Jonesboro church looks back on 160-year history

By Justin Boron

For Reid Stephens, Jonesboro First United Methodist Church has laid the bedrock of his values for almost a lifetime.

"This is the only church I've ever gone to," the 68-year old said. "Growing up in this church - it's really impossible to say what the Jonesboro church has meant to me."

Jonesboro First United Methodist on Church Street celebrated its 160th year in May, having gone through only three locations and four churches in the span.

An outline of the changes in its physical structure, which was presented at a recent banquet at the church, wafted to the surface the underlying memories and unspeakable emotions of the congregation rooted deeply in Jonesboro area.

One family encapsulated the history with relatives alive holding memories that reached back to World War II.

Martha Pittman, 93, known to younger members of the family as great-grandma, said she remembers when she joined the church in 1944 and prayed for the safety of troops oversees.

Her relatives are Barbara Pirkle, 73, Diane Allen, 49, Nancy Brown, 50, and Katie Allen, 23.

The sanctuary when Pittman joined was the third in the church's lineage, rising up over College Street much like its steeple does today.

Its first sanctuary, church members, believe was somewhere on Stockbridge Street.

But because the structure is too old for any member of the congregation to remember, it is difficult for people to track down evidence of it, said Estelle Lantzy, the church's historian.

She said no picture exists and the original deed cannot even be found.

Later, the church built a white framed columned structure used until about 1905. After being sold to Jonesboro First Baptist Church, it was torn down when no one could pay to preserve it, according to a brief history prepared by the church.

In 1966, the third sanctuary was demolished to make way for the present building.

"That was a sad day when you had to come and see that wrecking ball," Pirkle said

The church's transition to its new sanctuary also was veiled in the context of the Civil Rights Movement in Jonesboro.

"They wouldn't get up and announce it from the pulpit," Pirkle said. "But there were a lot of people in the church working for civil rights."

Allen said she would like to see the church bring in a younger crowd without giving way to gimmicks like guitars and drums used by some churches to modernize services.

She said it should stick to its core values.

"If the majority of the church is older, I don't see a future for long," Allen said.