Bernice Historical Society
People and Places
First Baptist Church of Bernice
In 1909 J.M. Melton wrote a history of the First Baptist Church of Bernice for the history of the Concord Association. In the 1970’s Inez Colvin wrote an extensive history of the First Baptist Church of Bernice. Numerous accounts from the early Bernice newspapers and other notes from individuals therefore give us a very accurate view of the beginning of this church.
In 1899 Rev. W.M. Cooksey, then pastor at Shiloh Baptist Church came to Bernice to deliver a few sermons. Inspired by these sermons a group of Bernice citizens met on December 20, 1899 in a small frame building on east Main Street and led by Rev. Cooksey formed a Baptist church in Bernice with Rev. Cooksey serving as moderator and E.C. Colvin as church clerk. Seven people brought their church letters with them that day and agreed to form a house of God in town. Keep in mind that many of those in Bernice at this time came from Shiloh and Pisgah and were deacons and faithful members of both churches.
The church convened again on Saturday, January 20, 1900 to complete the organization of the church. Brother L.N. Holmes preached the sermon that day and 11 people came forward for membership. The church adopted the Articles of Faith and Church Covenant of Shiloh Baptist Church and christened the church the Bernice Missionary Baptist Church.
The next day the church reassembled and called Rev. Cooksey as pastor for one Sunday a month. A committee was appointed to finalize the use of the school building for the church and to arrange for seating appropriate for church services.
The first members of the church came from the rolls of area churches. J.T. Crews and R.T. Moore were already Deacons when they joined and the last names of the other 18 members reflect at least ten area families: Moore, Mabry, Crews, Colvin, Cook, Covington, Copeland, Everett and Dendy.
Rev. Cooksey tried in the first two years of the church to have a building constructed just for church use. He was unable to get the support to do this and Melton in his 1909 history felt this was due to the expenses of the members in building homes and places of business. In 1901 Cooksey resigned his work at Shiloh and Bernice and began his work in what would later become the Louisiana Baptist Children’s Home.
Cooksey was replaced by B.F. Milam who took up where Cooksey had left off and pushed for a building to be used strictly as a church. He was successful and the first church building was constructed in 1902. In April the Bernice Journal reported that “material is being put on the ground for the erection of a new Baptist Church which will be located on Louisiana Avenue.” By July the paper reported the church was “a real pretty and spacious church”.
The building was ready for occupation before the fall of 1902 and was built for a cost of $2,700. The church was a frame building which would later be remodeled and in 1939 was reported to have 20 rooms, a kitchen and dining room and an auditorium.
The church was not dedicated until 1905 when on the second Sunday in June pastor J.H. Hughes preached the dedication sermon. There had been proposed to follow the sermon with dinner on the ground but members had voted the proposal down. This was due mainly to the fear that many of the laborers who just passed through town on the railroad would come and consume all the food.
The first full time pastor was J.H. Hughes who in September agreed to take the church full time for $800 a year. In 1907 the church purchased a home in town for the pastor and J.T. King from Winnfield who had been the pastor for about a year moved into the first parsonage.
A short history of the church written for publication on the 100th Anniversary of the founding of Union Parish stated that in 1936 the church adopted the name First Baptist Church of Bernice and that by 1939 the membership was over 400 members.
It was in June of 1939 that the church ordained their first Minister of the Gospel. Allen O. Buckley, a native of Shiloh. Buckley at the time was a student at the Baptist Bible Institute in New Orleans. Rev. A.T. Mitchell pastor of the church preached the ordination sermon and Rev. M.V. Burns presented Buckley with a Bible from the ministers attending the charge.
Ten years later the church broke ground for the construction of a new church building located at their present site on Hwy 167. At the time of the groundbreaking R. B. Middleton was pastor. It was noted at the time that
Ten years later the church broke ground for the construction of a new church building located at their present site on Hwy. 167. At the time of the groundbreaking R. B. Middleton was pastor. It was noted at the time that the
Ten years later the church broke ground for the construction of a new church building located at their present site on Hwy. 167. At the time of he groundbreaking R.B. Middleton was pastor. It was noted at the time that the chandeliers were hand cut and polished crystal from Yugoslavia. The pews were solid red oak with a natural finish purchased from Tyler, Texas. It was also noted that the church was paid for by the time the last equipment was installed in 1951.
Cathy Buckley is a native of Union Parish and lifelong citizen of Shiloh. She served as Principal of Spearsville High School for many years until her retirement. Cathy is now the director of the Bernice Depot Museum and a active member of the Bernice Historical Society.