Church in Orlando a First
In almost 120 years since Orlando was founded in 1889, there has never been a Baptist church in town. Until recently, that is.
On Sept. 14, 65 worshippers gathered in the commons area of Orlando High School for the inaugural service for Orlando, First, a new church plant sponsored by Perry, First, in partnership with Central Association and the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.
“My first sermon was out of Nehemiah the first chapter, dealing with our vision as our church had drawn it up and how Nehemiah was distressed about the walls of Jerusalem and their importance and how the people there had looked at the God of Jerusalem as not being powerful because these other gods had been able to defeat them, and he was concerned for the name of God and wanted to rebuild the walls,” said pastor Kent Ritchie. “I reminded our folks that God had called us to join with the other churches in the community to fill in the gaps in the walls and to serve Him in that capacity as He gives us the opportunity.”
Those “other churches” include a Methodist church and a Christian church, two of only three churches the town had ever known. The other, a Lutheran congregation, had closed back in the 1950s, according to research done by founding member Royce Stephens.
“Being such a small town, there is not a whole lot of written history; however, I feel pretty comfortable with our results,” Stephens said. “I have spoken to the Logan County Historical Society, read first-hand written accounts from a pioneer teacher, a copy of the Who’s Who for Orlando from 1926 and talked extensively with our local historian . . . there has never been any Baptist church in the little town of Orlando.
“A quick history of the town is that it was the starting point (southern boundary) for the Land Run of 1893. It’s estimated that around the time of the run, the population of the townsite was 60,000. Of course, it dropped dramatically soon thereafter and leveled off at about 1,000 folks. The town sits right on Hwy 77 and enjoyed a thriving existence until I-35 was built and took all the traffic. The businesses left and so did the people. The population for the past 20 years has hovered around 200 inside the town limits. Back in its day, Orlando had passenger train service, grocery stores, hardware stores, barber shops, restaurants, service stations, blacksmiths, a pharmacy, a two-story hotel, furniture stores, a funeral home and a cheese factory.”
Stephens said the area now is largely agricultural and is surrounded by a mid-sized rural (county) population of around 250. The closest Baptist church is 8 miles south in Mulhall.
“I was really amazed to find that there had never been a Baptist church started,” Stephens said.
Organizers of the church, several of whom came from Perry, First, met on Wednesday nights downtown for Bible study beginning in July in preparation for starting the church. Ritchie formerly was pastor of Perry, First.
“We held a block party for the community on Saturday, Sept. 13, and then we kicked off Sunday with our first service,” said Ritchie, who leads a staff that includes worship leader Richie Alexander and youth pastor J.D. Spaulding. All three are bivocational.
“Several members of the church who live in the Orlando/Mulhall area and had been attending Perry, First had the vision to do this,” Ritchie said. “They began to pray and seek the Lord’s will about it. Five families came out of Perry, First. My family started attending the Bible study after I resigned at Perry and started teaching 5th grade at Sunnybrook Christian School in Stillwater. They asked me about my interest in serving, and, later, those who were going to be charter members of the church voted to call me as their pastor.
“The families who had the vision through this process have been a blessing, and to see what God is doing there and the opportunity for ministry there is exciting as well.”
Bo Holland, church planting specialist for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, said the only other time he could remember a group planting a First Baptist Church was back in 1983, when he helped plant Peggs, First, which is located on Hwy 82 between Tahlequah and Locust Grove.
“It’s very unusual for sure,” he commented.
Holland said Orlando, First organizers took advantage of the Church Planting Basic Training offered by the BGCO to help them get started.
“They attended our basic training in August and their pastor will attend the next one. He wasn’t called as their pastor then,” Holland said. “We helped them get their legal documents together. We also encouraged and helped with their sponsoring church to help get them ready in any way that they needed to plant the new church. We also worked with the association, which we always do.
“Basic training is about 22 hours of developing a strategy for the new church. It includes a vision, mission statement and core values. When you finish basic training, you have the skeleton of what your church will look like in two to three years, based on the vision God has given the leaders. So you develop what we call a master plan.
Then we develop what we call mileposts; we don’t work off a calendar, but what we call things that have to be done before you can go any further. We help them develop these mileposts so they can get everything done in the proper order. We’re not so much worried about timeframe, but about doing things in the proper order.”
The key, Holland said, is that God is at work in the middle of all of it.
“The Lord put this plan together, we feel like,” he stressed.
Meanwhile, Ritchie and his congregation are standing on faith.
“Satan doesn’t like what we’re doing, and he’s going to do what he can to defeat us,” he said. “We just have to remember that we stand with the Lord and with each other.”