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Celebrating 127 years of worship
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Early Hope Ministries is looking to change lives and teach the message of Christ to everyone in the community and has done so for more than 100 years with its five generations of members.
The church, which began in 1886 as Early Hope Baptist Church with a location on Parr Farm Road, saw its vision come to life as the congregation moved into its new church home at 1129 Rocky Plains Road in September 2012 and has brought in the new year celebrating its 127th year of being a place of worship in Newton County.
Pastor Kenneth Williams, who has pastored the church for the last 14 years, said the church now sits on a little over 25 acres of land, which was the old Harvey's Place and is said to have possibly been agricultural and cotton-picking land.
"We had some old pictures of them standing on this land; I don't know if they were slaves or if they were help, but it's kind of ironic that it was cotton-picking land at one time, but now it's a worship place," Williams said.
The property was purchased from William and Kenneth Harvey, whose family owned it for more than 100 years.
Williams said the church's new facility is Phase 1 of the ministries' vision and will serve as the youth church in the future after the new sanctuary is built. However, Williams said he and the church are not focused on any fanfare and that it just wants to continue teaching about Christ.
"We've been doing it one step at a time and if the growth is there, then we will move on to the second phase of the vision. A lot of people think it's crazy to build like this because they kind of think it's rural, but it's a lot of people out here," Williams said.
There are a number of ministries at Early Hope for its 500 active members to get involved in. Some of those ministries include the dance ministry, men's and women's ministry, a jail ministry, several recreational teams, and the Angel Network, which Williams said is a really successful ministry.
"People give us donations and we help families. It's one of the most important ministries that we have in this church," he said.
Being a church that's been in place for decades, Williams said the congregation now consists of five generations and has become a five-fold ministry.

He said a large number of young adults between the ages of 18 to 29 attend the church, and over the years, the church has had to balance tradition with the new generations.

"We still have the traditional values, but it still has a little pep to it. When dealing with five generations in one church, you have one generation who wants to hear the hymns, another generation who wants praise and worship, they don't want the devotion," Williams said. "We have a great dance ministry at this church. When I first took over this church, it was unheard of to dance in the church.

"It's really a non-denomination. We originally, by our history, are a Baptist church, but we believe in a five-fold ministry," he said. "The more and more you read your Bible, you find out that Jesus is not concerned by Baptist."

"Most of the people here have been here all their lives. We've got a new level of people who have come in because the western side of Newton County is expanding. I think that's the reason why we've got this flux of people," he said. "The Bible says that Christ adds to the church as he sees fit. So if we make ourselves accessible to whatever generation that comes to the door, we will reach them through people."

When it comes to the growth of Newton County, Williams said churches in the community need unity and stronger churches as the county prepares to go to the next level with Baxter International coming to the community and other expansions.

"We've got this Baxter thing coming in and everyone is racing to position themselves. It's a lot of money that will be involved in that and it will enhance our community, but it won't take care of our community in a spiritual sense. You can get a Baxter, and then crime can still go up. So we need strong churches, strong leaders, especially in the government part," Williams said.

As far as Early Hope goes, Williams said he hopes it can be a church which reaches the community spiritually to make the citizens of Newton County stronger.

"Our goal is to introduce Christ to people. If you introduce Christ to people, their lives will change," Williams said. "We don't do a lot of fanfare stuff to promote the name Early Hope; Early Hope is just the identity of a worship place.

"Exclude the new building, that's nothing. But if I get to introduce Christ to people, their lives will change. I believe that with my whole heart, because he has done that for me."

Pastor Williams and his wife Marilyn have been married for 26 years and have two adult children, Kereshia, 30, and Kendrick, 26, daughter-in-law Reshonica, and twin grandchildren.

Early Hope Ministries has worship service on Sundays at 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. Bible study at the church is held on Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m.