A crowd of about 425 members and guests gathered at Berean Baptist Church Sunday to celebrate the church’s 43rd anniversary and dedicate a new fellowship hall named in honor of long time pastor Leon Gray.
The 5,900-square-foot ground entry level building behind the present church at 507 East Norton Road is the first step in Phase I of the church’s master plan. It has a large kitchen, restrooms, storage, coat closet, covered porch and seats about 300.
Gray’s health forced him to resign in June of 2000 after serving as pastor for 33 years. He was a mentor to many preachers who still serve at home and abroad.
“We wanted to dedicate this building to Bro. Gray because we have so many children that are growing up in our church who do not know who he is,” said Pastor Jeffrey Ables during the dedication. “I do not want any member of this church – past, present or future – to not know the contribution that he made to this body of believers.”
Ables unveiled a large plaque that will hang prominently near the hall’s entrance “so everybody who comes into the building can read the dedication,” he said as he presented a smaller version of the plaque to Gray’s widow Ruby.
“This is a wonderful memorial to him and I really appreciate it very much,” she said. “We all loved him very much. He was a faithful pastor and husband to me through all those years.”
Evangelist David Hardy of Stillwater Okla., spoke during the special Friend Day morning service as well as in an afternoon service held in conjunction with the dedication of the new building.
“It’s one of the most beautiful fellowship halls I’ve ever seen… very attractive aesthetically,” said Hardy. “A lot of them are kind of a combination with a gymnasium and this one’s not. It’s made just for a fellowship hall.”
Tamara Williams – who along with her husband Russ coordinates many church activities – said, “We’re all looking forward to having church fellowships and activities there and it’s special to have it named for Bro. Gray.”
Former members Chris and Kira(cq) Peterson came in from Overland Park, Kans. “We found out through some friends they were doing the fellowship dedication today and also that it was Friend Day so we absolutely didn’t want to miss it,” said Chris Peterson.
Members expressed many fond memories of their former pastor. “I really hated to see him resign,” said Dan Fortner. “He was my kind of guy.” Mary and Virginia Lemon said Gray often visited their sick parents. “He was just special… We loved him,” said Virginia Lemon.
Design work on the building was done by architect and former member Jonathan Tasset(cq) of Cassville.
“The preacher had a good vision for what it was going to be so I just tried to make the building reflect that vision and it turned out real well,” said Tasset. “It’s fantastic… all that wood work inside… made the space really stand out.”
Member James Epps summed it up.
“The Lord’s been good to us.”
- Berean Baptist first met March 10,1966, in the downtown YMCA and organized two months later. Gray assumed leadership the next year.
- The church’s first building at 1700 North Benton was later used by the Stained Glass Theater.
- They purchased the present location, had the first service in the auditorium in December 1972.
- Subsequent additions include an annex, nursery, office, Golden Ager (50+) room, outdoor restrooms, park pavilion, bus barn, senior apartments and duplex. Church property consists of 20 acres.
- Ables became pastor in October of 2000.
Article and Photos By Donna Baxter
May 23, 2009