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Montesoma Baptist Church celebrates 125 years


Last updated 12/15/2012 at 4:37pm

Gerald Wofford/MNN

Charles Taylor, deacon at Montesoma Baptist Church, prepares to ring the bell for Sunday morning’s service. Montesoma recently celebrated its 125th anniversary.

OKMULGEE, OK—The oldest Muscogee (Creek) church recognized a milestone September 22-23. Created before Oklahoma statehood, when Indian Territory was all the land was known as, Montesoma Baptist Church, located 22 miles northwest of Okmulgee, celebrated its 125th anniversary as an important part of Creek history.

A sunrise service Sunday morning marked the occasion. After Sunday school, Deacon Charles Taylor rang the bell, something that’s been done since the church’s inception. The ringing of the bell invites all to the Sunday worship service.

“This is just my duty to do,” said Taylor, who prays silently each time before he is called upon to ring the bell.

Willis Knight, 93, remembers how special the ringing of the bell has always been to the church.

“When they rang that bell, everybody would stop, they would stop walking and talking, they knew it was time to get ready to go into the church.”

Knight grew up in the church and remembered how it has always supported its warriors that have served the country throughout the years.

“My father served in World War I, I served in World War II; my sons served in Vietnam,” he said.

Knight said the love his family received helped him make the decision to become a missionary when he grew up. This dedication to the church is also shared in the family. His daughter recently returned from China where she was serving as a missionary.

“A long time ago, just like the Bible says, someone planted a seed, then someone else came along and watered it and then God provides the increase,” he said.

The Sunday morning service opened with singing in the Muskoke language and Pastor Jay Downing welcoming everyone to the service.

The congregation included current and past members, as well as past leaders and deacons including Muscogee (Creek) Nation Council Speaker Sam Alexander who is a member.

MCN Principal Chief George Tiger and wife Frances were in attendance. Although Tiger is not a member of Montesoma, he felt it was important to attend on this particular weekend.

“This is a great day for all Creek churches because it shows the stability and consistency of our people; we have always been spiritual and we have always relied on our faith to endure and I believe this is a good example. My father used to preach here and I remember going to camps here…I think it shows how we all, as Creek people, always come together no matter what church we are from,” said Tiger.

Esther Berryhill, a long-time member of Montesoma, agrees.

“We had a lot of different churches come this weekend, about 28. It’s good that we’re celebrating and hopefully in another 25 years we’ll be celebrating 150. This is my second home, I grew up here; my brothers and sisters grew up here too, a lot of people that are here today, their mothers and fathers grew up here and the younger ones come back here too,” Berryhill said.

She admits she left the church for a while when growing up and then realized how much she missed it.

“This is a praying church and that’s what has kept us going. I got re-baptized when I came back here,” she said.

Berryhill points to key leaders in the church while growing up here, “Solomon Bullett was a pastor here, he was a big influence on so many people, there were a lot of strong women too like Bertha Yahola, my teacher. She was just like a mother and told us how to behave and the difference between right and wrong…this church has lasted long through prayers and our leaders who were here and their kids who become leaders too.”

Myrtle Denny, the oldest living female member of Montesoma, commented on how the church has remained strong through so many years.

“Growing up, we always had discipline. We knew when to be at church, to be on time, to help one another and pray; we always need to keep doing that,” Denny said.

Rev. Norman Daniel of Butler Creek Baptist Church was asked to bring the message on Sunday morning and encouraged the congregation to always remember God and keep making Him the central focus.

Before the service was over, members of the congregation stood and spoke about being thankful and happy for this day. Tiger recalled attending Royal ambassador camps as a child when legendary Creek preachers such as Frank Belvin spoke.

Eli H. Sheldon, Historical Secretary of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma was on hand to award certificates to Montesoma and to award Denny for the longest continuous membership in the church.

Deacon David Lena was glad to participate in the festivities. Lena has been a part of the church since 1986 and serves as unofficial historian.

“The original site of the church was actually a few miles west of here before they decided to permanently move here,” he said.

Lena also explained the unique name of the church, which got its name from the missionary’s name which was Monty and his wife’s name was Soma and that’s how it was named,” laughed Lena. “It has to be a good name because it lasted this long.”

© 2012 Muscogee Nation News. Used with permission.


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