DOGWOOD CITY, Texas – Mike McClure, pastor of Lake Community Baptist Church in Dogwood City, said that legendary country singer Willie Nelson would be welcomed to come back to his church. But if he wanted to sing, he would definitely have to change his tune.
The last time Nelson performed in this small east Texas town near Lake Palestine, the building that now serves more than 100 church members was then serving up drinks under the name of “The Last Chance Club.” The bar, dance and pool hall was so named because it was the last bar on Hwy. 155 before going into Smith County, which is a dry county.
But now, instead of people drowning their sorrows and dancing the floors, people are burying their sins and walking the aisle. McClure said so far this year, the church has added 43 members, 31 by baptism.
Begun on Father’s Day, June 16, 1996, Lake Community Baptist Church is still technically a mission of First Baptist Church, Malakoff, but is soon to be self-supporting. The church was among the first to receive financial aid from the SBTC and has seen steady growth over the last few years, totaling nearly one hundred baptisms since its beginning.
Part of the original bar can still be seen in the front entryway and was used as the church’s main sanctuary and later for a fellowship hall. Now it is used for children’s church, while the rest of the congregation meets in the newly constructed, 131-seat sanctuary.
The journey from a bar to a Baptist church was nothing short of a miracle, according to Judy Murray, a charter member who was motivated to action when the “Last Chance Club” almost became a topless bar.
“I was involved in petitioning to stop it from becoming a topless bar, so when it started as a church, I decided to be a part.”
Murray said people from all over the community wanted to help the new mission church. Among those were Carolyn and Tracy Corzine and Jack McClung who recently got together with Murray and the pastor recalling the church’s start seven years earlier.
One of the first miracles in establishing the church was seeing the owner reduce the asking price from $150,000 to $80,000. The price of the building came down partly due to the financial advantages of taking a loss on the building, the intervention of future church member Jerry Everage and Glen Clifton, the church’s first pastor. The owner’s wife was also a Christian and wanted to see the bar become a church, Murray said.
The church had to not only purchase the building but also renovate it, recalled McClung who was the church’s first financial secretary.
“My hand was shaking when I signed for the loan (of $130,000),” McClung said, adding that the church soon went back and borrowed another $20,000 for the renovation of the facility. Since then, the note has been significantly reduced and the property is valued now at more than $250,000.
On two separate occasions, an anonymous giver in the community who is not a member of the church gave sizable gifts to help establish the new congregation. Volunteers came in with rolled up sleeves, gloves and dust masks to haul off trash and air out the stench of beer and alcohol. Tracy Corzine said the facility’s filth was staggering, “It was a trash heap.”
Murray said another example of the community rallying behind the cause was seen when the church’s first pianist, a member of an Assembly of God church, drove into the parking lot and volunteered her services until the church could get someone else.
“It’s rare that you find people all over the community coming together and supporting a cause like this. This church was a diamond in the rough,” McClure said. When asked what would cause church members and non-church members to work so closely together on a common cause, Tracy Corzine pointed to heaven and said, “It was God!”
According to the church’s “Historical Summary” written last September, during those early days the people earnestly prayed that the church’s seemingly insurmountable needs would be met.
“Suddenly, there would be a person or a company appear ‘out of the blue’ and ask, ‘What do you need? Is there anything I can do to help?’ The donor would ask, ‘How much do you need and when do you want it?’ A check for the full amount would immediately be forthcoming.” Members of the Smith County Baptist Church Builders also donated time in helping renovate the church. Early on, the church opened a food pantry, affiliated with the East Texas Food Bank, distributing food to needy families in the area.
McClure and his wife, Kim, and their two daughters came to the church on July 20, 2002, following the church’s first pastor and visionary, Clifton and his wife Dee, whom McClure gives a great deal of the credit to for starting the work. “Bro. Glen got it started. He