The new church has a rich heritage and is indebted to those who labored in the former congregations. Sardis Congregational Church was founded October 4, 1888. The first Lighthouse Baptist Church was started by Harris in Gregory Town, Eleuthera, Bahamas. He and a small group formed the Lighthouse Baptist Church in Social Circle in 2008.
In 2004, artist Gloria Malcom painted a mural of a lighthouse and a church for the baptistery at Sardis. During that same time, the Harris family was serving in the Abaco's and often visited the island of Elbow Cay where they admired a red and white lighthouse overlooking the Caribbean. When they first walked into Sardis and saw the lighthouse mural, they knew it was a confirmation to begin the Lighthouse Baptist ministry.
"Lighthouse Baptist Church in Oxford doesn't overlook an ocean, but it does overlook a sea of people who need Christ," said the pastor's wife Gale. "Our prayer is that it will become a lighthouse pointing people to Christ."
Harris and his wife grew up in Glen Haven Baptist Church where they accepted Christ and were baptized at the age of nine. Harris was called into the ministry at age 18 and was ordained in 1971. In preparation for the mission field, they attended Tennessee Temple Bible School.
The couple married in 1966 and have three children, Dwayne, Jim and Ginger. The entire family has served as missionaries under Baptist International Missions, Inc. They were stationed in Freeport, Grand Bahama, and on the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas from 1971 until 1983. Harris was the pastor of New Life Bible Church on Man-O-Way Cay, Abaco, Bahamas.
For the past 43 years, Gale has partnered in her husband's ministry by wearing many hats. She has served as pianist, Sunday school teacher, VBS director, WMU director and Bible Club leader.
"In 1966 when God first spoke to Tom about going to the mission field, he spoke to my heart at the same time," said Gale. "Because the Lord knew that if he didn't call me also, I would never have survived all the ups and downs of the ministry. When one of us gets discouraged, we pick each other up."
Deacon Homer Milam, longtime friend of Harris, teaches the adult Sunday school class. His passion is ministering to the congregation and witnessing to the people in need of a savior.
"We are presently trying to reach the past members to come and see the merger," said Milam. "Even though the name has changed, the message is still the same - the only way to Heaven is through Jesus. Brother Tom and I have a saying about Lighthouse Baptist Church, ‘A Place Where Everybody Is Somebody' and we welcome one and all to come see what we are all about. If anyone likes the old fashioned way of preaching, teaching and southern gospel singing, come pay us a visit."
Harris pointed to the entrance and exit signs that read, "Enter to Worship" and "Leave to Serve." Last Sunday he asked the congregation to make a commitment to pray and invite their neighbors, friends and relatives. The majority stood to their feet in agreement. In September, they are planning a western theme round up as they canvas the community.
To the people who formerly attended Sardis, Harris gives this invitation, "A lot of water has gone under the bridge and a lot of things may have happened to hurt your feelings or cause discouragement, but we have a new start, a new name and a new goal to serve God, to worship God and do what he wants us to do. We ask you to prayerfully consider coming and being a part of Lighthouse Baptist Church."
Sunday School is offered at 10 a.m., followed by worship at 11 a.m. Lighthouse Baptist Church is located at 3813 Ga. Highway 81 in Oxford. For more information, call (678) 300-6515.