NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — After 100 years, Etowah Baptist Church is still standing with 60 active members and upcoming celebrations around the corner.

The church building was built in June 1919 and, 100 years later, Rev. Paul Bettis said it's almost unrecognizable, but he added it will always be the small church sitting on a hill looking towards heaven.

"I see the changes, I think it's fantastic," Bettis told The Norman Transcript. "The people have come together, it's about them not about me, but they have come together and built that church."

Bettis is in his second round at Etowah and has served as pastor for a total of 15 years. He served from 1993 to 2003 and was asked to come back in 2014.

The building began as one large room with an outhouse, but since then it has transformed to the air-conditioned multi-use church that houses the main church, a fellowship hall, a Sunday school, a charity pharmacy, six classrooms and six bathrooms.

In addition, the gravel parking lot is now paved and a new digitized church sign and eight handcrafted stained glass windows were added. The church holds annual events such as vacation bible school and the rural school roundup that bring the community together in fellowship once a year.

Lenora McCalip, the longest serving clergy member, first came to Etowah Baptist when she was 4 or 5 years old in a horse and buggy.

"I remember the fellowship and the closeness of the church," McCalip said. "There always has been a lot of love and a lot of caring in the people in the church, and that stuck with me all my life, and I'm 83 years old."

Debbie Doyle, clergy member since 1995, said she has most enjoyed the fellowship and clergy members who are genuine, loving and encouraging. She said Etowah Baptist provides hope and support for the Noble community.

Etowah Baptist compiled all of their history into a book, which includes information from 1919 to 2019. The book was made possible by the historical record keeping and memories of McCalip and Wyema Sharp Williams.

According to the church history book, the church is the last remaining building affiliated with a small community that existed in the early years of the 20th century. The church is still an affiliate of the Southern Baptist National Convention and a member of the Oklahoma Union Baptist Association.

"The Lord has really blessed us all through the years to be able to do the material things that we have done," McCalip said. "We have got a great pastor and he's a definite leader, and very focused on the nature of the church and the nature of the people. We have just had great leadership."

Centennial celebrations will be scheduled at Etowah Baptist Church during an 11 a.m. service on July 7.

The celebrations begin with a reading of the church history followed by a song and testimonies from speakers: McCalip, Ron and Debbie Doyle, Kay Marshall and Preston Collins. Ray's Barbecue will cater following the service.

Bettis said the service will detail and celebrate the church's history, and honor McCalip with a certificate for being the longest serving clergy member. He said the purpose of the ceremonial service is to listen, learn and celebrate.

"The church is growing," Bettis said. "The people can see that they are being blessed, and it's wonderful what is happening here."


Information from: The Norman Transcript,