History of Providence Baptist Church of Alto

Written by Mrs. Earline Williams Sartor, 1957. Submitted by Dianne Abraham, 2016

Photo taken by Creole Closeup

There is an old jingle that goes like this, “Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight, Make me a child again, just for tonight.” May we paraphrase this by saying, Backward, turn backward, O time, just for today, Give us a view of Providence Church along history’s highway. Of course in reviewing the history of this church, personalities must be our greatest factor; for a church is a body of baptized believers, who have been born again into newness of life through faith in Jesus, the only begotten son of God, Creator of the Universe.

So in making our research of Providence Church, how true we find the Scripture, Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will no depart from it. Because we find the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the pioneer members of Providence Church the great percentage of membership to day.

In 1881 a young man, Mr. Ashby, placed his letter in Providence Baptist Church. He became a deacon and one of the strong influences in leading this church into broad paths of usefulness. The home of this man and his wife gave to the church on of its most talented members, Viola Ashby Hale, teacher, pianist, Sunday School secretary for many years. Viola Ashley was married to Mr. J.A. Hale, who came from a strong Baptist home of Union Parish.

The present members of Providence Church who came from the Ashby and Hale home are: Mrs. Jim Sartor and her daughter, Miss Louise Sartor, Clarence Hale Henington, Ann Hale Billingsly.

This year 1881 gave another strong and devoted Baptist to Providence Church, Mrs. Eliza Ann Balfour Sartor, wife of Dr. Daniel Ryan Sartor, one of Alto’s most beloved citizens. This home gave the following members to our church: Mrs. Jim Sartor, Mrs. D. Ryan Sartor and Mrs. Frank Sartor. These came into Providence Church by marriage into the Sartor home. Frank Balfour Sartor was called into his Heavenly Home from Alto Church in November, 1934. He left this church Dr. Fred W. Sartor, Dr. Daniel W. Sartor, Dr. George M. Sartor. From the Ryan Sartor home Mr. Daniel Ryan Sartor, Jr., is an active member, and from the Jim Sartors we have Martha Louise. Several of the Dr. and Mrs. D.R. Sartor’s sons and their children are Methodist, as was our beloved Dr. D.R. Sartor.

In turning the pages of memory from 1881 we found the record of 1855. We found the prevailing influence that led Providence Church in joining the five other churches to form Bayou Macon Association was Mr. John A. Hemler. They met at old Deerfield Church near Delhi. The members of Providence Church who claim Mr. Hemler as progenitor are very numerous, including Mr. John A. Hemler, Jr., and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Will Hemler, Mrs. Mary Hemler McCoy, Dr. Larkin Hemler and his wife, Mrs. Bennie F. Hemler, Mrs. Lovie D. McCoy, one of our beloved deacons, Mr. McCoy is now church clerk. Other members of this family, also, are Mr. and Mrs. Martin Hemler, Mrs. Elizabeth Hemler Adcock, who was a faithful worker of former years. A member of the Hemler clan by marriage was a strong former deacon, Mr. Lemuel M McCoy, great grandfather of our own Lem McCoy of the Beginners Class of our Sunday School.

Into the McCoy home in December 1910 came a young business associate of Mr. McCoy’s, John A. Ball, who placed his letter in this church in 1913. Mr. Ball has been a faithful Sunday School superintendent for a period of 43 years. Mr. Ball was married in 1916 to Miss Lucille Lyles, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Will? Lyles. Mrs. Ball came from the pioneer members of the Boughtons, as Mrs. Lyles was Miss Frances Boughton. Many members of Providence Church of “ye olden day” came from this Boughton family, as well as from the Boies family.

We could not write a history of this church without mentioning the work of a former member, Emma McCoy Driskell, granddaughter of Mr. John A. Hemler.

In thinking of our theme, “Train up a child in the way he should go,” we think of the home of Mr. and Mrs. L.S. Mulhern and the many true and faithful members of that home who are now leading workers of our church, such as the deacon L.J. Mulhern and wife, Mrs. Belle Hicks and Mrs. Mary E. Spoede, the Cox family, childen of Pat Mulhern, who was called home several years ago, and our most consecrated and devoted member, Mrs. Edna Earle Thomason1, who is not discouraged about her Lord’s work, but works on and on in teaching Sunday School class and leading us into better W.M.U. work. Miss Edna is also from our pioneer members, the Earles. Miss Edna gave her heart to Jesus at an early age, having been baptized and reeived into the church in 1895.

Just here our thoughts go to the Thomason family, as Miss Edna married Mr. M.D. Thomason, a leading citizen and business man of Alto. From this Thomason family we find these members of our church, Deacon E.E. Thomason and wife, the former Vera Brown, who sings the gospel message to all; Mr. and Mrs. M.D. Thomason, Jr., A.D. Thomason and family.

Another pioneer couple of Providence Church were Randall and Sue Brown. From this home came a host of good workers to Alto Baptist Church, namely, Deacon and Mrs. Will Brown and their children, Deacon and Mrs. Douglas Brown and children, Deacon and Mrs. Claude Brown and children, Deacon and Mrs. Lonnie R. Brown and children, Deacon and Mrs. Archie Brown and son, Mr. and Mrs. Edmund Ray Brown, Miss Dorothy Brown. Then from these pioneer members came Deacon A.H. Brown and wife who was Miss Ina Jones, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. W.W. Jones. Mrs. Ina Jones Brown united with Providence Church in 1896, at the age of 17 years. From the A.H. Brown home came our faithful Mrs. Irma Brown Mulhern, our Deacon R.B. McKay came into the church membership from the Randall Brown family, as he married Miss Jennie Brown. This McKay home has meant much to Providence Church.

Another pioneer family who was present at that 1855 meeting at old Deerfield was Mr. Louis Bledsoe, grandfather of Mrs. Bennie F. Hemler, who now is one of our best teachers in all departments of Providence Church. One of the song leaders, Kay Hemler Stovall is a great-granddaughter of Mr. Bledsoe.

No family has contributed more to the church than the Varners. Mr. George Varner gave the land for the Alto Presbyterian Church, as well as the land for the Alto School. The Duff family contributed several fervent members to Providence Church in years past. Faith of Our Father, lead on.

Families who have come to us since these pioneers mentioned are: Deacon and Mrs. B.E. Roberts, children and grandchildren; Mr. and Mrs. J.M. Roberts, children and grandchildren; Deacon and Mrs. Hoben and children; the Lee family, McGehees, Terrys, Mr. Frank Foster, who contributes to the work of the church choir; Deacon C.D. Martin and wife, daughters and son, Robert, who is now choir director, and is very faithful; Deacon and Mrs. M.L. Smith and three talented sons.

Then we have thoughts of the Hixon family of early days. From this family comes to worship with us now Mr. and Mrs. Franklin Hixon. A connected family of the Hixons is that of Mr. and Mrs. John R. Holdiness, their son, Lynn; Mr. and Mrs. Harry McKay and daughter, Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Johnson and daughters. Nancy Holdiness Johnson is the church organist while Bennie Holdiness McKay, Sallie Lyles Brown and Peggie Sue Brown are pianists. Hazel Edna Hoben is B.T.U. pianist. The Providence Church indeed has musical talent.

In years gone by no members have done more for Providence Church than Bro. J.A. Mhoon as teacher and leader, and Mrs. Minnie Sutton Washington, whose husband, Dr. W.P. Washington, was a direct descendant of the Father of our Country, George Washington. Mrs. Minnie Washington worked in every department of our church, but her greatest work was with the Women’s Missionary Union. Here she left to the Baptists of Louisiana a complete copy of herself in the person of her daughter, Mrs. Minnie Washington Hartman, of Farmerville, LA.

Providence Baptist Church has at this time a fine group of teachers for 1957. Mr. L.J. Mulhern, Men’s Bible Class; Mrs. Edna Thomason, Ladies’ Bible Class Number 1; Mrs. Earl Thomason, Ladies’ Bible Class Number 2; Mrs. L.R. Hemler, Young Married Class; Mr. Jimmy Hoben, Senior Class; Mrs. Earline Sartor, Intermediate Class; Deacons C.D. Martin and Claud Brown, Junior Class; Mrs. B.E. Roberts, Primary Class; Mrs. J.L. Strittman, Beginner Class; Mrs. John Holdiness, Cradle Roll; Mrs. Annie Brown, Mrs. John McCoy, Jr., Mrs. Edgar Roberts, are also workers in this department. Mrs. L.J. Mulhern, pianist, and Mrs. Earl Thomason song leader, Mrs. M.L. Smith, Home Extension Department.

Providence Baptist Church has had, through the years, consecrated pastors. We did not find the name of the first pastor, or the date of the organization of the church. We can only date from 1855 and Providence must have been several years old at this time.

Some of the former pastors were Rev. W.W. Nash, so record goes, “Entered on the pastoral duties of the church on Sunday before the second Saturday in February, 1868.” We also found that a Dr. William Bulger recorded in an old Bible of Providence Church that “Rev. Joel Heath, pastor of our church, passed over as quietly as the ebb of the tide, calm, gentle and serene. He died as he lived.” Then we found the date 1865. Rev. J.A. Rhymes and Rev. Miller, also Rev. Hughes were three of our early pastors. Rev. J.W. Tinnin came about 1915 or 1916. C.M. Corley in 1918 was the first full time pastor, but the church went back to half time. Rev. A.C. Hold was found pastor in 1927. In 1919 we had no pastor. Rev. L.T. Grantham was pastor in 1922; Rev. J.B. Polk about 1924; Rev. E.M. Daffin in 1932 or ’33. In 1934 Rev. C.W. Williams was pastor. Total membership was then 133 or 134; church property was valued at $2000, and the church budget was $1106.25. Gift to missions, Children’s Home, etc., was $189.24.

This church has given to the harvest one minister, Rev. J.C. Clement. Bro. Clement came from the home of Deacon Clement and his wife, the former Lucy Landers. Their children have meant so much to our church. Mrs. Mittie Lindow Clement came to us by letter as Miss Mittie Young, her sisters also placed their membership with our church. Mrs. Mittie Clement is the widow of the late J.A. Clement, and is one of our most worthy members.

In 1938 Rev. H.G. Hammons came. His salary was $787.50. Our later pastors were Rev. Hall Peyton, Rev. John Green, Rev. Wallace, Rev. Allen Buckley, Rev. W.L. Blackwell, Rec. J.L. Strittman.

Providence Church has, through the years, more than 102, been as a lighthouse set on a hill, whose rays of light have flashed the Gospel to all the world, both home and foreign fields, even to the isles of the sea. All because these pastors noble led a strong membership into paths of right living. Research further states that Rev. O.P. Miles was pastor in 1887. Like pastor, like people, as an old adage which proved true in the leadership of these pastors. Each one made a definite contribution to the church, but all had a deep desire to give Jesus to a lost world. God bless all churches and their pastors.

In thinking of our present pastor, Rev. Strittman and his wife, we are reminded of the words dedication and humility, love and understanding of childhood and youth, and wonderful courage against adversity.

One of the greatest improvements has been along the line of stewardship of time and possessions. Whereas we had a half time church in 1938 with a yearly salary of $787.50, we have in 1957 full time with a salary of $4,200, with an expense account for the pastor of $600. Improvement has come in Bible study as well as in other study courses. The church has established a good library with books available for all reading levels.

On Sunday, May 26, in the year of our Lord 1957, we find Providence Baptist Church pressing onward. She is not the struggling church of 1855. Yet, what she is today stands as a memorial to the living faith of those fathers from 1855 even to 1957.

We leave her, Providence Baptist Church, in a “House by the side of the road,” where many lost people go by; Some who are good, some who are bad, even as you and I.

She would not sit in the scorner’s seat, or hail a cynic’s band.
Let Providence Church dwell in a house by the side of the road,

And be a friend to man.

By Mrs. Earline W. Sartor

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