The Vernon Baptist Association has a long and colorful history that began on October 16, 1871. The Sabine Association was meeting for their twenty fourth annual session, and the group of churches comprising its first district petitioned the body for letters of dismissal for the purpose of organizing Vernon Baptist Association. Delegates from these churches had met and agreed unanimously that such a course would be to the glory of God and the advancement of our Redeemer’s Kingdom
The request was granted, and the new Vernon Baptist Association held its First Annual Meeting at Castor Church on Saturday, October 15, 1872. The introductory sermon was preached by “Elder” J. E. Melton, who based his message upon a portion of the Lord’s Prayer–“Give us this day our daily bread.” N. H. Bray was elected Moderator; M. H. Stanley, Clerk; and C.D. Collins, Treasurer.
Records of each succeeding annual meeting reveal many interesting stories. For instance, during the Third Annual Meeting held at Comrade Church, the question was raised, “Would it be in order for a Missionary Baptist Church to receive a member from an Anti-Missionary Baptist Church without being baptized by a legal administrator of the Missionary Baptist church.” The answer of the body was, “While we recognize the sovereignty of the churches, we–would recommend that the churches receive no members of any other denomination unless by experience and immersion by a legal administrator of the Missionary Baptist Church.” In the 1878, the Seventh Annual Meeting answered the question, “Should an excluded member of any other church within the association present themselves to any other church within our body for membership, what would be a proper course to be pursued by such church?” The answer of the body was, “It would be the duty of the church to appoint a committee to visit the other church and endeavor to bring about a reconciliation; and if done, receive the member, but if not, receiving said member would set a dangerous precedent,” Later an even more positive “No” answer was given to the question about receiving members who were out of fellowship with their prior church. (Boy, would such practice today cut down on reported numbers of church growth!)
Other such questions dealt with dancing and fiddle playing and various doctrinal questions. Often, these questions were answered by letters or papers written by respected pastors and circulated among the churches. For instance, the association was asked to establish guidelines for ministers’ behavior and duties. The answer included a paragraph on what the pastor had a right to expect of his members. Included was “the punctual attendance by the members in their seats as they have to expect him to occupy the pulpit.
Minutes record several instances when the association secured the services of circuit-riding missionaries and their reports; and on one occasion, they were not able to pay the agreed amount. The missionary forfeited as a donation more than half of his annual salary to the association. On another occasion, the association had a surplus in the treasury. So they voted to divide the money equally between the pastors serving the churches and one widow of a deceased pastor. Each received $3.80
One amusing incident deserves notice. The 21st Annual Meeting was scheduled to meet in Leesville, but District Court was to convene on the same day. The moderator appointed a committee to confer with Judge Fornett and “request that he change the time of the October Term of Court so that it will not conflict with the meeting of our body.” They did, and he did!
It was the association that fostered the beginning and promoted the growth of “Sabbath” or Sunday Schools in our area. They were instrumental in securing suitable literature and hymnals. Efforts to aid the Sunday schools included their record in the churches’ annual reports; and they began a Sunday School Convention; but the records indicate that group Bible study was slow to catch on. In short, the association helped the churches stay on course doctrinally, do ministry more effectively, enjoy fellowship with their sister churches; and do their work and worship decently and in order.
Thus far this summary covers the first thirty years of the history of our Vernon Baptist Association. The one hundred and five years since have proven to be just as exciting and helpful to the churches. Many changes have taken place; but the mission is the same; i.e. “to help each church to do Kingdom Ministry more effectively and efficiently; and to provide a medium through which all the churches may enjoy fellowship and encouragement; find help with mutual and individual concerns; and participate in common causes in which together we can accomplish more than is possible while working alone”.