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John Newberry is pastor of Bethel Baptist Church, both of which are celebrating 45 years of ministry. Globe | Anne Brown

In 1969, John Newberry went door-to-door seeking members for a new church in Joplin. He found enough, and Bethel Baptist Church took root.

Fast forward 45 years: The church, at 1125 Waggoner Ave., is still going strong, and so is Newberry, the only pastor Bethel has ever known.

Newberry started in the ministry late in life, being called to preach at 37, and shows no signs of slowing down.

In fact, this delightfully cordial pastor, who is 82 but could pass for someone 20 years younger, preaches two worship services, leads a Bible study session and even teaches a Sunday school every week.

He devotes Saturdays to study and preparation for all that.

"Church work is very difficult," he said. "It is not an 8-to-5 job. It is 24-7. I visit hospitals, nursing homes and even people's homes. I do whatever I am called upon to do for the Lord."

Newberry, who said his training for the ministry came from "the good Lord above," estimated that 60 percent of that ministry is outside the church walls. Although the church attendance averages between 45 and 50 people each Sunday, Newberry said that last month, at the 45th anniversary celebration, around 130 people were jammed into the diminutive sanctuary.

He said that marked the highest ever attendance at Bethel Baptist, which he described as a big family always looking for visitors.

"If we don't get someone new, we still have a good time," he said. "We have a lot of older people in our church and are hurting for younger people, but that is the story with a lot of churches right now."

Newberry, whose son, Rick, is a manager for Goodyear Auto Service Center, added that it is difficult to get people of any age to come to church these days. People are just not church-oriented anymore, he said, adding that they are so busy that they often have to make a choice between church or relaxation in their time off, often picking the latter.

In his more than four decades as a minister, Newberry, who gives credit to his late wife, Mary, in helping start the church, said he has many memories.

"One lady came to church one Sunday morning and said, 'You know, this is the first of the year, and I am going to try and be here every Sunday this year,'" he said. "I never saw her again."

Then, there was the time he visited a nursing home, with the pastor there telling him that many of residents would likely fall asleep on him.

"That's OK," Newberry said. "I am used to that. I know most of my people by their tonsils anyway."

Newberry said many people these days are getting it wrong when it comes to their relationship with God. They seem to be running from God instead of to him, he said, adding that the latter is how problems get solved.

He pointed to Matthew 6:33 as the example: "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."

Address correspondence to Rich Brown, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802, or email richbrown@ cableone.net.


Want to go?

Services at Bethel Baptist Church, 1125 Waggoner Ave. in Joplin, are held at 11 a.m. Sundays and 7 p.m. Wednesdays. Sunday school is held at 10 a.m. on Sundays, and Bible study is held at 7 p.m. Sundays.

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