The Port Arthur News
PORT NECHES —
A century of ministry will be celebrated Sunday at Port Arthur’s Central Baptist Church when a historical marker is unveiled during a special ceremony.
The Texas Historical Commission has recognized the church as a significant part of Texas history — one that started in 1912, just 14 years after the city of Port Arthur was incorporated.
On the national stage that same year the Titanic sunk, Theodore Roosevelt was nominated as the Progressive Party’s presidential candidate, and famed illusionist Henry Houdini was performing daring fetes including the still famous Chinese Water Torture Cell escape.
A dedication ceremony to commemorate the church’s long and significant history begins at 9:30 a.m. at the church, 4545 Texas 73, Port Arthur.
Guest speaker is J.W. Storey, a church member and Lamar University history professor who has penned a historical book about the church.
“This marker is a symbol of all that has taken place in this church — a tribute to people that have been a member of this congregation and been a part of this community for the past 100 years,” Storey said.
Central Baptist was first organized in 1912, when 15 members of First Baptist Church, including the pastor, withdrew to form another church on Procter Street — just blocks down from First Baptist.
By 1915, the church moved to Sixth Street and St. Augustine Avenue, then Ninth and DeQueen Boulevard. There, the congregation worshipped 58 years before moving to the present location at Texas 73 and 46th Street in 1973.
In June 1925, Central Baptist became the first church in the Southeast Texas Baptist Association, and one of the first three statewide to have a daily Vacation Bible School — a program that continues today.
Among other notable outreach ministries, in 1977 Central Baptist organized the Child Day Care Center, and the Accelerated Christian Education School in 1980.
Today, under current pastor Phil Sigmon’s leadership, Central Baptist has joined other area churches in sponsoring an English as a Second Language program in an effort to reach out to Port Arthur’s diverse citizenry.
During Hurricanes Rita and Ike, the church opened its facilities to more than 3,000 volunteers from across the nation and from 10 foreign countries.
At its peak, the church’s membership reached between 1,800 and 1,850 from 1981 to 1985.
At 90, Mozelle Goodwin, of Port Arthur, has been attending Central Baptist nearly from the day she was born.
“My mother brought me and put me in the cradle roll (nursery,)” she said.
She was there, in the old church on Ninth and DeQueen, when the first VBS was started.
What she remembers most is memorizing Bible verses and attending the Baptist Young People’s Union.
Along the way Goodwin married and raised her family in the church, and can boast of having three generations attending at one time.
Another longtime member, Mary Thompson, the church’s cook, has spent years as a member of Central Baptist as the church’s cook. She’s prepared many a meal for the congregation, as well as the daycare, and hurricane volunteers.
“I would go to the grocery store, and people would come up to me and say ours was the best day care around,” she recalled.
Paul and Nell Tanner, of Port Arthur, are also longtime members who plan to attend Sunday’s ceremony.
Chances are they’ll reminisce about they day they were married in the old DeQueen Boulevard building. Most likely, she’ll remember something else — how the church, “a praying church,” she says, has always been there in time of need.
“I am fighting cancer now and can call on the people of Central Baptist to help. That’s what they’ve always done. If you need a ride, food, etc. That’s what a church is supposed to do, and that’s what we do here.”
Longtime member Dale Alexander, 82, and his late wife, Iris, joined Central Baptist when they were newly married.
He still remembers their plans to visit several churches before deciding on one.
“We were going to visit three to four churches to get a good idea about which one was right for us. We did not get past Central, have been here ever since,” he said. “I have never been without a church, and just don’t know what I would do without Central.”