Gifts blessed relocation of First Baptist Church

Kathryn SwanJC Correspondent

For nearly a century, First Baptist Church South stood in an area of Pawhuska often referred to as “the Bottoms.” In 2008, it became apparent this brick church, built by children of slaves, was in need of some serious repairs, including a damaged roof.

To Pastor Travis Finley’s dismay, more than half the roof had gone bad. Repairs were estimated to be between $40,000 to $50,000. Even If fixed, the building still set eight feet below the flood plain — something that could not be fixed.

Before discovering this daunting news, the church had purchased adjacent property from the Stokes family in order to expand the church. “We felt the church had made a very bad decision,” said Finley. “However, we turned the problem over to God and He answered our prayers.

“First, the Stokes family refunded the purchase price of their property to the church. Then, I used my past surveying experience to scope out a new site for our church – one that would not be in the flood plain.

“Standing on the east side of the First National Bank Building on Main Street, I eyeballed a ‘surveyor’s laser’ and spotted a site across from Bird Creek at the foot of the Swinging Bridge that links the Bottoms to downtown Pawhuska.

“In order to elevate the site, we brought in 51 truckloads of dirt. This was way off my original calculation of a maximum of seven loads! Fortunately, the dirt was donated. The dirt was just one of a series of unexpected gifts that blessed our flock. Although we had never asked anyone for help, help came in many ways. The Immaculate Conception Catholic Church donated a much-needed organ. Others provided pews as well as monetary gifts.

“Pawhuskans saw our need and were there to help us. The construction of our current church was the result of a cross-section of Pawhuskans that included black, white, Indian and Hispanic donors. Construction was also filled with some humor, such as rebuilding a bathroom wall three or four times before getting it to ADA standards. This was before we were aware of the Americans Disabilities Act.”

Finley was especially grateful for a local contractor who wishes to remain anonymous who not only gave generously of his time but secured additional donations from outside sources. One significant donation came from Selma, Alabama, a region synonymous with the Civil Rights movement. “It means a lot to us that a person that far away cared about our project enough to send a generous donation,” said Finley.

Finley recalled one particular Pawhuska legend who happened to stop by during one of the bathroom wall’s many redo’s. That man was the late Carl Short. “The congregation had been praying for God’s intervention in erecting our new church. (Chuckling) At the rate we were going, it would take 100 years to get our church built. When Carl stopped by, he asked ‘What are you doing?’ I said, “We are trying to build a bathroom wall.” Carl replied, ‘Doesn’t look like it’s going very well. I’ll take care of that.’ I almost fainted.

“In the meantime, Pawhuska’s Hearts and Hands Program adopted our bathroom wall as a project, 20-30 guys showed up one morning by 11 a.m. AND, the wall went up ‘correctly.’ It didn’t cost our congregation one dime!

“Then, when we needed an air conditioner, Carl did just what he said he would. I thank God for him. We are not large in number but God comes to visit us every Sunday morning. We are thankful.”

Next week – Booker T. Washington, Field of Dreams