Copyright 2000, The
Used with permission
Her life has passed
through two world wars, the Great Depression and 19 different
U.S. presidents. Her walls have hosted thousands of humble
worshipers, pristine weddings and tear-filled funerals.
enters through her windows as the day begins. Scarlet cushions
cover her hardwood pews, constructed in a Gothic style.
Her chimes ring
proudly just before 11 a.m. each Sunday. Donned in bright
crimson robes, choir members sit in the choir loft, backdropped
by a powerful pipe organ and colorful stained glass depicting
the open-armed Jesus Christ.
She has seen her
share of joy and sadness. She has lived past raging fires and
financial troubles while celebrating special events like the
baptizing of babies.
Located in the heart
of Russellville, Central Presbyterian Church provides a
religious presence along the city's Main Street. A church
applicable in today's society, a glance at the church also
causes a throwback to the early 20th century when churches were
even more of an essential, central part of each community.
Last week, the
church received a plaque recognizing it on the National Register
of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of Interior. Its
history and presence will now be preserved forever, along with
60 other historic buildings in the city.
recall others before them who helped shape the church. Like the
older members, newer members appreciate the church's appearance
and understand the church's place in the community. All agree
the role of a church in a community is ever-changing, and a
church to survive should serve the needs of its family and its
"A church is
like a piece of canvas," said Julia Henry Granger, a member
of the church for 48 years. "Something beautiful is always
being added to it."
And when it's all
finished, it becomes a holy canvas.
has their place in the church," she continued. "Their
gifts are given back to their community and to better the church
as a whole. This church has a wonderful tradition for serving
the community. I think it's very important we carry on the same
traditions that have been carried on in this church for years."
Invitation. Unity. Friendship. A church is more than walls and
decorations. Like a family, church members work through
difficult and challenging times, along with the prosperous ones,
and Central has not been immune to several generations of
growth. Through challenges, triumphs and failures, the church
has continued to survive and succeed.
Perhaps one of the
most challenging times came when the church began a 5-year
effort in the 1980s to purchase a $175,000 pipe organ, now a
prominent fixture in the church. It was a time when opinions
differed and challenges were made.
A story is told of a
tense committee meeting at the church concerning the purchase of
the new pipe organ. At that time, church members were struggling
to find the funds needed to replace their old worn-out organ.
Other various expensive repairs, including the replacement of a
leaky roof, were also facing the church.
The late C.R.
Turner, a former insurance agent, citizen of the year in
Russellville and long time member of the church, asked to speak,
drawing the attention and respect of other committee members.
His message was simple - "The Lord will provide."
The organ was
completely financed when it was installed.
Turner was able to
hear the organ's beautiful sounds from the time it was installed
in 1988 until he died in 1991. But his legacy and the legacy of
other church members like him continue at the church, where its
central themes are service and education while professing belief
in Jesus Christ.
"I think C.R.
Turner was the most respected member Central Presbyterian Church
has ever had," said Jeanice Falls, a member of the church
for more than 50 years who served on the organ committee with
Turner. "He was very spiritual, and he was very practical.
He would always say, 'If there is a need, our congregation will
respond.' He always had a calming effect, and he was a very,
very generous man."
The late Dr. Arnold
Henry, a 72-year member of the church, used to begin his Sunday
mornings listening to Tennessee Ernie Ford hymns on a record
player before going to church. Co-founder of Millard Henry
Clinic in Russellville, Henry had a uniquely friendly attitude
accompanying his peaceful nature, his wife said.
Like Turner, Henry
often provided personal donations and community service, along
with his giving to the church. He served on the Russellville
School Board during a critical transition in administrative
leadership and population growth, and was always available for
medical advice or even friendship.
Known for his
exceptional memory and his keen interest in heritage, Henry was
always the historian available when information was needed. He
would have been a key resource for a historical story about his
church if he were still alive.
Henry died in 1995
at age 82.
"The church is
where we would come for fun," said his wife, Julia, who is
now married to Ed Granger, a retired Presbyterian minister. "Of
course, we came to worship the Lord, but the fellowship is an
important part of any church. It was important to us."
Others have created
tools to remember historical aspects of the church. Former
pastors of the church are pictured in the church's fellowship
hall, along with photos documenting changes in the church since
1871. Jim Bell, a retired teacher and longtime church member,
thoroughly researched the history of the church, creating a
3-page document describing important historical changes in the
church. Although retired, Bell continues to anchor the bass
section of the church's choir.
was organized Jan. 29, 1871, as a Cumberland Presbyterian Church
with 13 charter members. It is now affiliated with the
Presbyterian Church U.S.A. and has 480 members.
The original church
was built on what is now the 600 block of West Main Street and
pastored by the Rev. Collins J. Bradley Sr. Minutes of a Dec.
30, 1872, meeting of church elders indicated the church
was attempting to "raise funds and superintend the
construction of a house of worship."
In 1899 Central's
present site, encompassing most of the block at Main Street,
North El Paso Avenue, Denver Avenue and B Street, was acquired
and a brick building was erected there. The first services were
in late July of 1900, and church membership was 114.
On Jan. 1, 1908, a
fire that was believed to have started in the adjacent Central
or Buck Hotel spread to Central Presbyterian, which had been
erected during the pastorate of the Rev. J.H. Curry at the cost
of about $10,000. The church building was destroyed but was
covered by a $4,000 insurance policy, according to historical
The elders of the
church met immediately and appointed a building committee and a
soliciting committee to rebuild on the same site with virtually
the same building plan. The Washburn Memorial Presbyterian
Church was without a minister at the time and invited Central
members to use their facility. Central members accepted the
invitation and used the facility apparently until Central was
The sanctuary of the
church was completed in 1925 and stands today much like it was
constructed then. Only minor enlargements and alterations have
changed in the sanctuary, where services continue to take place
at the church.
Another fire on
March 22, 1952, during the pastorate of David P.
Thompson, caused extensive water and smoke damage to the
church school section. The elders met that night and began plans
for repairing the damage, which required significant repair to
the classroom area.
In early December of
1962 elders purchased the building north of the church and used
it for high school and junior high school classes.
The Rev. James E.
Westbrook was the longest-serving pastor in the church's
history, beginning in 1962 and retiring in 1981. He oversaw many
important transitions in the church's history, and his wife,
Madie, was active in many aspects of the community, beginning
one of the first kindergartens in Russellville.
Both have remained a
part of Central Presbyterian since Rev. Westbrook's retirement.
In the centennial
year of the church in 1971, Westbrook presided over a special
vesper service, a hymn service and a potluck dinner on
Wednesday, June 9. A special service also took place on Sunday,
June 13, 1971.
In the recent
history the church has received a new roof, a new heating and
air conditioning unit and the organ. Church members are
discussing possible plans for expansion.
On a recent Sunday
evening Falls smiled proudly as three children baked communion
bread following her instruction. Falls, who volunteers at a
local hospital and is an avid Arkansas Tech University sports
fan, enjoys spending time with the children and young adults of
the church, annually having the church's two youth groups to her
house for her special flaming peach dessert.
communion bread - bread to be used for a monthly holy sacrament
at the church in tradition with the Last Supper - would not have
been allowed for much of the church's history as it is today.
Always a supporter
of youth programs and activities, Falls has special memories of
her more than 50 years at the church.
"The youth has
always been and continues to be a major part of this church,"
she said. "It's just so wonderful to see.
"I have seen
this church grow in fellowship, and the spiritual life of the
church continues to grow," she added. "I don't think
our church is a stagnant church."
Kenyon Kalvesmaki understood the history of the church when he
became pastor in August. But the present and future remains the
most important focuses for the church, he said.
"I would hope
that a church would not live on the past but plan on the
future," said the man known as Pastor Ken. "We want to
make sure the purpose is to always proclaim Jesus Christ. That
purpose never changes, although the vision of a church can
change. We want to make sure Christ is always our purpose."
"I see us
building with the times but holding with tradition," Mrs.
Granger added. "Times change, and if you don't change with
them, they will pass you by. We have a great future ahead of us,
and we've had a great past."