Cleburne Times-Review, Cleburne, TX

October 8, 2013

Landmark Baptist puts new life into an old church

By John Austin/features@trcle.com

The Rev. Jerry Reed uses the King James Bible and doesn’t hold with rock music and praise bands in his Sunday morning services.

In keeping with his traditional approach, he opted for a building that’s been around for decades instead of new construction when he and his 20-member Landmark Baptist Church flock recently moved into its first permanent home.

It’s a solid-looking little brown-painted, one-story brick building at 404 S. Caddo St. in Cleburne, a stone’s throw from the Caddo Street Grill and the courthouse.

“We’re about 18 months old,” Reed said. “We’ve been over at the Holiday Inn Express. We used the swimming pool to baptize.”

There’s no swimming pool at the new home, but his congregation will step into a building with some history. 

“It was called Grace Awakening. It was built in the ’30s; bricked in the ’50s,” Reed said, “All the owners have taken impeccable care of it. It’s an amazing little building.”

“I’m guessing Church of Christ built it,” Reed said. “I know they had it for years and years.”

Wilma Reed, a lifelong Cleburne resident, knows the building and agreed with Reed, saying it was always “neat appearing.” 

Wilma Reed didn’t recall exactly which denominations have occupied the space, but said she remembered it as a church for “the people who didn’t believe in doctors.”

She’s apparently on the right track. 

Although a state-by-state Wikipedia list of buildings that formerly housed Christian Science churches does not mention it, the 1938 Cleburne phone book lists a First Church of Christ Scientist at the address, Rhonda Dempsey, an assistant at Cleburne Public Library, said. 

However, if the Christian Scientists did build it, the building has, Jerry Reed said, been used by other denominations subsequently because there’s a built-in baptismal tank under some panels down front.

Christian Scientists don’t baptize.

According to the mother church of Christian Science, “Baptism is an individual spiritual experience. It is not a religious rite or ceremony performed by an ordained minister or priest.” 

Regardless of its provenance, the old building comes with a modern sound system. 

Jerry Reed plans to exploit that when he brings in the Southern gospel group Brian Free and Assurance to the church for an Oct. 28 performance.

But the pastor likes to keep things old school, even though he said he received the call to start the church on his cellphone.

“We don’t have a choir right now,” he said. “So I tell everybody they’re in the choir.”

Like the choir, Reed is part time. He has a certificate in municipal administration from the University of Texas at Arlington, lives near Sand Flat and is the Venus city manager. But he has been a minister for decades. 

“This job pays the bills,” said Reed, 69, referring to the city manager’s job. “The other is my passion.”

He said he started Liberty Baptist Church in Wichita Falls and preached there for 24 years before health issues compelled him to move on. In the intervening years, Jerry Reed said he hasn’t been without a flock more than six months

“I don’t go into a church to be their forever pastor,” said Reed, a white-haired, bespectacled man. “I don’t know what the future holds.”

But he can’t help talking about the future of his new church when he walks out onto the front steps into the sunshine. 

For now, there’s a single service at 10:30 a.m. preceded by a little get-together in the hour before Sunday services for socializing. The old pews are gone. In their place are comfortable upholstered chairs.

The minister said he could easily do three Sunday services and accommodate 150 worshippers. 

With a little luck, Jerry Reed said the congregation will grow. He visualizes keeping the old church when they build a new sanctuary, preferably on some of the surrounding lots.  

“Eighty-four, 85 percent of people who join don’t necessarily join for doctrinal reasons,” he said. “Eighty-four join because they felt welcome. So we major on that.”