trim around the piano and organ sections to match the pulpit and hardwood floors. One of the greatest additions was the baptistery. It was not completed for use until 1972. Prior to the completion of the baptistery, we would have to use the baptistery of one of the local churches in the winter when it was too cold to baptize in a tank or lake. On September 1962, the church borrowed $1,000 to put red brick around the church to complete the outside. The side porches and sidewalks were added later as time and money would allow. With prayer and a lot of hard work from the members, the church was debt free in just a few years.
On April 14, 1964, Bro. Ron McCown came to serve as pastor. Bro. Ron and his wife Kay were both school teachers. On February 1994, a glorious day was celebrated. The parsonage was build and paid off in full and after Sunday morning service, everyone met in the yard to witness the “burning of the note.” The men participating in the note burning were, Thomas Reid, Hubert Matthews, Bro. Ron and Juan Lopez. The parsonage was built and paid off in a five-year period of time and that in itself was a true blessing. Bro. Ron was mostly known for his love and concern for the people of Mexico and his mission trips. Bro. Ron resigned as pastor of Oakland on March 1, 1997.
On June 10, 2001 Bro. David Christine was called by the body of Oakland Baptist Church to serve as pastor. David received God’s call to the ministry in 1989 while he was serving in the Navy. He graduated from Criswell College in 1997 and served as an associate pastor before being called to Oakland. Bro. David continues to lead the flock at Oakland Baptist Church as the under shepherd and as he feels led by the Holy Spirit.
On February 19, 2009, the members voted to renovate the interior of the sanctuary. The walls were painted off-white, the podium and stage area were enlarged, and all lighting was replaced. New oak pews with seafoam green cushions were added and the carpet was replaced with seafoam green tweed carpet. The pulpit and communion table were stripped and stained to match the trim in the sanctuary. We dedicated this building to God and all that He is willing to do in us!
The Lord has called home many friends and relatives over the years that contributed so much to this fellowship. We will forever hold their memories dear to our hearts.
Over the last 100 plus years, Oakland Baptist Church has experienced numerous changes and launched many activities. We praise God for His faithfulness to this body of believers over the years. The founding members stepped out on their faith in God and began this wonderful place of worship. Through their steadfast faith and with the help of many others, we continue, now one-hundred years later, to meet at Oakland Baptist Church to worship the One, True God. Like all organizations and entities, the church has had hardships and struggles; along with so many years of God’s abundant grace. What a blessing God has bestowed on this church family over the years! It is our prayer that we continue to be good stewards of His Blessings and that we continues to be faithful in doing His work in this place.
History compiled and written by Paulette Boswell