MERIDIAN — History of leaders
In its early days, the church was led by a number of outstanding and dynamic pastors, beginning with the first one, Pastor Carter, who also served as a state legislator. Elder Solomon Williams followed Clark and served as pastor from 1859 until 1967. J.B. Hamblin led the church for the next two years, followed by the short stint of J.L. Loyd and Theodore Whitfield in 1871. In fairly quick succession there were pastors Columbus Smith, J.C. Foster, W.B. Crumpton and C.M. Gordon.
The longest tenure of that time came with the leadership of Dr. J.W. Bozeman. Dr. Bozeman served as pastor from 1879 until his death in 1895. Also during that time, First Baptist Church member William Joshua David served as a missionary for the church in Africa. Upon his return, he helped start Fifteenth Avenue Baptist Church in 1891. Another local church, Calvary Baptist Church, was formed by a group of former First Baptist Church members during Pastor Gordon's brief ministry.
First Baptist Church's leadership continued to come from distinguished stock around the turn of the century. Former Mississippi College Dr. R.A. Venable followed Dr. Bozeman and served until 1907, when he was replaced by Dr. T.J. Shipman, who served until 1917. The following are other pastors and their dates of service during that time:
• Dr. R.J. Bateman, 1918-1922.
• Dr. L.R. Christie, 1922-1926
• Dr. Norman Cox, 1927-1931; 1939-1951
As Dr. Cox started his second term as pastor, member Georgia Mae Ogburn went to Chile as a missionary and served for 36 years until her retirement in 1976. Cox also saw the hiring of a music minister and a volunteer choir replaced the paid mixed-quartet that once supplied music during church services. Dr. Cox also led the construction of the current educational building and sanctuary. The education building was occupied in May 1949 and the sanctuary in 1951.
• Dr. H.C. Bass, 1931-1939
• Dr. Walter Moore, 1951-1959.
An accredited kindergarten was started in 1955 and served the community for 36 years. Two mission churches also were founded at Meehan and Lauderdale. Although the Meehan church folded after several years, First Baptist Church of Lauderdale continues to serve residents there.
• Dr. Leo Eddleman, president of New Orleans Seminary, served as interim. Due to his seminary duties, Dr. Lowry Compere, president of Clarke College, often filled in for Eddleman. P.A. Michel took over of the church's day-to-day needs until he left to become pastor of First Baptist Church of Charleston, Miss. Deacon Chairman George Ethridge assumed leadership responsibilities after that.
• Dr. Beverly Tinnin was called as pastor in May 1961. Dr. Tinnin brought Rev. John Laughlin as Minister of Music and Rev. David McCubbin, Associate Pastor and Minister of Education. Those three men served together for the next 25 years. Dr. Tinnin retired in 1987; John Laughlin resigned in 1988 for health reasons; and David McCubbin retired in 1996. During their tenure there were a number of improvements: the stained-glass windows were installed; an Educational Annex was built to provide classroom space for preschoolers, children and youth; the Educational Building was renovated and upgraded to include a choir suite, new office area and an enlarged library; an elevator was installed to access the second floor fellowship hall under the sanctuary. During this time, there were also growth in Sunday School attendance, revivals, mission trips, etc. Rev. John Armistead led in youth activities. When he left, Rev. Tommy Anthony assumed his duties in that role.
• Dr. Charles Myers, interim, 1987.
• Dr. Gary Bagley was called and assumed the pastorate in April 1988. Dr. Bagley led the hiring of Rev. Dough Haney as Minister of Music and Rev. Scott Bebout as Minister of Students. Dr. Bagley led the church to get out of the ministerial housing business. He began to plant the idea of "Restoring for Tomorrow" before he resigned in the 1990s to go into chaplaincy training in Georgia.
• Dr. Earl Kelly, interim, 1992.
• Dr. Leland Berg, 1993-1994. Dr. Berg attempted to restore the building program.