Russellville Seventh-day Adventist Church

A Brief History of Russellville, Arkansas

The Work Begins

Elder Urbanus E. Bender

July 27 – August 10, 1904, Urbanus E. Bender and Dr. Jacob A. Sommerville, held tent meetings in Russellville. These meetings were immediately followed by camp meeting from August 11 – 21. Elders N. P. Nelson, H. Shultz, J. H. Morrison, I. H. Evans, and others were the speakers. Urbanus Bender and Volner Brockway Watts were both ordained at the camp meeting. Elder Bender was elected Arkansas Conference president for the coming year, Dr. Sommerville went back to his medical practice, and Elder Watts remained for two more weeks to continue holding meetings. Five were baptized after these meetings and it was thought that more would soon be baptized so they raised up a little company at Russellville (Evans, 1904).

A Place to Meet

The Russellville company in their new tabernacle which they called the Bible Prophecy Auditorium. Photo courtesy of the Southwestern Union Record.

Elder Lee J. Meidinger visited Russellville in the summer of 1948. When he arrived, he reported that there were six Adventists there and services were being held in a member’s home. In June 1948, he began a series of evangelistic meetings (Meidinger, 1948). The conference helped the little group purchase an army surplus building from Camp Robinson, that was twenty by fifty-two feet. It was impossible to move it so they had to dismantle the building. Two men took down the building and salvaged it. It was loaded on a large truck and moved to Russellville. One of the real estate men in Russellville was quite sympathetic toward the Adventist work so he gave the members five lots in a nice location. After they procured the building, members of his family influenced him to change the original agreement, so the church members were unable to set up their building at that location. Meanwhile, a meeting was held in Plainview* and one in Russellville, with hopes that they would bring in enough members to enable the group to purchase a lot. Unfortunately, they were only able to continue the meeting in Russellville for six weeks because of the high rental on the hall. All this time, their lumber had been stacked outside and they were afraid that it would deteriorate so that it couldn’t be used. The group began to lay plans to build a tabernacle in sections, so it could easily be taken down and set up again. They leased a lot for two years in a nice residential section and construction began. With the help of a hired laborer for eight days, a finish carpenter for two days, and four volunteer helpers for four days, Russell Eaton and Lee Meidinger did the rest of the work. The conference gave them $100 and the small company raised the rest of the money needed to finish the building and also to buy a piano. They felt that all their efforts were repaid when they held their first Sabbath services in their tabernacle and forty-two people were present, ten of whom were non-Adventists. During the time this tabernacle was being constructed, the business men were very kind in helping the Adventist group. They received a lot of publicity because the building was so unusual. None of the people had seen this type of structure before and insisted that it was impossible to build it in such a way. The newspaper and radio helped greatly in publicizing the work in Russellville. R. L. Kretz was invited by the conference to hold a series of meetings in the new building. His opening lecture was Sunday night, May 15, 1949, at which time the mayor of Russellville attended. The little company continued to meet in the small tabernacle for nine years (Meidinger, 1949).

Russellville Church Organized in 1952

On January 19, 1952, the Russellville church, led by Russell Eaton, was organized and there were several prospects for baptism (Minutes, 1952). The new church included believers from the Clarksville and Russellville areas. In 1959, they moved to a brick school house in Russellville. Another move found them worshiping in the basement of a rented church where they were able to stay only one year (Young, 1993).

Russellville Church Reorganized in 1973

The Russellville congregation at one of their former meeting places. Photo courtesy of the Southwestern Union Record.

By 1961, most of the families living in Russellville had moved away. Only two members were left. A group who lived in nearby Plainview* had been meeting with and supporting the Russellville group since its inception. They now decided to move worship services to Plainview. J. W. Ladd opened his home for services until a church building could be erected (Elder, 1976). However, the Russellville church disbanded in the summer of 1961 (Minutes, 1961). The work in Russellville lay dormant until Jack Riddle moved to the area in 1967 and began giving Bible studies to several families. The Lord blessed during the course of the studies and in two year’s time fifteen persons were baptized. The Russellville church was now active again. They met in Jack Riddle’s trailer from 1969 to 1971. From 1972 through 1974 they worshiped in another church that loaned them the space. The Russellville church was reorganized on March 17, 1973 (Kostenko, 1973). This little church had a dream of one day owning a church of their own.

A New Church in 1976

Building purchased for the Russellville church. Photo courtesy of the Southwestern Union Record.

At this time Ray Jones, an enthusiastic member, started what they called the “Penny Fund” for a new church. Every week they passed around a jar for members to put their pennies in. God blessed this project tremendously and in less than two months $300 had been raised (Elder, 1976). The thirty-five members were now meeting in the Carpenter’s Union Hall in 1975 (Young, 1993) when Pastor Peter Bertot arrived to take up residence in their city. Inspired by their enthusiasm and dedication, he united with them in an all-out effort to raise more money to establish a church. One day Elder Bertot came across the very church God was planning out for them. While attempting to close the deal on a house he was buying for his residence, he and his realtor were waiting for a train. Just in passing, the realtor asked him if he wouldn’t be interested in buying a church and of course he was! It was an all brick church that seated about 100 people. Within six months the “Penny Fund” had grown to $5,200, which was enough for the down payment (Elder, 1976).

Evangelistic Meetings in 1978

The former membership which had grown to forty-five was nearly doubled as thirty-nine were baptized as a result of meetings in the Ramada Inn in the fall of 1978, by the Baker-Marshall evangelistic team. Attendance was 115 on opening night and remained good throughout the three weeks of meetings. On the evening of Brother Jay’s personal testimony, attendance reached 135. One member, Raymond Jordan, reported bringing nineteen people with him that night! Danny Marshall, accompanied by Irene Herr, gave messages in song and Sylvia Baker’s blacklight art was another feature the audience enjoyed. Louise Barry conducted nightly meetings of songs, stories, and crafts for the children of those attending. Baptisms were at Lake Dardanelle State Park. The pastor, Gary Herr, was new to the area, having moved to the district just two weeks before the campaign started. Little did he dream they would be establishing a church school and talking of building a bigger church right away (Record, 1978).

Twenty-five who were baptized July 29, 1978. Photo courtesy of the Southwestern Union Record.

A New Church in 1996

In 1994, a search committee began looking for a location to build a new church, since their facility was no longer adequate. After several months of searching, an excellent site of 2.57 acres was located just north of Interstate 40. This was purchased in March 1995. In July they voted to move forward with building even though their old church had not sold. The week they began building, an offer and subsequent sale was negotiated. The regular work crew included two people in their eighties, two in their seventies, two in their mid-sixties, and two in their mid-fifties. On three different weekends volunteers came from a wide area to help with the project. August 18 saw the largest number, seventy-two people, come to help. This was the day the trusses were placed and much of the roof and siding were installed. In just sixty-four working days between July 21 and October 5, under the supervision of Pastor Jerry Mayes, the church erected their new multi-purpose outreach center. Sabbath, October 5, 1996, was a high day at the Russellville church as they celebrated the first Sabbath in their new center. A separate sanctuary was envisioned in the future but until then this center would provide for the needs of Christian education, recreation and worship facilities as well as outreach services for the community. The new structure, eighty-two by eighty-two feet, contained two classrooms, a kitchen-fellowship room, three storage rooms, a large community service area, and a forty by sixty foot recreation area, which served as a temporary worship center (Wilson, 1996).

Russellville church on East Aspen Lane in Russellville, Arkansas. Photo courtesy of Google Maps, 2014.

*The Plainview church was renamed the Ola church in 2006 when the new church was built in Ola.

Citations

(1952, Jun. 2). Minutes of the First Meeting of the 1952 Biennial Session. Gentry, AR: Arkansas-Louisiana Conference of SDA.

(1961, Aug. 31). Executive Committee Minutes. Shreveport, LA: Arkansas-Louisiana Conference of SDA.

(1978, Oct. 5). Southwestern Union Record, p. 16G.

Elder Jr., W. H. (1976, Mar. 13). Ibid., p. 7.

Elder, W. H. (1976, May 8). Ibid., pp. 3, 4.

Evans, I. H. (1904, Sep. 8). Review and Herald, p. 16.

Kostenko, P. A. (1973, Feb. 10). Southwestern Union Record, p. 6.

Meidinger, Lee J. (1948, Aug. 4). Ibid., p. 3.

Ibid. (1949, Jun. 1). pp. 2, 3.

Wilson, Alvin A. (1996, Dec. 1). Ibid., pp. 5, 6.

Wilson, M. L. (1952, Oct. 15). Ibid., p. 8.

Young, Mary, compiler. (1993). Clarksville SDA Church History. Unpublished.