Longevity Lauded in Louisiana as Congregation Celebrates 125 Years
By Kevin Spear
You know a church has a rich history when a state historical marker is posted in front of the building.* The marker sits along Highway 8 in Vernon Parish, west of Simpson, Louisiana. It begins by stating, “Second oldest continuously active Church of God in Louisiana. Began by Robert H. Owens, 1897. First named Welcome Church of God. First convert was James Harville.”
The marker goes on to commemorate this historic church’s milestones. Last October, Simpson Church of God celebrated that history when the church turned 125 years old. While she isn’t the oldest Louisiana Church of God congregation, she comes in a close second with Sharp Church of God. Both were founded in 1897 and are only twenty miles apart.
Steve Nelson, state pastor for the Church of God in Louisiana, was the guest speaker at the October 16 homecoming. He says both congregations owe their beginning to R. H. Owens, otherwise known as “Fighting Bob.”
Pastor Nelson said, “Fighting Bob received the message about the Church of God reformation movement and began planting churches across Louisiana and Texas. In forty-two years, he planted forty-two churches. Sharp Church of God and Simpson Church of God were his first churches. He would plant a church, find a pastor, and move on to the next community.”
The Simpson congregation was originally called the Welcome Church of God. We can only speculate that there was a “Welcome—Church of God” sign, and the greeting became the name. Pastor Nelson says, “There is still a Welcome Cemetery next to the original church site, about three to four miles from the current church. It’s one of the oldest active cemeteries in Louisiana.”
When asked what the secret was to the church’s longevity, Pastor Simpson attributed it to the community ties. “Simpson is a very small rural town. But many from the church were involved in the local school. In fact, some of the church’s leading families retired from the school and are still active in the church.”
Because of the strong community ties, the local churches support each other. “Only three churches are in the area, including Simpson Church of God. They support each other as brothers and sisters in Christ,” said Pastor Nelson.
The current pastor is Bob Schlemmer. He retired from the military and followed the call to ministry. In 2009, he became the pastor of Simpson Church of God. He attributes the church’s longevity to the previous pastors.
He says, “I am thankful for every pastor who served and put down stepping stones over the years for me to be the pastor here at this amazing time in the life of the Simpson Church of God as we celebrate 125 years. May God continue to bless his house of worship as we bring honor and glory to his wonderful name, Father God and his Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.”
Kevin Spear worked for Warner Christian Resources (formerly Warner Press) and has regularly contributed time and talent to the work of Church of God Ministries. He is a ministry partner with his wife Paula, a kid’s director for the Christ Fellowship Church—Westlake, Florida, campus.
Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.
Feature (top) collage: Pastor Bob Schlemmer (left) receives an award for ten years as senior pastor of Simpson Church of God in 2019; church historical marker (right).