God’s Providence at Bridgetown Baptist Church
Larry Dean is pastor of Bridgetown Baptist Church in Nesbit, MS
In 1979, Rolla Utley was pastoring a small Southern Baptist Church in Northwest Mississippi, just south of Olive Branch, near Memphis, TN. Rolla had come to understand what is commonly called The Doctrines of Grace and had begun to teach them, which was causing problems within the church. Rather than divide the church, he resigned, intending to move on and find another pastorate. But a number of the people in the church did not want him to go, so they withdrew and began plans to form a new church, which was to be named Bridgetown Bible Baptist Church.
They met officially for the first time on Sept 24, 1979, to begin work on the new church. At first, they met in the local volunteer Fire Department building, but after one week, the fire station burned down. They then met at a nearby Seventh Day Adventist Church.
In 1980, property was acquired at the current location of the building, a portable building was purchased and plans were made for a permanent building. Their first Sunday in the portable building was on June 7, 1980. In March 1984, a contractor was hired and work began on the current building with much of the labor being supplied by the men of the church. They worked on it every Saturday until it was finished in 1987. Work continued until the Sunday School addition was finished in December of 1990. Very little debt was accumulated in the process and was soon paid off completely.
In June 1994, Rolla announced his intentions to retire, and a pulpit committee was formed to interview potential pastors. A young man, Chris Kiepe, who had served as associate pastor in the church had moved on and was pastoring two small churches in east Texas. He and a number of other men were contacted for leads and prospects of possible candidates. There was a man who was attending one of the churches Chris was pastoring and with whom he had formed a friendship. Chris told him of the church’s need, asking if he knew anyone who might be interested. His name was Tony Dean and he suggested that his brother, Larry, might consider the possibility.
Larry Dean had been pastoring in Shreveport, LA, since 1980 and had served in three churches there as pastor/elder. He was a 1972 graduate of Baptist Christian College of Shreveport and had served in two churches in the area as associate pastor during his years at college.
The pulpit committee contacted him, asked for some recordings of his messages and began a conversation that led to Larry accepting the call to the pastorate at Bridgetown on Aug 31, 1994. He drove back and forth weekly between Shreveport and Nesbit from September to December, when he brought Greta, his wife, and Emily, their daughter, to the area. Larry has served as pastor from that time until the present.
Bridgetown Bible Baptist Church now goes simply by the name Bridgetown Baptist Church and was founded with the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith as the statement of their core theology. Rolla and Larry became friends and maintained that friendship until Rolla’s death in 2020. Larry and Greta still maintain a friendship with his widow Polly.
The church is in a rural area but the cities around it are moving their boundaries ever closer to the church building. In the beginning, there was only the subdivision of Bridgetown near the church but a number of new subdivisions have been created over the last few years. The church has reached out with door-to-door visitations, carried on a Sunday School bus ministry for several years and now mails invitations to new move-ins.
A web site is maintained, as well as a Facebook page. In 2019, Covid restrictions and anxieties brought the need for streaming the church services to the internet, and so a YouTube page was created to host the live services so that those who are sick or are nervous about the current stage of infections can have the privilege of at least partial involvement in the services.
Funny story: there is a Bridgetown Baptist Church in Nova Scotia, Canada which also has a web site and a YouTube channel. Our church is sometimes confused with theirs, and we recently received a call from a woman who was planning to move to the area of the church in Canada, simply saying that she would soon be “moving to the area.” We watched for her for several weeks, until she discovered her mistake.
The structure and government of the church is very simple, guided by the pastor and the two deacons. The church has the reputation of never having had a business meeting. Consensus for important decisions is achieved by group discussions and explanations, and so far (42 years), it has worked. Some of the original members had been badly hurt by business meetings in the former church and determined not to repeat those scenarios.
J.C, McKnatt and Stanley McKnatt, brothers, have been deacons almost from the beginning of the church. Others have come and gone, but they have remained steadfast and are a great blessing to the pastor.
Larry was invited to participate in the formative committee for the Sovereign Grace Baptist Fellowship and Bridgetown Baptist has been a member from the beginning of that organization. The pastor has served as Vice Chairman, Chairman and now Secretary for the Fellowship. He also participates in the Sovereign Grace Messenger as Missions Editor and oversees the Missions Reports at the Annual Meeting.
Bridgetown Baptist Church is involved in Missions through the support of Trevor Johnson, Paul Snider, the family of Joel Tiegreen and Barry Carpenter, as well as the literature work of the Evangelical Press Missionary Trust in French-speaking West Africa and Haiti. Additionally, the church is helping a young man in El Salvador acquire biblical training over the internet with the hope of becoming a pastor there one day. Sovereign Grace work in that country is almost completely non-existent.
One work which the pastor believes is of imminent importance is the hosting of the Convocation of Prayer for Awakening and Revival, which was begun in 2010. It is an annual meeting for three days of prayer in the hopes that God might send a spiritual awakening to our nation. A number of the SGBF pastors and laymen have taken part over the years.
For many years, the meeting was held the third week of February, but recently, several meetings have been greatly hindered by winter weather, so a decision has been made to move the meeting to the third week of June. In 2022, Lord willing, it will be held June 21-23.
The pastor and membership of the church consider themselves blessed to have been able to be a part of the Sovereign Grace Baptist Fellowship. The interaction between the congregation and the pastors who have come to our meetings has been blessed in many ways. Our people have been greatly benefitted by the Fellowship.