Faith: Church celebrating 75th anniversary
Staff photo: Brooke Finch
Ervin Stidham, left, discusses the upcoming 75th anniversary of Prince Street Baptist Church with Pastor Tommy Hohstadt.
Ervin Stidham hasn’t attended his church in a year, but he’s still considered by its staff to be one of the congregation’s most active members.
Stidham, turning 90 years old in October, relies on a walker to get around his Portales home and weekly phone calls with his pastor to stay involved in his longtime church.
A member of Clovis’ Prince Street Baptist Church since 1971, Stidham isn’t letting his health issues keep him from attending the church’s 75th anniversary on Sunday. After all, he considers himself its longest-running member.
“It’s real special because I can’t get around,” Stidham said, “because my legs have given out, but I’m going to try to be there to celebrate because church life, to me, is good. I like to go to church, and I never missed too much until my legs gave out on me.”
First organized at East Fourth Street in 1941, the former Eastside Baptist Church was relocated to its current location, 421 N. Prince St., after a basement fire in 1947. A name change, several renovations and a new paint color led to the church standing today.
Stidham said for 45 of those years, he’s seen the church grow “drastically.”
“When I first started there,” he said, “we had quite a few members — then 54 people left in one year. It’s been uphill and downhill. We used to have some other preacher come in and preach for us, and we could hardly maintain a Sunday school because there weren’t that many people.
“We’ve been able to come back from that in the last 15 to 20 years, and we’re good. Real good.”
One constant thing for Stidham is the love of the congregation. When his daughter had a liver transplant six years ago, he found comfort in the church.
“I had to go to Oklahoma City for my daughter,” Stidham said. “The church helped me a lot with that because I knew I could come home to the church. It was my church home.”
Pastor Tommy Hohstadt said event organizers expect more than 200 people in attendance to celebrate the anniversary, although the church only averages 70 regular members.
“Considering the churches today,” Hohstadt said, “I find it amazing to get to celebrate 75 years.”
Hohstadt said various leaders of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico and city officials have been invited to the event, where several plaques will be presented in honor of the 75 years of history.
Plans for the celebration consist of Sunday school, followed by a two-hour worship service, a meal and fellowship. Books will be passed around detailing the church’s history, and Hohstadt will deliver three messages originally printed in 1951.
“I have a feeling we’ll have a big gathering for the anniversary,” Hohstadt said, “since the Lord has worked so mightily for us before.”
Hohstadt said the parking lot, for example, is the church’s own miracle.
It once contained just 42 spaces, but years of prayers to expand the lot were answered about six months ago when two properties behind the church were put for sale. What should have cost the church $60,000 for the two lots, plus the cost of labor, ended up totaling $34,000.
Within the last couple months, the church gained about 60 parking spaces, and construction companies didn’t charge for supplies or manpower.
“Why God laid it on their hearts to do that, I don’t know,” Hohstadt said. “They just came and helped us, without us being indebted at all.
“It’s been amazing to see how God works. The inadequacies are there. But the love of the church is so great, it overcomes.”