In a century of ministry, activities and memories at the First Baptist Church of Elida, one key focus has not changed.
And when the church celebrated its 100th anniversary last weekend in the small Roosevelt County town, the executive director of the New Mexico Baptist Convention praised the congregation for maintaining their priorities.
“Dr. Claude Cone brought a message on how the purpose of the church is to exalt Christ, to exalt the Savior and equip people to win others to Christ,” said the Rev. Herb Gage, who has served as pastor at the First Baptist Church of Elida for the past 6 1/2 years.
“He spoke about how we had done that in the last 100 years and encouraged us to keep doing it,” Gage said.
The centennial anniversary brought many former Elida residents back to the church, which averages about 45-50 people at its Sunday worship services, Gage said.
From as far away as California and North Carolina and as close as Albuquerque and Portales, more than 150 people came to share their memories through the years.
“Most of their memories were really about the people who had influenced them at the church,” Gage said. “What makes this church special, I think, is how much it’s about the people. I think it’s just the way they care for each other.”
The Rev. Galen Isaacs, who served as pastor at the First Baptist Church of Elida from August 1987 to December 1989, said that during the anniversary celebration, he recalled one thing that stood out for him about the people.
“On the first Sunday I was there, of course, being the first Sunday with a new pastor, everybody comes to church,” Isaacs remembered.
Among the congregants waiting to check out the newest pastor was a longtime Elida resident known for speaking her mind.
“When I introduced myself, she said, ‘Young man, I want you to know something. If you see me on the street, you’d better say ‘Hi’ to me.’ ”
When Isaacs ventured out to have coffee that first week, he encountered the woman and several of her friends. She asked the new pastor to tell her friends what she had told him the day before, and he decided to joke with her and test her sense of humor.
“I told them that she said she was the meanest old woman I ever met in my life, and for the first time, I saw her speechless. After that, she and I were best buddies,” Isaacs said.
Isaacs, who now lives in Portales and pastors the Kenna Community Church south of Elida, said the friendships such as that one formed while he lived in Elida remain his fondest memories.
“They’re wonderful people down there,” Isaacs said. “I’ve made some lasting friends and I guess they’ll be friends for the rest of my life. What stood out for me about the anniversary was all the people who came back and getting to see that the church is still alive and still going with a really good ministry.”
Last weekend’s celebration, which included a Saturday night ice cream social, a Sunday morning worship service, a catered luncheon and a Sunday afternooon service, also featured the Rev. Steven Smith (who now pastors University Baptist Church in Portales) and Ann McDonald, the wife of the late Rev. J.D. McDonald, who served previously at the church in Elida.