No matter the era, the fact remains: When you worship at a country church, you’re likely to share space with all of God’s creatures.
Late in the summer of 1871, Grandview Baptist Church’s first pastor, Geo. D. Tolle, called his congregation to worship at an old mill shed in Callaway County. The church was founded in December of 1869 but hadn’t yet found the money and time to build a permanent sanctuary.
Elder Tolle, as he’s referred to in John Henry Berry’s 1904 detailing of the history of Grandview Baptist’s early years, set out several empty barrels and boxes on the floor of the mill shed to serve as seating.
One congregant, Brother Norris, approached the mill shed on horseback. When asked by the pastor to dismount, he replied: “No, I will not. I am from Charlottesville, Virginia, and I will not worship my God on boxes and barrels among rats and mice.”
More than 100 years later, on a winter evening in 1979, a Grandview minister was delivering a sermon when a young boy named Jeffrey Jones noticed something rustling in a light fixture in the ceiling. Larry Jones, Jeffrey’s father and a present-day deacon at the church, remembers what followed: “Sure enough, everyone looked up, and there in the light was a mouse running around. Needless to say the mouse received more attention than the minister for a few minutes.”
Grandview Baptist Church or the Lighthouse on the Prairie, as it’s been lovingly nicknamed, is celebrating its 150th anniversary with several special events throughout the year.
The church is sponsoring and hosting the Murray Community Quilt & Tractor show Sept. 21, a homecoming service Oct. 20 and a Christmas Eve mass Dec. 24 that will recognize both the Christmas holiday and also the calendar-date anniversary of the church’s founding.
It was on Christmas Day that the church was founded by a group of 27 pioneers and farmers from three states on a plot of land called the Two-Mile Prairie.
The Transcontinental Railroad had been completed just one month earlier, and Missouri was still part of the hard-scrabble frontier.
After another Callaway Country church, Mt. Moriah, was unable to sustain itself and shut its doors in 1871, Grandview became home to the entirety of its Kentucky-born congregation.
Grandview Baptist would continue over the decades to build upon a base of loyal churchgoers.
Many of today’s congregants can trace their connection with the church back several generations.
Jones, who has been sharing historical vignettes every Sunday this year as part of the sesquicentennial celebration, said his grandfather was among those who built the church’s modern-day sanctuary in 1922 (The original sanctuary, which was completed in 1879, burned down in a fire).
Don Combs, who serves as the church’s pastor, credited the church’s longevity to a robust sense of community.
“I think down through the years, our folk have found a community there. It’s a place where they belong,” Combs said.
“There’s a sense of stability to it, even if your own personal life is spinning out of control. There’s a stability you can find being among God’s people in a local church.”
Before coming to Grandview, Combs spent more than a decade working as an evangelical missionary in several post-Soviet countries, including Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia. He and his wife learned Russian and would often walk through villages with a backpack full of Bibles hoping to share the gospel. Combs called their excursions “prayer walks.”
“I didn’t go there to rescue anybody,” he said. “We just came alongside them and encouraged them to go out and share God’s love with others.”
Combs brought lessons from that experience and his missionary sensibilities with him to Grandview, where he has advocated for a number of evangelical programs through the years.
Several members of the congregation have traveled to rodeos around Missouri and set up tents to share information about the Christian lifestyle with passersby.
The church also participates in Operation Christmas Child, a nationwide Southern Baptist program that sends shoeboxes full of gifts to children all over the world.
Last year, Grandview sent out 1,800 boxes, and 2,100 the year before that, Combs said.
“We see ourselves as a lighthouse, shining the light of our savior to those around us and as far as we can,” Combs said.
On a recent Sunday, about half of Grandview’s 75 or so congregants gathered for the 11 a.m. service.
People greeted one another warmly, and the interim-pastor, Phil Dooley, had to call out more than once to quiet the flock and begin his sermon.
From behind the lectern and among the pews he shared a story about wealth and responsibility — Matthew 25:14-30, the “Parable of the Bags of Gold.”
When the service was over, people chatted a bit more and slowly made their way to their cars.
In the midst of Grandview’s 150th year, Combs said he feels grateful to be surrounded by a community of people so dedicated to their faith.
“We’re not all like-minded, but we are all like-hearted,” Combs said. “Christ is the center of our lives; it’s what pulls us together and it’s why we are able to work together for a better future.”
Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.