By Bob Welton
While with us in a gospel meeting in February, Brother Cecil Willie and I talked at length about the Lord’s cause in Louisiana. Cecil reminded me that not enough is known about the work of sound churches in the state arid because of this, Cecil suggested a “special on Louisiana” to better inform the brethren of conservative churches in this state.
At present there are only fifteen churches in the state (about which I have any information) that are sound on the institutional question. These are scattered; several of them are small in number, and at present only six congregations are able to be self-supporting. Dividing the congregations geographically from north to south, we give a brief report of each.
The oldest congregation (as well as the largest) in the state is the church in Haynesville; having been established in 1910. Brother S. H. Hall was one of the first preachers for this church. This group of dedicated Christians has stood for the truth through several brotherhood “fights” and continues to be a great influence for truth in north Louisiana. At present, three men are serving as elders: Brethren S. B. Hartsell, Sr., Clarence P. Crump, and Robert Durham. Lloyd P. Atherton presently preaches for the brethren there.
Also in the northern part of the state is the congregation in Springhill, which meets to worship at 405 Butler Street. The history of this church dates to the early 1940’s, when a group of Christians began meeting in homes to worship God. A group pulled away because of the institutional question in the late 1960’s, but the majority of the brethren were grounded in the faith, and thus remained faithful. Clarence Johnson has worked with the brethren in this city since 1970. (Clarence Johnson has since moved and the church in Springhill is without a full-time preacher-Editor).
Five congregations now exist in the north-central quarter of the state. These include the Linwood church in Shreveport, which meets to worship at 326 W. 75th Street. At present Ross Saunders is commuting from Marshall, Texas, to preach for the brethren there.
Just across the Red River to the east is the congregation in Boosier City with the meeting house located at 2917 Foster Street. This church began in the mid 1960’s, when 17 people decided they could no longer scripturally worship with the liberal churches in the city and met together to form the present congregation. B. J. Thomas is in his sixth year as the full-time evangelist for this congregation.
Approximately seventy miles to the east is the newest sound work in the state; this is the church in Ruston. This church began in 1974, when Brother Earl Hartsell moved to that city and began working with a small group of Christians. Incidentally, this is the fourth new work Earl Hartsell has been instrumental in establishing in the state of Louisiana. In fact, the Hartsell family, especially Brother S. B. Hactsell, Sr. arid his three preacher sons, Huey, Earl, and Horace, have been a great influence for the cause of truth arid righteousness in the state for many years.
And traveling a bit further east, we find a faithful congregation in Monroe. This congregation is known as the Southside church and meets to worship at 506 S. 6th Street. This church began in 1971, and has for the past four years been the fastest growing church in Louisiana. At present, Ralph Edmunson preaches for the brethren there (For further information, see Truth Magazine, July 11, 1974).
The only other congregation in the northern half of the state is the one in Stanley, three miles east of Logansport, with Cecil Jones as preacher.
Only four congregations presently exist in the central part of the state. These include the White Park church which meets on Highway 8, approximately five miles west of Leesville. This is one of the older congregations in the state; its history dating back to the early 1920’s. (Incidentally, as of April 1, this church was looking for a full-time preacher. Anyone interested may contact Willie Farris, Rt. 1, Leesville, Louisiana 71446).
Then five miles south of Leesville, just off Highway 171 is the White Oak church. This congregation is small, but is standing for the truth.
The only other conservative work in this part of the state is the church in Merryville. This church, although small, has remained faithful through the years; this can be attributed largely to the Franks family of that town. Ricky Johnson is presently driving from Beaumont to preach for the brethren there.
And traveling east across the central part of the state we come to the little town of Evergreen, where a group of faithful Christians meet. Tommy Holtzclaw commutes from Taylors, Arkansas, on weekends to preach for the brethren there.
At present, only four congregations exist across the oil-rich southern part of the state.
Traveling east across the state, we come to Lafayette where we find the church meeting at 507 S. College Road in that city. This congregation began in 1957; it presently is having just over 100 in attendance. Bob Walton is the preacher for the brethren there.
Baton Rouge, the capital city, has a fine congregation which meets at 9923 Sunny Cline Drive; it is known as the Park Forest congregation. Bill Crews has been working with this church since 1971; a new building was erected three years ago (See cover and accompanying article).
Further south and east is the church in Gonzales. This work began in 1958 with five families; since that time the church has fluxuated drastically because of transfers in this highly industrialized complex; at present the attendance averages in the low 40’s on the Lord’s Day. Jim Gunter began his first full-time work with this church in January of this year. Jim is a native of Gonzales, and was employed as a chemical engineer before beginning full-time preaching. Jim is doing an excellent job, and is to be commended for the sacrifices he has made to preach the word. I call attention to this, because Jim took about a $5,000.00 annual cut in income when he quit his secular work to devote his fulltime to preaching the word.
The last congregation to be mentioned is the Lake Villa church in Metairie (in the northern part of the greater New Orleans area), which meets at 3000 Lake Villa Drive. This church has been in existence for ten years; Bill Collett has preached for this church eight of these years. This congregation averages about 65 on the Lord’s Day.
We do wish to call attention to Lake Charles. A church has existed in this city of 70,000 for the past nine years; the church has, however, recently disbanded. It is disheartening to know that the church there has looked for a preacher to work with them full-time for the past two years, but to no avail. They have dwindled in numbers, they recently lost their lease on their rented building, and as of April 1, they ceased meeting. We are happy to report that efforts are presently being made to re-establish a congregation there; a man has expressed a desire to move to that city, and hopefully the church will begin meeting there this year.
A General Outlook of Louisiana Churches
We think it well to mention that churches of Christ have not flourished in Louisiana like they have in other areas of the south. Even the liberal churches are scarce and for the most part small; especially in southern and southeastern Louisiana. This is due to several factors; a couple of them being that the area is predominately Catholic, thus making conversions hard and slow; the other being that the area is heavily industrialized; thus memberships fluctuate drastically because of transfers.
It is also quite interesting to note that in southern Louisiana, there are a good number of premillennial churches; in fact there are 25 congregations of this persuasion. This is probably the second largest concentration of premillennial “churches of Christ” in the nation.
There is also a large number of congregations in southern Louisiana using instrumental music in worship that call themselves “churches of Christ.” These instrumental groups are indigenous to the state and sprang from the labors of Evariste Hebert of Crowley. Everiste grew up a Catholic; in fact he studied for the Catholic priesthood for three years at St. Joseph’s seminary in Crowley. But he studied himself out of Catholicism, learned the truth, was baptized by W. J. Johnson in 1915, and began to preach immediately, but never gave up the instruments. He moved from Crowley to Jennings because of the fear of Catholic persecution. Now churches resulting from his labors are found from Baton Rouge to Lake Charles. It is quite interesting to note that the liberal brethren in Jennings recently merged with the instrumental group (known as the “First Church of Christ”)-that’s one way to have unity isn’t it! So now in Jennings we have “The First Church of Christ” with a reported membership of over 300 and the premillennial group with an attendance of about 150. These two apostate groups presently constitute “the churches of Christ” of that city.
As to the future, we recognize there is much work before us in this state. Since the sound churches are scattered and small, and several cities are without a sound church, there is a long hard struggle ahead of us in this state. But the future of the church looks bright. Several churches are growing both numerically and in the faith, and, these churches, as they grow, are reaching out to assist still other. We also have a number of preachers who have stood and Will continue to stand for the truth of God’s word. And we trust that sound churches are committed to the principle that if we continue to plant and water, that God will give the increase.
Truth Magazine XIX: 46, pp. 723-725
October 2, 1975