JESUS OVERCOMING ALL BARRIERS
On that great and glorious day so many hundreds of years ago after the followers of our Lord Jesus had sought Him for that Comforter that He had so mercifully promised them, God gave His church power to overcome. Peter stood that morning and declared the greatest truth to the world that has ever been spoken:
“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.”
The words of Peter were spoken with authority and anointing of the Lord. God did not plan for the Gospel to remain in Jerusalem always but this great news should be spread to all the world. "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." (Matthew 28:19)
Paul, a great missionary, saw a need to go and tell others of God's saving grace. Men and women filled with the Holy Ghost have carried the Word over mountain barriers, deserts, and oceans. They have stood against kings, other doctrines, and anything that might hinder the progress of the Word to the extent that they laid down their lives for the Truth. Even through the ages when they could have no established church, they stood.
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. De Priest 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 person to receive the Holy Ghost in Dunklin County at Austin School.
Baptism in Jesus name came to us in 1914. Bro. Cleve Curly was the first preacher to be baptized in Jesus name.
Through the efforts of a praying people, Bible Grove Church became the first established church that taught the oneness of the Godhead.
Sometime after 1918, W. S. Fitzpatrick, a farmer, came to Kennett and began holding services in people’s homes. Bro. Fitzpatrick was a small man, rather sickly, who was very soft-spoken until he got in the pulpit. Around 1926, the men cleared out a cowshed out in the country near Ragden Levee and the saints began holding services there.
In 1930, Bro. Fitzpatrick and others pooled their resources and bought the old First Assembly of God building at 213 Randol Street (Cocklebur Hollow) for $100. They organized themselves as the “Apostolic Assembly of Jesus Christ.” The Fitzpatricks, Sanders, Holifields, Davises, Davidsons, Princes, Gurlys, Stumps, Ackers, and Wilkins were among the first families.
In 1934 Bro. Fitzpatrick stepped down due to age and ill health. (He would continue to be honored by the church until his passing in 1944.) For a few months, G. B. Johnson helped out as an interim pastor. Later that year, J. Adolph Nochta was elected Pastor. Bro. Nochta was remembered as a fiery, exciting preacher who raised honeybees.
Around 1938, Bro. Nochta married and moved to Corning, Arkansas. The church elected Euall E. Drope as Pastor. Bro. Drope was a very educated and polished man (who didn’t take his suit coat off very often when he preached). Perhaps his greatest contribution to the church was the music school he began, which led to the formation of the first choir.
In 1943, L. D. Segraves from Hornersville was elected Pastor. Bro. Segraves provided the stability and calm the congregation needed. At the age of fifty-five, he was a father figure for many in the church. To stabilize the church, Bro. Segraves would incorporate it on March 7, 1945, and affiliate it with the United Pentecostal Church on March 30, 1956.
In 1948, the church held a tent revival in the 1000 block of First Street that lasted for nine weeks. Chuck Gray and the Sunnyside Gospel Singers, Bro. Daughtery, Bro. Mansfield, and Bro. C. R. Young helped during the revival. Wonderful healings took place in answer to prayer, among them being deliverance from deafness, blindness, cancer, goiter, and others. Crowds averaged from 500 to 2,000 nightly with a highest attendance of approximately 4,000. About 223 were baptized with 150 receiving the Holy Ghost.
Following the 1948 revival, the old “Cocklebur Hollow” building became too small. The church purchased property across the street on the corner of Third and Randol streets and started a building program. In the fall of 1951, the congregation moved to the new building. Bro. Joe Cook was the first person to be baptized in the new building.
During the 1950’s, the church experienced revival and growth. Many great memories were made in the new building. Many young ministers including Chuck Gray, Mac and Norman Luna, Carl and Ola Denny, Wayne Odum, Paul Davidson, Dewalin Sanders, Meyer Sanders, Lloyd Smith, and others began their ministries and returned to hold revivals.
On the evening of May 31, 1959 while leading service, Bro. Segraves collapsed. He was rushed to County Hospital where he passed away the following morning at the age of 71.
The grief-stricken church then called upon Glen Segraves, son of Bro. Segraves who was pastoring in Rector, Arkansas, to become Pastor. Bro. Glen Segraves was a fiery preacher who often stomped his foot when he preached. (He would eventually stomp a hole in the carpet in front of the pulpit of the By-Pass building.)
In March 1962, Sis. L. A. Murphy, who had served as Secretary-Treasurer for twenty-five years retired. Bro. Hubert Shipman was elected to her position.
By the 1960’s, the Third and Randol building was becoming too small for the growing congregation. Buren Murphy, a deacon, told Bro. Segraves about a piece of property for sale at the corner of Kennett St. and the South By-Pass. The congregation bought this land and began building a new building. On August 3, 1963, the congregation (now known as the First United Pentecostal Church) moved into our current building. 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. John Hargrove was the first person to be baptized in the By-Pass church.
In 1965, Daniel L. Segraves, son of Glen Segraves, was elected Co-Pastor. While serving in this capacity, he was tasked with renovating the Sunday School department.
On March 31, 1968, Bro. Dan Segraves resigned as Co-Pastor to become the first Director of Promotions and Publications for the General Sunday School Department. On April 15, Bro. Glen Segraves announced that he was resigning to start a church in London, Ontario. After a season of prayer, J. W. Fowler from Corinth, Mississippi was elected Pastor in May 1968.
During Bro. Fowler’s tenure many attendance drives and contests with other local churches took place. One highlight was in 1974 when the church gave the highest offering to Sheaves for Christ nationwide with an offering of $37,181. In 1975, Bro. Fowler announced his resignation and returned to Mississippi.
The church then turned to J. D. Langford, General Youth Secretary, to be Pastor. Bro. Langford was noted for being a gifted teacher, and a kind and concerned pastor.
Bro. Langford oversaw the first remodeling of the By-Pass church. He enlarged the platform, adding the white brick seen today. In 1978, the second story was added to the back of the church. In 1979, Bro. Langford saw his vision and burden fulfilled when 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, Bro. Langford announced his resignation and intension of returning to California. On December 9, 1980, the church elected Carroll L. McGruder, former pastor in Twin Falls, Idaho, to become Pastor.
Bro. McGruder immediately began enlarging the sanctuary, tearing out the side classrooms, in order to accommodate the larger congregation that he foresaw. Under his leadership the church began to grow, and extended revivals with evangelists such as Lloyd Bustard and Freddy Clark took place. During this time, several ministers including,Vernon Purser, Harold Sheppard, Tom Trimble, Stan Cook, Chuck White, Derek Purser, and others began their ministries or shared their ministry with the church.
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, Bro. McGruder was diagnosed with cancer. After several rounds of treatment, God miraculously healed him. Although the McGruders had traveled before, their ministry grew tremendously, becoming national after this incident.
Since he was in school, a young man named Danny Wilkerson had felt a burden to preach the gospel to the people of the island of Haiti. With the support of the church, Danny, his wife Ginger, and their young daughter left as missionaries to Haiti in 1989.
Throughout the early 1990’s the McGruders spent many weeks traveling. By 1993, Bro. 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.
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.
In January 2000, Sis. Priscilla McGruder was diagnosed with breast cancer. After surgery and treatment, she was miraculously healed. Along with her husband, she is a witness of God’s healing power.
In mid 2002, Bro. Eric McGruder announced that he would resign as Associate Pastor and move his ministry to East Prairie, Missouri. After a time of much prayer, on October 28, 2002, the church elected Donald J. Sheerin, Jr as Lead Pastor. Bro. Sheerin was serving the Missouri District as its Youth Secretary, an office he had held for several years while also evangelizing full-time with his wife and daughter. Although the Sheerins were experiencing tremendous success on the field and with the youth of the District, they were honored to accept this new pastoral role, especially since the church voted unanimouly to make them their pastor. Upon their election, Bro. McGruder assumed the roll of Senior Pastor.
When Bro. Sheerin arrived on the scene in late 2002, it was with much energy, excitment, and expectation. The church responded to the Sheerins’ ministry approach and experienced wonderful revival. Bro. Sheerin was a fiery, passionate preacher who brought fresh vision to First UPC. His love for alliteration was wonderfully worked into the Word he shared with his saints. Sis. Chae Sheerin immediately received the mantle of Priscilla McGruder and her already amazing talent and annointing elevated to a level that blessed the congregation she now served. The Sheerins reintroduced several traditions reestablishing Kennett 1st UPC with its storied past.
In December 2004, Sis. McGruder, who had served as Secretary-Treasurer since 1981, retired as Secretary. Sis. Sandy Smith was elected, and continues to serve in this capacity.
On February 25, 2006, Senior Pastor McGruder was elevated to the position of Bishop. At this time, Pastor Sheerin assumed the role of Senior Pastor. While pastoring Pastor Sheerin was elected Missouri District Sunday School Director in 2005. Also in February of 2007, Bro. Sheerin was appointed Director of Promotions for the General Sunday School Divison. Senior Pastor Sheerin continues to serve in these roles.
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 continues to be a blessing to countless individuals.
It was during these tumultuous times the Sheerins were such a strong steady voice, steering the ship known as First UPC to the successes the Savior saw for it even in the midst of the storm. He was also asked by Section 4 to serve as its Presbyter in 2011, an office he still holds.
In January 2015, yet another storm. Bishop McGruder learned that he was once again battling cancer. On September 14, 2015, the man who had written so many songs about his Lord and Savior finally got to see from Heaven’s point of view.
As already stated, Pastor Sheerin has steered the ship through certain and severe storms and it has survived and thrived. There is a strong successful church in Kennett today. Pastor Sheerin’s leadership has witnessed great revival, with his intent focus on youth and children’s ministries, the church has grown to the powerful church it is today. Kennett 1st UPC with its strong belief in raising future leaders today has owned and operated the Kennett Christian Academy since 1979. KCA is one of, if not the, longest standing Christian schools in Missouri. Only Heaven will tell of the multiple ministries made and lives impacted by this wonderful ministry of our church.
During Pastor Sheerin’s time, he has had multiple ministries flow out from 1st UPC, names among those such as Jay Masterson (pastor in Piggott, Arkansas), and Steve Doss (pastor in Byrnes Mill, Missouri). He also cultivates current ministries like Laura Butler (1st UPC Student Pastor), Chris Johnson (1st UPC Assistant Pastor), and others.
At the time of this writing, under Pastor Sheerin’s oversight, the church is getting a much needed, major makeover. The over $1 million operation is attempting to let the community of Kennett know it is a great church, inside and out, and it is here to stay.
Over one hundred years ago some people were having services when a message of prophecy was given through Sis. Milan through 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.