This Sunday marks the centennial anniversary of the Bonne Terre Church of God, and like other churches that reach the milestone of celebrating their 100th birthday, it all comes down to the members of the congregation who through the years have continued to love God and each other without hesitation.
According to Pastor Steve Clevenger, that is a perfect description of the members who make up the Bonne Terre Church of God.
“Preachers come and go — we all know that right there — but it’s the people, it’s the singing, it’s the music, it’s the people who have held the church together and has allowed this church to excel the way it has excelled over the years,” he said. “Sometimes the preachers get the credit, but yet it’s not the preachers — it’s the people that deserve the credit. It’s those who are willing to be used of God that deserves the credit. It’s because of them that this church is still here after 100 years.
Clevenger admitted that it’s “extremely remarkable” when a church is able to celebrate its centennial anniversary.
“There’s many churches that have closed their doors,” he said. “There’s more closing their doors in this day and time than churches are being opened. Just think about the history that this church has seen from World War I where we started, to the Roaring 20s, to the Great Depression in the 30s, to World War II, Korea, Vietnam and all the turmoil that goes along with time passing.
“But being here 100 years, the things this church has been able to accomplish, the lives that have been changed, the people that have been called into ministry through the ministry of this church — it is indescribable the impact that it had not only on this community, but also upon the state, upon the country, upon the world because we have people that have roots in this church that are literally in different parts of the world right now.
“There’s so many that’s in ministry that has made such a tremendous impact on people for the cause of Christ. Many people have given their life to the Lord because of this church, because of this church’s faithfulness, because of what this church stood for. Anyone who has grown up in this church will have fond memories because this is their roots.
Bonnie Carmack joined the church in 1967, more than 51 years ago. Her husband, Jimmy, led music for the congregation for 46 years prior to his death.
“We liked the pastor which was Rev. Padgett,” she said, “and I like the members that comes here. We have a very close fellowship because we love Jesus. I also want to say that we have the best pastor and his wife in the state. This church loves him dearly.”
Ralph and Marilyn Marler are long-time members of the church as well. In fact, Marilyn began attending the church when she was a child.
“My grandparents brought me when I was 4 years old,” she said. “Then in 1944 my mom joined the church and so, I’ve been coming all that time. We have very faithful, very dependable people. You could call any of them at any time, and I know this from experience, that when you have a need all you have to do is call and you’ve got somebody there for you. Most importantly, they’re praying for you — whatever the need is.”
Asked if she had any special memories of the church, Marilyn said, “I’ve got a couple. I remember being young and back then in the old church we had a bench that sat over by the side. The gentlemen sat over there, and it was called ‘The Amen Corner.’ Then we had a group of ladies and they were either widowed ladies, or maybe they came by themselves, but they were all called ‘granny.’”
Ralph Marler had a memory or two to share as well.
“We got married, and of course she was after me all the time to come to church,” he said. “Brother Padgett would come to my house every Saturday morning. He’d knock on the door and invite me to church. Finally, I gave in and I came to church.
“Back in those days the church would make chicken and dumpling meals and that was my favorite dish — still is! I remember the fellowship and the friendliness when I’d go to that — how they’d greeted you and everything. Wasn’t long before I got saved, sanctified and filled with the holy ghost and joined the church. I’ve been here ever since — 49 years now.”
Charles Stegall has been a long-time church member, but when his wife was a small child, she used to attend the Bonne Terre Church of God along with her aunt.
“I’ve been coming a long time, but I’ve only been a member of the church about 30 years,” he said. “I just enjoy coming to church here. Brother Clevenger has done so much to change my mind about things in the last few years — that’s what sticks out in my mind. He has been an inspiration about me coming to church. Now, there’s times I should be here, but I don’t come — like on Sunday night and Wednesday night — but I’m trying to take care of it.”
Janice Boyd said she quit attending the church when she was a small child and didn’t return until she was 12 or 13 years old.
“My best friend came, and I’ve been coming regular ever since,” she said. “I enjoy worshipping here because of the members here who love the Lord.”
She said that she mostly cleans around the church and cooks. One of her most popular dishes is the chicken and dumplings that keeps Ralph Marler a regular attendee.
As of Oct. 10, Pastor Clevenger and his wife Penelope will celebrate their 8th anniversary at the church. Originally from Alabama, they came to Bonne Terre from a pastorate in St. Charles in 2010.
“The church is extremely special, and it has not lost its identity,” he said. “We have a certain style of worship and a certain way we do things in the way the church is maintained. It’s not just what they’ve always done, but they’ve maintained what is special to this congregation. We actually have a very unique ministry that many churches have moved away from. We fill a very unique role and a very unique niche in the church world today.”
Pastor Clevenger admits his wife Penelope has to wear a lot of different hats as his wife. Her biggest role is leading the music and working with the women’s ministries.
“I love it,” she said. “I’ve got some incredible, talented ladies. When you go out there and see what they’ve done for this ‘to-do’ Sunday, you’ll see what I’m talking about. Looking around the sanctuary, this is all the product of some of my ladies. They can visualize how to decorate a place and make it just sing. They all have great talent.
“As far as the music, we’ve gone through transitions. I came from Birmingham in a large church and then came back to a smaller church to the hymns that I grew up on. That was kind of new for me, and it took some time for me to adjust to that. I got very sick and God took me to a place where he showed me that he’d put me in a place where he could use me the most.
“What that meant is that I’ve never been away from heritage. My life has been rich with heritage. My grandparents go way back in the Church of God, so I’ve got a lot of rich heritage in the church. And they’ve never let go of those core traditions that the church has taught, and this church has never let go of its core traditions.”
Sunday’s centennial service begins at 10 a.m. with State Administrative Bishop Overseer Tommy Powell preaching. Lunch follows the service and then a concert by Heartfelt starts at 2 p.m. All events are being held at the church located at 223 Jackson St. in Bonne Terre and are open to the public.
“The church is extremely special, and it has not lost its identity.” — Pastor Steve Clevenger
Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or email@example.com