By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist
A little more than 125 years ago 12 people from Canoe Baptist Church, Atmore, went with their church’s blessing across the Alabama state line and planted a church in rural Florida. According to them it was just a small seed they put in the ground and watered.
But what happened as a result is that God “took a canoe and turned it into a gospel battleship,” according to Brian Nall, associational mission strategist for Pensacola Bay Baptist Association.
The church they planted about 50 miles away from their doors — Olive Baptist Church, Pensacola, Florida — is now a regional church averaging 3,500 on Sunday mornings with active local and international ministries.
“Olive really took off under Dr. Jerry Passmore in the 70s,” said Ted Traylor, an Alabama native who has served as the church’s pastor for the past 29 years.
“That turned into a regional situation with a lot of ministry to the homeless and others in our community when a hurricane hit about 15 years ago.”
The church is also actively involved in missions in Romania, Central Asia and several other countries.
“The seed of that small rural church has really grown,” he said, noting the members of Canoe Baptist were “visionaries.”
“They couldn’t see it all then but my goodness how the Lord has honored that courage,” Traylor said.
Enjoying the blessings
One of those “visionaries” was A.M. Lowery Jr., who went with the little missionary team to serve as Olive Baptist’s first pastor. Through the years, as the church plant grew its mother church — only a decade older — stayed faithful in ministry too, according to Kevin McKinley, a member of Canoe Baptist.
“It’s a vibrant church,” he said, noting that over the years Canoe Baptist built three sanctuaries. “It’s got a pretty good membership now. On Sundays the pews are often packed.”
They’re enjoying the blessings of what those first church members started 125 or more years ago at Canoe Baptist — and so are the people of Olive Baptist.
Traylor said that small missionary team who moved to Pensacola never got to sit in the shade of the tree they planted but because of them now others enjoy that blessing. That’s a driving thought Olive Baptist members want to keep as they grow in the generations to come.
“That’s what we want to do,” he said. “We want to continue to plant trees others can sit under one day.”