BONIFAY - Little Rock Assembly of God Church in Bonifay celebrated its 100th anniversary Sunday with reflections of the past and a look to the future.
The Homecoming service began with a welcome by the Rev. Joe Earnest and included musical presentations by Jeffrey Polston, Marsha Sherrouse, Larry Polston, LJ and Beverly Earnest, and the 1967 Youth Choir, which reunited to perform for the special occasion, all keeping with the celebration's theme: "Through it All ... God Has Been Faithful."
Guest speaker was former pastor and current Assemblies of God District Superintendent Rev. Tommy Moore, and the featured speaker was Rev. Thomas Trask, former Superintendent of the General Council of the Assembly of God.
The congregation and guests were treated to a "Walk Through the Decades" during the service, as well as a Memory Table featuring artifacts such as archived Sunday School records.
Centennial organizer Shirley Owens helped recall some of the church's history, recording its beginnings in a commemorative book for the occasion.
"In 1909, brush arbors were very common, and Little Rock was no different," wrote Owens. "If an arbor was not available, they went to someone's house and called it Cottage Prayer Meeting … someone suggested they have a regular meeting place, and that is how Little Rock got started."
According to records, the early congregation met at the home of John Ellis - whose wife would later be credited with naming the church. Rev. J.B. Ledbetter served as the first pastor.
"Throughout the years, many things have changed about Little Rock," said Owens. "We have been through four church buildings - the first one built in 1914, the second in 1926, the third in 1946, and the current one in 1966. The location has changed from the blueberry patch over by the airport to where it is now (on Highway 173)."
During Sunday's service, Pauline Steverson Farmer was recognized for 68 years of active membership, Catherine Owens was recognized for 61 years of active membership, and Bonnie Carnley was recognized as the oldest congregation member at 92.
RJ Carnley, who has been a member of Little Rock AOG for 70 years, was honored as the longest member still living. During his membership, Carnley has served as Sunday School Superintendent for 30 years, church treasurer for 22 years, song leader for 25 years, deacon for 21 years, Sunday School Secretary for 16 years, and worked with the Royal Ranges for six years.
Carnley reflected one some of his favorite memories and milestones, recalling three of the different buildings housing Little Rock: the small, wooden structure, the block building, which was in use about the time he joined the church but later torn down, and today’s building.
Carnley points out one distinguishing feature of the current building is that it included indoor restrooms but has since undergone numerous upgrades, such as adding a fellowship hall, a foyer and paved parking lot.
To help pay for the church building in the 1960s, the Women’s Ministries sold space on quilt squares containing names of church families and then auctioned the quilt. Carnley was the highest bidder and purchased the quilt - which has since become a cherished family heirloom - for a then-whopping $200.
Carnley's daughter, Wanda Carnley Siefke, says of all the changes, one that stays with her father most is the change in musical styles.
"Singing has always been an integral part of services, and one of his favorite positions was as song leader of the hymns, especially 'A New Name in Glory,'" Siefke stated. "The music style radically changed in the mid-2000’s from singing out of the hymnal to singing 'off the wall,' which includes slides of choruses and more contemporary music."
Carnley's wife, Mincie, has also been a faithful member of Little Rock for more than 60 years, working alongside him as a Sunday School teacher for more than 50 years, church secretary/treasurer for 22 years, and starting a Youth Group, which she led for 11 years, as well as leading both Women’s Ministries and Girls Ministries for nine years.
The church has had about 50 pastors since 1917, with current pastor, Rev. Joe Earnest stating in his commemorative letter to the church that it was an honor and privilege to be part of the Centennial celebration.
"Over one hundred years, the divine hand of God moved upon the hearts of men and women of like precious faith to being this wonderful work of God we have here today," Earnest said. "I am sure that it has faced many storms and that its sails have been battered from time to time, but through it all … God has been faithful."