CLARK, Missouri — The Perche Baptist Church is nestled in the country about 25 miles north of Columbia at the end of a gravel road. Inside its gray brick walls and stained-glass windows, a lively congregation of about 100 people gathered Saturday to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the church's historic building.
"In 1915, President Woodrow Wilson threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the World Series," Pastor Chris Canote said in his opening remarks to the congregation.
A lot has changed since then, but the structure of the building has not.
Canote, along with his wife, Susan Canote, and four of their 10 children, Alex Canote, JP Canote, Charlotte Canote and Samantha Carey, opened the celebration by performing several hymns.
Chris Canote started working as the pastor seven days before the celebration, but his family has been attending the church for two years.
“From the moment we walked in the door, it felt like home,” Canote said. “It is a very close-knit community.”
Perche Baptist Church has 92 resident members and about 200 non-resident members.
In the early 1970s, the membership was about 15, said church member Debby Maiden, who started going to Perche in 1959.
"My husband and I both looked at each other like, 'Where are we going to go if we close our doors?'" Maiden said. "Because we already knew that it wouldn't be like home."
Other people have felt at home there, too.
“Every time we have visitors or a visiting preacher, they always comment about how much they feel welcome and made at home,” Maiden said. “Perche has always done that."
From 1988 to 2002, the church put on an Easter pageant on Passover weekend. It started as a small production, but it expanded over the years. Eventually, the church filled for all three shows, Maiden said. The pageant became so big that five other churches in the area helped put it on. The biggest cast was 70 people, not including those working behind the scenes.
“It was so special to me because the church was so full every night,” Maiden said.
Mary Lou Shelnutt, 92, is the oldest member of the congregation and the church historian. She remembered going to church as a little girl when she was expected to be “seen rather than heard.”
She also raised her children at Perche.
Shelnutt’s daughter, Betty McKenzie, 69, has been the church clerk since 2012. She has attended the church her entire life.
McKenzie’s earliest memory from church was a pleasant one: attending Sunday school with other kids her age.
“Some of my oldest and dearest friends also grew up in the church," McKenzie said. "The friendships have lasted a lifetime."
McKenzie married a man from Sturgeon, and they have three kids. She said the church was a great place to raise her children.
“When we were bringing our children up, there were lots of other children," McKenzie said. "There was always the spiritual aspect, but there was also the fun aspect of being involved in church."
On Saturday, several former pastors came to celebrate with the congregation. Raymond Roberson, Don Snyder, Bill Ricks and Cole Calloway-Hodson fondly reminisced about their years at the pulpit.
Calloway-Hodson was the pastor from 2009 to 2014. He said he and his family were skeptical about the church at first, but they ended up loving every minute of their time at Perche. He said he's still a member because of the love throughout the congregation.
Snyder has been a pastor for 58 years at various churches, but he said Perche was the "warmest" of all.
Several members of the congregation worked together to compile a 25-page complete history of the church, which goes back further than the building itself.
According to the history, Perche Church was founded in 1835 as a Christian church. Soon after, a Baptist organization formed a congregation under the name "The Arm of Bethlehem." The Baptist and Christian churches shared the log building. It sat on about 7 acres that were purchased for $30.
In 1880, the log church burned down, and a frame house church was built in its place. The name was formally changed to Perche Baptist Church.
Two appointed members found that the frame house was "unsafe" in 1915. They tore down the building and started over. The new building was erected in 1915, but construction wasn't finished until 1916.
The church building has since been updated and renovated several times. In 1988, the church added an education building across the street for more space.
"In the future, not only do I see growth in membership, but I also see spiritual growth with the current members," Maiden said.
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