BROOKSVILLE — St. James Missionary Baptist Church will celebrate its 140th anniversary Sunday, and everyone is invited.
"We'll have good old-fashioned praise and worship at church, and we'll just be thanking the Lord for keeping us and keeping the church still going at 140 years," said Lois Hudson, who is organizing the event.
There will also be dinner on the grounds after the service, which is expected to run about an hour and a half.
Tracing the history of the church is difficult because the records held by the pastor, the Rev. David Stewart Jr., only go back to 1950. But a few of the 30 members who are now in their 90s remember that the church has had several pastors and two different sanctuaries built on the current site. One elderly member told Stewart that the church was once located at Wiscon Road and California Street, but he has no record of it.
Stewart won't talk about the church's history at the service, he said.
"We only know what we know," he said. "I don't like to get up and say anything with no background."
Margaree Hart, a widow who will be 93 in June, remembers being in the building at the current site, before it was rebuilt in 1964.
"I don't know exactly how old I was, but I was very young," Mrs. Hart said. "My mother died when I was 10, so I was 3 or 4 years old, because I was going a long time before she passed."
Mrs. Hart said she remembers going to Sunday school classes.
"I went as long as I can remember," she said. "I like all of it. The pastor preaches the Gospel, and the one before him and the one before him and on down. I can remember quite a few. I've been there a long, long time."
Mrs. Hart and Rosa Brown, who at 94 is the oldest member, are two of several elderly women, endearingly called "Mother" by the congregation, who will be recognized at the service Sunday.
"We treat them like they are our mothers," said Hudson, 59. "We give them respect. It means a lot that they are trying to come to church at 90-some years of age. We give them honor every Sunday."
Hudson, who is the sister of the present pastor, has memories of the church going back to 1960, when her father, the Rev. David Stewart Sr., became the pastor and the church had only six active members.
"I was 10," Hudson said. "I remember seeing my father at the pulpit. I was old enough to remember when he started preaching and when he got his first calling to a church."
Her father also pastored two other churches: First Baptist Church of Shady Rest and Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church of Twin Lakes.
"He stayed at First Baptist for 22 years and then at Mount Pleasant for 14 years. But he never left St. James. Once he got there, that was the main one," Hudson said.
When the elder Stewart died in 1999, the younger Stewart became the pastor.
A year younger than his sister, Stewart also recalled being at the church when he was small. Asked if he remembers running around and playing at the church, he said that was not done.
"Back then they were strict," he recalled. "We couldn't breathe hard. You couldn't act up like kids do in a church sometimes. We were there for church. You didn't go outside and talk with boyfriends and girlfriends. You didn't have time because you were doing too much learning."
Hudson recalled some of the rules children had.
"You didn't run around in church," she said. "You went to church and sat in church. We were all-day church people. That's what we did."
Another rule involved dating.
"If you wanted a boyfriend, the boyfriend had to come to the house and have permission to come," she said. "Back then they called that keeping company."
Hudson "kept company" when she was 16 with Johnnie Lee Hudson, later her husband for 43 years.
"My husband's father was also a preacher," she said. "So we knew the ins and outs and rights and wrongs."
Both Hudson and Stewart remember special services for children.
"We had different functions like the Baptist Training Union that we do now for youth ministry," Stewart said. "We had our own church in the evening time back then."
"For holidays, instead of trick-or-treating, we had a time at church with apple bobbing," Hudson said. "They always had something for the children."
Stewart said he expects about 60 to 70 people will come to the anniversary celebration. Most of them will be relatives of members.
"We hope a lot of people will come to it," he said, noting that they have a traditional church service. "Most of the time, it turns out real good."
Hudson has high hopes as well.
"We are very spiritual minded, and we love people," she said. "We love God's people. We don't care who you are. My daddy told us we all are God's children. I hope a lot of people will come and join with us."