One of the best-kept, historical secrets in Lake Charles has got to be Friendship Baptist Church. This month the church is honoring its history and celebrating its 100-year anniversary. (Kara Carrier / American Press)
Last Modified: Friday, September 20, 2013 9:06 PM
One of the best-kept, historical secrets in Lake Charles has got to be Friendship Baptist Church. This month the church is honoring its history and celebrating its 100th anniversary.
The small, quaint church, off Gulf Highway across from the airport, even has its foyer in the sanctuary decorated with old photos of the church and its members dating all the way back to 1913.
“A lot of the history of the church comes by way of hearsay, because there are not a lot of real records,” said Dale Nazworth, who has pastored the church since 1978. “The history is told by some of the older families, family names that are prevalent in Lake Charles who were a part of the church down through the years.”
According to Nazworth, the church’s story began between 1910 and 1913 when an influx of people from the north came to the Lake Area to buy cheap farmland. These people worshipped together, he said, and they started what was called at the time the Community Chapel.
“It was a church edifice for the community, and a lot of different denominations in the early days would come worship and hold services here,” Nazworth said. “They said down through the years that even Mennonites had some services here.”
Nazworth said that around 1917, the old Community Chapel building was erected, but in 1918, it was destroyed by a storm. In 1919, they re-erected the same walls and put the building back together.
The church wasn’t officially recognized by the state of Louisiana until 1961 when it chartered itself and became Community Chapel Inc. “So there is no record of it in the state prior to 1961 other than the old records that we have. But it was there,” Nazworth said.
In 1982, Community Chapel changed its name to Friendship Baptist Church because a lot of people did not understand what Community Chapel meant. “We had people from different denominations that would come in and were confused by the name,” Nazworth said. “Our doctrine from the 1960s to the present has been Baptist in theology. And when people would come in, they would wonder if we were a Pentecostal church, Full Gospel or part of the charismatic movement.”
Termites eventually destroyed the old Community Chapel building, and it was taken down in 1989. Services were held in adjacent buildings that had been constructed over the years until 2001 when the current sanctuary was built.
Nazworth has a lot of personal history with Friendship Baptist Church as well. Not only has he been the pastor for almost 36 years, but also his father pastored the church from 1970 to 1975. He met his wife, Gloria, there during that time. She has been a member of the church since she was born, and her parents are even buried in the church cemetery.
Nazworth said the church has always been small and never had more than 50 or 60 members through the years. “We are doing as well as we ever did these days,” he said. “We now have between 130 and 150 people a week. It’s a small church, but the Lord has really blessed us. It’s never been a job; it’s always been a calling. I’ve been retired since the day I started.”
According to Nazworth, when people come to the church they say they feel the old-time atmosphere. The church members still sing hymns that were sung years ago. “Everything is old school and old fashioned. We are the biggest secret of a wonderful church in Southwest Louisiana,” he said.
To celebrate its 100th anniversary, Friendship Baptist Church has declared September “old-fashioned brush arbor” month, with each Sunday having a special theme. The theme this Sunday, Sept. 22, is “old-fashioned, hand-clapping, knee-slapping, gospel music” day. A local gospel music group, The Arenos, will perform.
Sunday, Sept. 29, will be homecoming day for Friendship Baptist Church, and 250-300 people from all over are expected to attend.
Nazworth said the most unique thing about Friendship Baptist Church is it is aptly named. “Most people come in and say they have never been in a more friendly church,” he said. “We are not a haven for saints; we are a hospital for sinners. That’s our mission.”