Sweet Fellowship At First Baptist

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Payson's First Baptist is an independent fundamentalist church whose members believe that Jesus Christ is the way to Heaven. According to Mike Hoover, the church's pastor, the main focus for the local assembly is to instruct the saints; don't just listen, teach.

And that's why encouraging young people to do missionary work in town and around the world is especially important to the congregation.

"Just like a representative from a foreign land, we represent the Lord from Heaven. We don't use the word Baptist in a denominational sense we use it in a doctrinal sense, like the old historic Baptist churches which had many different names, we simply believe in the pure doctrine and teaching of the word of God," Hoover said.

From the sweltering heat of the African plains to the bone-chilling cold of the Arctic Circle, young parishioners have worked and paid their own way around the globe, spreading the word of God while helping people in need.

The congregation hopes to send four to six young people from the church to a missionary effort in Bolivia.

But there's plenty of missionary work that needs to be done locally, according to the minister. Once a month, the young men of the congregation go to Mill Avenue to pass out leaflets while young women visit and sing to people in nursing homes.

In addition to mentoring youth missionaries, the church includes women in their ministry.

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Music is accompanied by violins, flutes, guitars, mandolins, clarinets, trumpets, trombones, a piano and an accordion. "We have wonderful music here ... as far as style of music," said the Rev. Mike Hoover of the Payson First Baptist Church. "We just prefer the old hymns of the faith. A lot of music today, not all music, doesn't really teach a lot of bible doctrinal truths and the old hymns help teach good bible truths."

"We have a ladies' meeting once a month and we try to do things for other people like our missionaries. Other times it is just a time of fellowship and studying the Bible. When we have missionaries come in, we take advantage of that and let their wives speak to our ladies," said Cathy Hoover, the pastor's wife.

"I don't believe, even scripturally, a man can be a pastor without a wife. And if you can't be a pastor without a wife then you ought to have her involved in everything you possibly can. She's probably a better preacher than I am," Pastor Mike said with a laugh. "We've been in the ministry over 25 years."

The last 16 of those years Hoover has spent here in Payson when he became pastor the third Sunday in December 1989.

Pastor Mike said that First Baptist in Payson is possibly one of the oldest independent Baptist churches in the state.

The founding congregation started meeting in the old quonset hut around the same time as the Presbyterians, who built the first church in Payson.

The knotty pine that lines the walls of the sanctuary was donated along with the land First Baptist sits on by the old sawmill. The building has been renovated several times to extend the sanctuary, Sunday school classrooms and the fellowship hall.

Once upon a time when the fellowship hall had a higher ceiling than it presently does, folks used to roller skate in it.

The bell outside the church came from a retired railroad engine from Ashfork, Ariz. according to Ella Slaugter.

The sanctuary itself is charming and cozy. There are pads for some of the wooden benches. A number of footstools are scattered around for weary feet. There are tissues in case the sermon moves you to tears and a couple of neatly folded lap blankets for members in need of a little extra warmth across the knees or shoulders.

A Canadian man with a dying son wanted to hang scripture verses on the wall and he couldn't find any to purchase. He now makes them up as his personal ministry and gives them away.

The communion table and pulpit were built by a longtime member who has since died. On that pulpit sits a Bible.

"One thing that is different about our church, that is different I think from others in town, is that we only use we the King James version," Cathy said. The King James is the version they believe in which the Lord has preserved His word for them.

Every year in February the church hosts an emotionally moving fellowship meeting. Preachers come from all over the country to give sermons, three a day for four days.

The church also hosts a fellowship under the stars in September, which allows congregation members to enjoy a group camp-out on the Rim.

A sign outside the church reads: "Embassy of Heaven." First Baptist is in no way affiliated with a group that calls itself "The Embassy of Heaven."

"You come in the door and our folks try their best to make you feel like you've always been here."

This is the way Hoover feels it should be in all churches, no matter where in the country your travels take you.

For more information, log onto www.americanvoiceradio. com on Sunday evenings at 6 p.m. locally for the weekly question-and-answer program First Baptist hosts.

Located at 303 W. Main St., Sunday School is at 9:45 a.m. followed by worship services at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. To contact the church, call (928) 474-3530.

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