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Friday, May 6, 2016

Preaching the Word of God for 100 years

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A woman donated $100 to the new found church. The assembly bought a small plot of land and had 25 cents left over. With the 25 cents they bought nails and hired some men to start building. Through prayer and many generous contributions the first church building was built. The above picture of the church was made around 1928. Photo courtesy of the First Assembly of God
It's been a long time since those old tent revivals. Men and women dressed in their Sunday best, and children twitched in their seats as a minister preached the Word of God out among God's creation under a large circus-like tent full of pious Christians and those who were ready to be saved.

A hundred years ago, the First Assembly of God Church in Thayer started out as a tent revival, and as more people came to pray and hear the Good News the founders of the Thayer ministry decided it was time for a more permanent structure.

The tent revival was started by two women from a faith home, or mission, in St. Louis. They were "Mother" Mary Barnes and "Mother" Moeise. According to a pamphlet put together by the church when it celebrated it's 90th anniversary, Mother Barnes was involved with Holiness Movements.

The First Assembly of God Church in Thayer started out as a tent revival in 1909. It was started by two women from a mission in St. Louis. The revival attracted so many people that one night it outdid the circus that was in town. Photo courtesy of First Assembly of God
Both women and Harry E. Bowley, who was to become the first pastor of the church, heard about the need of spiritual services in Thayer from Joe H. Duke, a railroad hotel proprietor.

According to an excerpt from The Sparkling Fountain by Fred Corum and Hazel E. Bakewell, "At many of the Frisco railroad junctions there were hotels and nice restaurants called 'Fred Harvey Restaurants,' and Joe Duke ran the hotel and restaurant near the railroad station. Joe was an alcoholic. One day while in St. Louis on business, he passed a little mission and heard singing and went in. He was wonderfully saved, and the Lord delivered him from drink and he was filled with the Holy Ghost. Mother (Mary) Barnes ran the mission. After this, Joe Duke went into partnership with the Lord, giving 50 percent of his business income to Christ."

Duke invited Mother Barnes and her entourage to come to Thayer and host a revival. They came, and Duke open his hotel to them. According to an account by Bowley, "(Duke) was a man of strong faith and great vision and longed to see souls saved. Thayer being the division point between Springfield and Memphis, many trains stopped there at meal time, and as he would go through the diners, pullmans and chair cars he would place in the ticket holders little slips which said, 'Get right with God.' Drunkards and others who came into his hotel never went out without a word of salutation, 'Get right with God.'"

First Assembly of God Pastor Abel Perez holds an old newspaper that shows the history of the church in Thayer. The church is celebrating its 100th anniversary in the community and will have a special celebration May 31 starting at 10:30 a.m. Photo by Emily McIntosh
Soon after the revival started, word traveled along the railroad and across the Ozark Mountains that God was healing the sick in Thayer. "When they found that God was healing the sick, they brought their loved ones on beds, sometimes driving all night to get to Thayer first so we would pray for them," Bowley wrote.

One night the revival outdid the circus that was in town. Bowley wrote, "One day the mayor (of Thayer) came to see me and said, 'Now Bowley, we're having a circus, and we need this circus. I don't want you to interfere.' I laughed and said, 'Well, my Lord has it in hand.' The circus came to town and put up its tents, but no one went to the show; the people were all at our revival meeting."

The small assembly kept growing, and Bowley and other members knew a building would be needed soon, especially during the winter months. One day, the congregation had to meet in one of Duke's rooms at the hotel, and it was in the hotel that Bowley was chosen as pastor of the new found church.

Winter was coming and there was still no building for the new church. The congregation prayed, and soon a woman gave them their first $100. This was used to purchase a small plot of land. After the deed was fixed, the assembly had about 25 cents left, which they used to buy nails and hire men to start building. "This is how the church at Thayer was begun," Bowley wrote.

Bowley's account of how the church started also says a man came up to him one day and said, "Man, you can't build a church on 25 cents."

"When these nails are gone, God will give us some more nails," Bowley said.

The man laughed and said, "If I didn't have faith in your prayers, I'd lay down my tools now. But, we'll build the church."

The little, one-room, white-washed church was soon completed. As the church kept growing, a new building had to be built at the same site as the old one, which was on the corner of 5th and Walnut Streets, and is now the Oregon County Country Music Theater. The current building for the First Assembly of God Church, built in 1993 to 1994, is on Industrial Drive.

Since the church's inception, it has had about 40 pastors.

The current pastor, Abel Perez, has been with the First Assembly of God in Thayer since fall of 2005. He said he encourages members and those in the area to come and visit the church and attend a 100th Anniversary Worship Celebration Service starting at 10:30 a.m., May 31.

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