BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CHURCH OF CHRIST IN VILONIA
The church of Christ has a rich history in Vilonia and the surrounding area. Several congregations in the area began meeting in the late 19th and early 20th century. The Mars Hill congregation, east of Vilonia near the Faulkner/White County line, began meeting in 1880 and is the oldest congregation in Faulkner County to still be meeting in the same location. The Liberty congregation traces it roots to as early as 1910 when it began meeting at the present-day intersection of U.S. Highway 64 and State Highway 36. Liberty has been meeting at it's present location between Vilonia and Conway since 1940. The Woodrow congregation, south of Vilonia, has been meeting on State Highway 319 since the 1930's. While these fine congregations have provided the Vilonia area with the Gospel of Christ, there had never been a church of Christ within the city limits of Vilonia until VCC began meeting in November 2007.
A group of nine families - consisting of 25 souls - made a commitment to establish the church in September 2007 and began planning for the church plant. These nine families were all faithfully involved in the work of other congregations and did not take lightly the impact that such an action would have on the lives of their families. None of these families wanted to leave the churches that they called home at that time. However, following a great deal of prayerful consideration, the first service was held in a member family's home on the evening of November 11, 2007. Seventeen were present at this first meeting. Plans began immediately to find a more suitable meeting place. Following an extensive search the church rented and began meeting in an old rock house located at 893 Main Street on Sunday, January 4, 2008. The group's intent was to continue meeting in the house until a better location could be found. By the end of 2008 membership had grown to 15 families and attendance was averaging about 50 each Lord's day.
In the fall of 2008 the church took another big step by selecting it's first leadership team. Three men - Kenny Henderson, Marty Knight, and David Koone - were selected to serve as elders in October 2008. An additional two men - Patrick Fay and Daniel Harless - were chosen by the congregation to serve as deacons. An attendance record of 76 was established on our first anniversary: Sunday, November 9, 2008. The rafters shook and the floor creaked as all 76 souls gathered in the little house of only 1,300 square feet. That same month, the elders and deacons began a diligent search for a piece of property on which the church could build a facility that would accommodate the growing number. It soon became apparent that the location at 893 Main Street, on which the old rock house stood, was where God intended for us to be. (More about that later!) The property was purchased in March 2009 and plans began in earnest for a new building.
The fall of 2008 also saw Robert Shepherd begin his work with the congregation as our Youth and Family Minister. Robert and his wife, Carrie, were blessed with a son, Evan, in July 2010.
AN OLD-FASHIONED BARN RAISIN'
In August 2009 it became apparent that fundraising would have to continue for some time before a larger building could be erected. Plans were completed for a 4,000 square-foot building that would include an auditorium to seat 150 and six classrooms. A groundbreaking was held on Sunday, October 11, 2009.
Until funds could be raised to build the larger building a temporary solution was found - right on the property! A 36'x36' horse barn that was originally an afterthought when the land was purchased, eventually became the answer to our prayers. In late October 2009 preparations were made for a three-day, old-fashioned barn raising! While the slab was poured and some of the framing was done in advance, the vast majority of the work on the building that we currently refer to as the Ministry Center was completed within a 72-hour window on November 5-8, 2009. Over 75 volunteers from churches in Arkansas and Oklahoma gathered to assist in the construction. Some materials from the old barn were incorporated into the new building, largely the metal exterior. Workers started at sun-up on Thursday morning, worked 16-18 hour days for the next three days, and moved furniture into the building on Saturday evening.
A record group of 106 gathered in the new building on Sunday, November 8, 2009! We also celebrated our second anniversary as a congregation that day.
2010 AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE MAIN BUILDING
Construction of the main building began in February 2010. A substantial portion of the construction effort was completed with volunteer labor and our members acting as our own general contractor.
The church first met in the building on Sunday, May 30, 2010. The building was dedicated on Sunday, July 11, 2010 as the congregation began a Gospel Meeting and week-long evangelism campaign.
On Sunday, November 14, 2010 a new attendance record of 117 was established as the church celebrated our third anniversary. That same day two additional men began serving as elders, bringing the eldership total to five: Patrick Fay, Jeff Gray, Kenny Henderson, Marty Knight and David Koone. The congregation is served by three deacons: Tim Allison, David Hall, and Daniel Harless.
2011 AND BEYOND
Since the congregation was planted in 2007 the church has prayed often that God would bless us with opportunity. Little did we know that our largest opportunity to date would come in the form of an EF2 tornado that struck Vilonia on the evening of Monday, April 25, 2011. Twelve of our families were directly impacted by the storm and another six families were affected indirectly.
In His infinite wisdom, God saw fit to place our church building at the very edge of the path of the storm. Houses within a few hundred feet of our building were damaged, but not a single bit of damage occured to the church property. Churches from across the state of Arkansas provided volunteer relief and massive amounts of supplies. Financial assistance came from, literally, across the United States. Congregations from Washington state to the east coast of Florida sent over $126,000 in funds to be used to help those in our community. Over 130 families benefited from these funds. The efforts of those congregations and individuals - brethren from all over the U.S. - allowed a small church to provide assistance as if it were a large church. Great things were accomplished to the glory of God!
A new attendance record was established on Sunday, July 3, 2011 when 130 gathered to worship God.
As of our fifth anniversary - November 2012 - the congregation has grown to 42 families that include 135 souls. God has blessed us in so many ways. All that we have accomplished and all that we are is to the glory of God our Father. We pray that our Heavenly Father will continue to bless us and provide us with the means to be what He intends for His church to be in our hometown - Vilonia, Arkansas.
A FAREWELL TO THE HOUSE AND THE MEMORIAL
Upon completion of the main building in June 2010, the space where the old rock house stood was needed for parking. The house served us well as our home for over two years. The memories that we have of the "livitorium" (a joking reference to the combination "living room" and "auditorium") are precious to us. Many of our children will look back fondly on the classes that were held in the tiny bedrooms of the house.
After attempts to find another use for the structure by relocating it, the church's only option was removal. The house was demolished on June 18-19, 2010 and the stones removed to the home of a member family. The history of the house is important to the church. A Vilonia native, Alesha Hauser, referenced the house in her master's thesis, along with information provided by a member of the Jones family, Herbie Jones Krisle. It was constructed in 1930 by a group of young men from Vilonia, trained by a local stone mason named Darrell Weaver. The original owners of the home were Jesse and Effie Jones. The stones were recovered from an earlier home of the Jones family that stood on the ridge north of the Vilonia. The first home burned and the family moved to the property on Highway 64. The pecan trees that still stand on the property were planted by Mr. Jones in about 1940. The property remained in the Jones family until the mid-1980's at which time it was sold and converted to rental property.
Out of respect for the Jones family and the legacy of their family farm, a small memorial was built on the west side of the property, just a few feet from where the house once stood. The memorial includes a number of the native stone and brick from the house. An engraved stone in the center of the memorial quotes Joshua 4:6. In that verse Joshua instructed Israel to build a memorial from stones gathered during the crossing of the Jordan River. Joshua knew that future generations would ask of that altar, "What do these stones mean to you?" Their fathers would then have the opportunity to explain the meaning of the stones. It is our desire that children in the future will ask their forefathers what the stones mean in the memorial and we will have the opportunity to explain to them that a little rock house once stood in that place. A rock house that represented the beginning of a fellowship of believers.
The memorial is dedicated to the memory of Terry Gallahar. Terry was the youngest son of charter members, Doug and Sue Gallahar. Terry left this earth on August 6, 1991 at the age of 19 following a boat accident in Conway. Terry was a special young man, known to many of our members at VCC. Out of respect for his family, we pray that his memory will live on for years to come and that the memorial will play a small part in making that happen.