Fort Smith, Sebastian County, Arkansas
Survey of Church History
Dr. Paul Haynie
SEARCY, AR 72149-0001
In Sebastian County at 900 North Waldron Road in Fort Smith, Arkansas, stands the West-Ark Church of Christ building. This congregation, located one mile west off of I-540 on Grand Avenue, has had a unique history, from its humble beginnings to its present recognition in the community of Fort Smith, as well as in the brotherhood. It has gone through many changes in its history; it has gone through times of trouble and times of joy; but it has always remained firm in the Word and in service to its fellow man.
In 1937, the Park Hill congregation on the south side of Fort Smith was attempting to expand their efforts to reach the north side of town. In July of that year, Park Hill hosted a tent meeting at the corner of Midland Boulevard and North 28th Street with Judson Woodbridge as the speaker. A small group of people continued to meet in a house located on that same corner for the following months, and the Midland Boulevard congregation was born. Some of the charter members included: Cecil and Robbie Knight, Irene Garrett, James and Rosemary Gibson, Thomas and Lorena Prock, Pearl Moore, Fanny Leemaster, Elizabeth Nicodemus, and several other couples. The first elders were Claude Robertson, Ernest Polk, and R. C. Miller. Johnny Stover was the first minister, serving from 1937 to 1941. A building was erected in 1939, but the little house was still used for classes. Because he was in poor health, Brother Stover was succeeded by Frank England in 1941 as Midland Boulevard's first full time minister. The Midland Boulevard congregation continued to support the Park Hill congregation, including supporting a four-night debate between Ward Hogan, the Park Hill minister, and W. W. Kessner, a Baptist minister. Relations between the two churches slacked off when Park Hill became an "anti" congregation in the 1950's. Herbert Frazier became the minister in 1946 and served until 1949; an addition was made to the building in 1948 to allow for classroom space. Ernest Highers became the minister in 1949 and served until 1954. The congregation continued to grow, effecting the need for the enlargement of the building to its present size in 1953. George Jones served as minister for a year, starting in 1954.
In the summer of 1955, Gordon Clement became the minister for the Midland Boulevard church. At the time the attendance was such that two Sunday school classes and two worship services were being conducted each Sunday, and it was continuing to grow. That fall, the elders began making plans to build a new building in another part of Fort Smith. Eventually, a lot was chosen and purchased on the corner of Grand Avenue and Waldron Road, and construction on the College Terrace church building began. On October 5, 1958, the members of the Midland Boulevard congregation were asked to choose which congregation they would rather attend. That Sunday morning, 210 people attended College Terrace, and 211 attended Midland Boulevard. Brother Clement went with the College Terrace congregation, and the two churches continued to work together and grow in numbers and service.
Bill Sherrill, a former Harding graduate, became minister at Midland Boulevard and served until 1967; he was known for his short sermons, for he thought that if one could not get his point across in less than fifteen minutes, it was not worth saying. Brother Sherrill also represented the Midland Boulevard church at a booth in the New York World's Fair. Johnny Mahan was the education minister at that time, and the church continued to grow substantially in the Word and in attendance. W. W. Heflin succeeded Brother Sherrill in 1967 and served until 1978. In 1968, the elders felt that the Midland Boulevard location was not sufficient for the growing needs of the congregation, and they began looking for a new location. They decided on a lot on Windsor Drive and began construction on a large, two-story building with a 780 capacity auditorium. On September 20, 1970, the Midland Boulevard congregation became the Windsor Drive Church of Christ. An annex was added to the building in 1977 that included a gymnasium, a kitchen, and extra classrooms.
In 1978, Eddie Lewis, also a Harding graduate, became minister and served until 1980. Throughout the 1970's the Windsor Drive congregation continued to grow and to serve the community in various ways. It had a very effective Joy Bus ministry, as well as a successful widows program. It supported the Amazing Grace Bible Class, Southern Christian Home in Morrilton, and the children's home in Paragould. It supported a campaign held at the Fort Smith civic center with Jimmy Allen as the speaker. It also allowed a newly started, small private school, Metro Christian School, to use the building during the week. In 1978, Steve Elkins was hired as the church's first youth minister. Although one family was disfellowshipped for teaching false doctrine, the church continued to grow stronger in the Word, as well as in numbers. In 1980, Eddie Lewis left the congregation, took several families with him, and started another congregation across town. (Editor's note: In 1984 that congregation disbanded and members disbursed to various congregations. Eddie Lewis then met with the West-Ark elders, confessed his sin, and asked forgiveness for being a part of the division.) Several men filled the pulpit at first, but Dale Brown became the minister of the Windsor Drive congregation until 1981.
Over the years the College Terrace and Windsor Drive congregations had ceased from working together as they had in years past. The elders of the two congregations decided it would be much more profitable to merge the two congregations, rather than continue to work separately. Though some were opposed, West-Ark Church of Christ was formed on February 1, 1981, with 1,079 Christians meeting together in the Windsor Drive building, including many of the families that had left with Eddie Lewis. Jack Harriman, who was the minister at the College Terrace congregation at the time, became the minister for the West-Ark congregation. It was tough at first, for both congregations were used to doing things their own way. But through the love shared by all Christians and a little cooperation, the two bodies began working together as one.
The elders soon realized that the Windsor Drive building would not be able to accommodate such a large attendance that might continue to grow. Therefore, plans were made to tear down the existing College Terrace building and build a new one. The West-Ark building was completed in 1984. It is of modern, stucco design with twenty-five classrooms and a 2000-capacity auditorium. The West-Ark congregation first met there on October 13, 1984. The first elders of the congregation were Norman Cole, Jim Hall, Clint Hooper, Jess Huff, Robert Loudermilk, Leon Medlock, Don Neal, Clarence Son, and Lester Walker. At the time, the church had a well-organized widows program, many youth activities with Ken Jones as youth minister, a Joy Bus ministry, a Daily News hotline, a young-marrieds program, family activities, and continued support of the Amazing Grace Bible Class and two children's homes. Though the Joy Bus ministry and the widows program were eventually dropped, the West-Ark congregation still implements many of these programs into its present ministry.
Brother Harriman continued to serve as minister until 1987. Jack Alexander, Earl Flood, Mat Griffin, Oscar Hamlett, Elvis Thurman, and Bill Walker were made elders, and Stan Dauck was hired as youth minister in 1986. Also in 1986, West-Ark put on a campaign to have 2,000+ in attendance; on June 1, a little over 2,000 attended Sunday morning services. In 1987, A. W. Chism became the minister of the West-Ark church and served until 1992. Gary Brown was hired as youth minister in 1989, and Doug Allison was made youth minister in 1990. Attendance in the 1980's averaged in the upper 900's, and West-Ark had 100+ baptisms each year.
In 1991, Bob Null and Paul Shirley were made elders. In 1992, Jimmy Edwards became the pulpit minister, and Brad Pistole became the youth minister; both are presently [in 1993] serving in these roles. Also, Bob Fisher, Jack Lowry, Jim Pratt, and Sam Roberts were made elders. Roy Dunavin has served as evangelism minister since the merger; Debbie Belote and Myra Flippo, who keeps the church records, serve as secretaries. Attendance has dropped to around 800 in 1993, the average weekly contribution is $12,000-$13,000, and there were 82 baptisms in 1992. West-Ark supports several missionaries including: Tom Black in Sophia, Bulgaria; Randy English in Pago Pago, American Samoa; and Vince Payne, who is presently  studying at International Bible College. West-Ark also fully supports a Laotian ministry in Fort Smith headed by Thomas Kweekul and helps support mission work in Ghana, Thailand, Nigeria, and African Christian Hospitals.
The West-Ark congregation has travelled a long road to arrive where it is now. Through times of happiness and pain, this congregation has continued to spread the gospel to Fort Smith and the surrounding communities, as well as to other parts of the world. Presently West-Ark is looking to the future to find new ways to grow and spread the gospel. But it must not forget to look to the past and see what worked and did not work then, and how that may be used today and in the future. With the Lord's guidance West-Ark Church of Christ will continue to grow in strength and love and will continue to be a shining light to all the world.
Sources of Information
Richard and Mary Broyles
Midland Boulevard Congregation
1963-E.J. "Cotton" Embry
1970-E.J. "Cotton" Embry
Link to West-Ark's 25th Anniversary and Homecoming on 12 October 2008
Link to West-Ark's Online Library