GILMAN CITY – There’s life in the Cat Creek community.
The church by the creek has been meeting since 1845, which makes it the oldest in Harrison County. The legend lives on about the panthers in the trees by Cat Creek who would drop down on unsuspecting deer. That is the identity of Cat Creek Church, which is formally known as Mt. Pleasant No. 1 Baptist Church.
Like many churches in rural Missouri, Cat Creek has seen better days. The young people have left for the city to find work, so the members often find themselves scarce. One Sunday in December they were down to five, plus the guest preacher that morning from Daviess County, Jesse Cass, and his wife, Carol.
The beauty of the Cat Creek story is evident when the church meets. Through its pride in identity and strength in faith, she has managed to keep the doors open. And God has been faithful to meet the church’s needs by sending a pastor.
Cass, a former member of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) Executive Board who retired after 19 years as pastor of Jamesport Baptist Church, felt a love for the people and accepted the call to be their full-time pastor. Since then the church has more than doubled in size.
“God is at work at Cat Creek,” Cass said.
The pastor figures he has a good group of 15-18 people who will come to Sunday worship. May 5 attendance was down a bit to 12, but that did not discourage him. He said his overall number of potential attendees right now is 22.
His two big plans for outreach are a “Singspiration” June 8 at 6 p.m. and an effort to help Coffey Baptist Church with their summer Vacation Bible School. Cass lives on a farm just outside Coffey and drives 22 miles to church.
“The Singspiration is a big deal because we’ve never had that type of thing before,” said Brenda Vasquez, who serves as Cat Creek’s secretary/clerk.
Church Treasurer Phil Helton said that Cass is making a difference right now simply by loving people. That outpouring of sincere love, Helton said, is giving people a renewed desire to do things that God will use to grow the church.
“I think he loves people unconditionally, and he does it in a funny way,” Helton said. “I heard him say one time, if he kidded you, he loved you, and I believe that.”
His love for the flock led him on May 5 to teach on the fundamentals of church life. His sermon was packed with nuggets of wisdom on how this can be accomplished, including sayings like:
“Having church is a way that we can humble ourselves before God.”
“Show up and be pleasant.”
“If we’re going to have church, we need to be a body of keepers.”
“What do we gather for? For a time of cleansing.”
“Forgiveness needs to be priority one.”
Cass said that while the population around the church is sparse, the key to growing the flock will be hard work.
“Our followup will be what we will have to really be prepared to do and geared to do, to understand what that means,” he said.
In many ways, though, the victory has already been won in terms of Cat Creek being determined to not close its doors. It looked bad for a while with the pews all but empty, but the battle was won through the prayers of the saints.
“I opened the Bible,” Vasquez said. “It was open all the time because I was just sitting here trying to find answers.
“It was really discouraging, but if you lose it, you’re going to lose everything.”
But Cat Creek was not lost, and the lesson for other churches in rural Missouri who may be thinking about giving up the fight is simple.
“Don’t let the enemy win,” said Sunday School Teacher Sally Davidson.