JESUS OVERCOMING ALL BARRIERS
The origins of the church can be traced directly back to the Day of Pentecost in A.D. 32. On that day, Simon Peter gave the first sermon concerning salvation. After he had convinced the crowd concerning the Messiahship of Jesus, they asked the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” In response to their inquiry, Peter told them:
“Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”
In obedience to this command, three thousand people were added to the church that day. From Jerusalem, the message spread throughout the entire world.
Throughout the ages, the Promise remained true. The earliest documented person to receive the Holy Ghost in Dunklin County was Iva Morgan, who received the Holy Ghost in 1896! This young lady would grow up to become the grandmother of our Bishop Carroll McGruder.
The beginnings of the modern Pentecostal revival can be traced to Topeka, Kansas, where in the early hours of January 1, 1901, Agnes N. Ozman became the first person in the twentieth century to receive the Holy Ghost.
Under the leadership of Charles H. Parham, the revival spread to Missouri and Texas, where a young minister named W. J. Seymour heard the message. He carried this message to Los Angeles, California. On April 9, 1906 he preached his first message at 214 North Bonnie Brae Street. The revival that began there would soon move to a mission at 312 Azusa Street. From this location, the Pentecostal message would spread around the world.
God had a plan and this plan had to be fulfilled. In October, 1910, God spoke to the hearts of Bro. John Davis, Sis. Samone, and Sis. Frankie Johnson of Thayer, Missouri, telling them of people in Senath, Missouri who needed to hear the Truth. The gospel had to be preached so they denied themselves and went to Senath. This was the first movement of the Pentecostal message to this part of the country. The reception that they received was not a good one. They preached the message anywhere there was an open door. Sometimes they were asked to leave and other times they were forced to leave.
From Senath the Word spread to the “uttermost parts of the world”—even to Kennett. Sis. DePriest held a tent revival. Some called the location Cocklebur Hollow. Bro. Hyatt was also instrumental in bringing the Word to our vicinity.
Brush arbors were built; tents were pitched. Revivals were held in schoolhouses, store buildings, and in homes. In 1910, Bro. Taylor was the first in the twentieth century to receive the Holy Ghost in Dunklin County at Austin School.
In 1913, at the Worldwide Campmeeting in Arroyo Seco, California, R. E. McAlister remarked in a message that the only method of baptism used in the days of the Apostles was “in the name of Jesus.” Many began searching the Scriptures. On April 15, 1914, on East First Street in Belvedere, California, Frank J. Ewart preached the first Oneness message west of the Mississippi River. Shortly afterward, evangelists began to spread the message eastward.
The message arrived in Dunklin County shortly afterward, and Cleve Curly was the first minister to be rebaptized. Through the efforts of a praying people, Bible Grove Church became the first established Oneness church in Dunklin County.
In 1920 the First Assembly of God of Kennett, Missouri was founded in an old store at 213 Randol Street. This building would be converted into a church.
In the early 1920’s, a group of Apostolics began holding house meetings in Kennett, under the leadership of Rev. W. S. Fitzpatrick. In 1927, the Apostolics cleaned out a cow shed at Bragdon Levee, down from Fray’s Mill, and began holding services there.
In 1930, the First Assembly of God moved to their current location on Kennett Street and sold their old building to the Apostolics for $100. The congregation moved into the new building and quickly set about organizing themselves. In that same year, they organized as the “Apostolic Assembly of Jesus Christ Church,” and incorporated themselves under that name. W. S. Fitzpatrick was elected pastor. V. H. Davidson, C. W. Davis, and Ed Holifield became the first deacons. Virgil Sanders was the first member.
Revival broke out at the new location, which was called Cocklebur Hollow. The church grew steadily until tragedy struck in 1934. Pastor Fitzpatrick passed away, leaving the young congregation without a leader. At this time, G. B. Johnson became the interim pastor until the congregation could elect a new pastor. It was during this time that the current financial plan was created. Until this time, the pastor simply collected whatever tithes were given, and the church was run on the offerings. Pastor Johnson put in place a system where all money was deposited into an account, and the pastor was paid out of this account. Later that year, the church elected a young J. A. Nochta to be their pastor. Pastor Nochta was noted as being a fiery preacher and a very likeable person.
After pastoring only a few short years, Pastor Nochta resigned. The church then elected Euell Drope as their pastor. Pastor Drope was seen as an educated man, very polished and professional. Perhaps his greatest contribution to the church was the music school he began, which led to the formation of the first choir.
At this time, America was at war with Japan. Tensions sometimes ran high, and many people lived in fear. Many conflicts were also in the church. Under Pastor Drope’s leadership, the church was nearly split over the spiritual communion and “never die” movements. Only the intercession of an elder minister kept the church together. On another occasion, a “prophet” predicted that in a year, Japanese troops would occupy Kennett.
In 1943, the congregation began looking for new leadership. They found it in L. D. Segraves, who had pastored the church in Hornersville. Pastor Segraves provided the stability and calm the congregation needed. At the age of fifty-five, he seemed to be a father figure for many in the church.
On the national scene, it was a time of great interest. The two largest Oneness organizations began meeting in order to work out an acceptable merger agreement. On September 25, 1945, the Pentecostal Church, Incorporated, and the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ merged to form the United Pentecostal Church. The Kennett assembly would later affilate and become identified with this organization.
After World War II, the Kennett church began another period of growth. In 1948, a tent revival was held that would carry the message across the Bootheel. During the course of the nine weeks of revival, 223 were baptized in the name of Jesus, and 150 received the baptism of the Holy Ghost. The effects of this revival would spread across the country and continue to the present day.
After the “Cocklebur Hollow” revival, the building the congregation had purchased was becoming too small. The church launched a building program and in 1951 moved into a new building on the corner of Third and Randol Streets. Many great memories were made in the new building. Many young ministers including Chuck Gray, Mac and Norman Luna, Carl and Ola Denny, and Paul Davidson began their ministries and returned to hold revivals.
The church continued to grow until tragedy stuck again. On the evening of May 31, 1959, Pastor Segraves suffered a stroke while leading service. He was taken home where he passed away the next morning.
The grieving congregation again looked for someone to lead them. They turned to Glen Segraves, L. D. Segraves’ son and pastor at Rector, to become pastor. After his election he quickly began a building campaign. The church was outgrowing their building and would need a new location. Buren Murphy, a deacon in the church, told of a plot of ground at the corner of the South By-Pass and Kennett Street which was for sale. The congregation bought this land and began building a new building. They moved into this building August 3, 1963. At the time it boasted 27 classrooms, a nursery, evangelistic quarters, 12,296 sq. ft. of floor space, and a seating capacity of around 700.
In 1965, the church elected Daniel L. Segraves, son of Pastor Segraves, to be the Co-Pastor of the church.
The Segraves lead the church during the decade of the 1960’s. On March 31, 1968, Daniel Segraves resigned as Co-Pastor and became the first Director of Promotions for the General Sunday School Division. On April 15, Pastor Glen Segraves resigned in order to found the church in London, Ontario, Canada. The church then turned to a young minister from Mississippi, J. W. Fowler, to become the pastor. He was elected May 22, 1968
During Pastor Fowler’s tenure many revivals took place. He enlarged the platform adding the white brick seen today. It was a time of great excitement. One highlight was in 1974 when the church gave the highest offering to Sheaves for Christ nationwide. In 1975, he announced his resignation and returned to Mississippi.
The church then turned to J. D. Langford, former General Youth Secretary, to be their pastor. Pastor Langford was noted for being a gifted teacher, and a respected leader.
Pastor Langford was also a man with a burden. In 1978, the second story was added to the back hall to make room for his vision. In 1979, under the leadership of Pastor Langford, the Kennett Christian Academy opened its doors with a student body of thirty. Since its opening, it has been a vital ministry of the church.
In 1980, Pastor Langford announced his resignation and intension of returning to California. On December 9, 1980, the church elected Carroll L. McGruder, former pastor of Bethel Temple Apostolic Church in Twin Falls, Idaho, to become pastor. Pastor McGruder arrived in Kennett January 1, 1981.
Pastor McGruder immediately began enlarging the sanctuary in order to accommodate the larger congregation that he foresaw. Under his leadership the church began to grow, and great revivals took place. In 1985, the Multi-Purpose Building was built on the south side of the By-Pass. This building was to serve as the home of Kennett Christian Academy, as well as a fellowship hall for the church.
In 1988, Pastor McGruder was diagnosed with cancer. The Lord miraculously healed him, but not before a desperate medical battle. Although the Singing McGruders had been traveling across the country before, their ministry grew tremendously after this incident.
Throughout the early 1990’s the McGruders spent many weeks traveling. The church was left under the ministry of Derek L. Purser, the assistant pastor. In 1993, Pastor Purser announced his resignation. Instead of appointing another assistant pastor, Pastor McGruder felt that the church needed a full-time pastor to stay home. Later that year, Eric C. McGruder, his son, was elected Associate Pastor.
At this time, the sanctuary underwent a major remodel. Services were held in the Multi-Purpose Building. The saints put up with many headaches in order for the work to be completed.
In January 1997, Terry Denny (son of Carl Denny) came to hold a revival. The revival lasted fourteen weeks and was the third largest in the nation during its existence. Over 350 people received the gift of the Holy Ghost during the revival.
On December 31, 1999, Joe Cook, who had been song leader for thirty years, retired. As the new millennium drew near, it was a time of expectation for the church. The New Year did not begin as peacefully as hoped. Only a few weeks later, Priscilla McGruder was diagnosed with breast cancer. After a devastating diagnosis and surgery, she was miraculously healed. Along with her husband, she is a witness of God’s healing power.
In mid 2002, Pastor Eric McGruder announced that he would resign and move his ministry to East Prairie, Missouri. After a time of prayer, on October 28, 2002, Donald J. Sheerin, Jr., District Youth Secretary, was elected Pastor.
On February 25, 2006, Pastor McGruder was elevated to the position of Bishop. At this time, Pastor Sheerin was elevated to the position of Senior Pastor.
On August 1, 2006, a water pipe broke flooding the back part of the church. The entire back hall and upstairs were a total loss! However, the Lord continued to bless and in the Spring of 2009, the reconstruction was completed and the children’s and youth departments are continuing to see growth.
In February of 2007, Pastor Sheerin was appointed Director of Promotions for the General Sunday School Divison.
In the beginning of 2009, the church was informed that Sis. McGruder was again battling cancer. After a long, courageous, and faith-filled battle, she went to her reward on April 29, 2010. Her life and ministry continue to be a blessing to countless individuals.
Over one hundred years ago, some people were having services when a message of prophecy was given through Sis. Milen by tongues and interpretation. The message was, “Pentecost has come to stay.” Surely, this is true.
God has overcome all these barriers for us. We must remember that we’re here for a purpose, and that our being here was NOT ACCIDENTAL.