Storey tells 100-year history of Central Baptist Port Arthur
John Storey, distinguished regents professor emeritus of history at Lamar University, published a new book, “Go Tell the Good News,” as part of the 2012 centennial celebration of Central Baptist Church in Port Arthur.
The Central Baptist centennial committee asked Storey to prepare the history of the church for the centennial anniversary.
Storey said Central Baptist rose in 1912 from the midst of some controversy among members of First Baptist in Port Arthur. The split was led by its pastor, J. Warren Bates.
“That is how so many churches are established,” he said. “They are the result of some sort of internal split that causes a group of members to leave the church. In October of 1912, 15 members pulled out of First Baptist Church, moved just two blocks down Procter Street and established Central Baptist.”
Bates was a New York man who was educated at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and familiar with contemporary theological ideas regarding dispensational pre-millennialism. The split from First Baptist likely had something to do with theological differences, Storey said.
“I am convinced the matter was theological because Bates was fascinated with biblical prophesies, the end of time, the second coming and other “end-time” scenarios,” he said. “The split was the result of Bates’ interest, fascination, even obsession with dispensational pre-millennialism.”
In 1923, the congregation hired Travis Edwin Cannedy, the man who truly established the church and put it on a solid base, Storey said. Cannedy was the longest-serving pastor at Central, in the position from January 1923 until September 1945.
“In so many ways, he was the one who put the church on a solid footing,” Storey said. “In terms of membership, it grew from about 90 to, by the time of his retirement, about 700 members, which is fairly substantial for a church like that. Organizationally, they started groups like the Women’s Missionary Union and the Men’s Brotherhood.”
Another important factor in the church’s development was getting involved with the state convention, the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the national Southern Baptist Convention.
“This was a mark of some pride for Cannedy,” Storey said. “Cannedy was a man who was determined to make Central Baptist Church Port Arthur a part of everything that the Southern Baptist Convention engaged in.”
Central Baptist Port Arthur led the state in the Vacation Bible School movement, which established itself in Texas in the 1920s.
“Central Baptist Church was the only church in Southeast Texas to have a Vacation Bible School in 1925,” Storey said. “There were two other churches across the state to have them that year, but Central was the only one in this area to have a Vacation Bible School. And for the next 20 years it was Central Baptist that set the pace for the state in the Vacation Bible School movement.”
Over the course of 100 years, Central Baptist has had 14 pastors – all from varied backgrounds and all of them well-educated.
“They are a rather diverse and interesting sort – all of them,” Storey said. “They, of course, were all Baptist, so they were all theologically conservative, as one might expect. But one of them had previously pastored at an all-black church in Mississippi before coming to Texas, one of them used to be a railroad engineer, one was a Louisiana Cajun – they came from varied walks of life.”