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This coming Sunday, Pastor Oren Alcorn and his congregants will mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of his leadership of Ava General Baptist Church, one of the oldest and largest churches in the county. It takes a special person to lead a church for that long. Someone who surrendered to The Call and has dedicated his life to his convictions. Oren Alcorn is such a man.
Oren was born on a frosty October morning fifty-nine years ago in his parents’ home just six miles south of Ava General Baptist Church where he now preaches.
According to his mother, Ruby Alcorn, he was a born preacher. “Even when he was little bitty fellow, he loved the Lord,” she said. “By the time he was three, whenever he found a dead bird, he’d preach its funeral. When he was seven, he went up and gave himself to the Lord. When he was fourteen – he’d kind of wandered away from the Lord for a while – he rededicated himself, publically announcing it. At fifteen, he was a licensed preacher. At sixteen, he was ordained.”
His commitment to serve God was met with tremendous support, most especially by (now deceased) Pastor Lawrence Applegate, his former pastor Tom Johnson, and his family. Since he began his ministry so young, he needed someone to bring him to the churches where he was to preach. His father, who had not yet found Christ, took on that duty, driving him wherever he needed to go.
Oren began his ministry as an itinerate preacher, delivering sermons on Saturday and Sunday evenings, whenever and wherever he was invited –– Mt. Lebanon, Spring Creek, Frye, Mt. Tabor. He was ordained on September 21, 1969 and pastored at Denlow, Spring Creek, Girdner, Igo, and even his family’s church, Black Oak, where he became the pastor and preached for seven years.
During that time, he started going steady with a young woman, Donna Pueppke, whom he knew through his family’s church. Oren and Donna married in 1970, when Oren was seventeen.
For the first nineteen years of his ministry, Oren was preacher “by vocation.” As such, he needed to work at secular jobs to support his wife and family. His employers included Town and Country Supermarket, Otasco (the Oklahoma Tire and Supply Company), and Rawlings Sporting Goods.
Other than two years Oren spent as the pastor of the First (now Victory) General Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Arkansas, he and Donna have lived their entire lives in the Ava area.
Oren’s ministry at Ava General Baptist Church began when he was thirty-five years old, on the last Sunday of 1986, when he delivered what was then called a “trial sermon,” or an open audition to the congregants, giving them an example of his preaching style and delivery. They loved it! They loved him! When the Pulpit Committee met the following Wednesday, they elected Oren to be their new, “fully funded” pastor.
According to Mildred Watson, who was a member of the Pulpit Committee at the time, the newly elected Pastor Alcorn preached his first sermon at the church on Sunday, February 15, 1987. The scripture he used was Matthew 11:28-31:
28. Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
29. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
30. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (KJV).
Since that first sermon, Pastor Alcorn’s life has become a mix of rest and hectic activity. “It’s like life in the Army,” he said, “There are stretches of quiet that border on boredom, then it’s madness and chaos.”
As pastor, he has delivered thousands of sermons, married many happy couples, and officiated at more than five hundred funerals. He has served as the chairman of the General Association of General Baptists, been the moderator of the denomination’s national convention, and served with the MoArk Association of General Baptists. He has acted as a confidant, counselor, psychologist, ball team supporter, and Sunday school teacher. He has visited patients in hospitals, ministered to folks in nursing homes, and driven the church bus to Fort Leonard Wood. To give back to the Ava community, he sat for ten years on the City Council and was Mayor Pro Tem. He continues to help with elections and works as an election judge.
Pastor Alcorn and his congregation have also helped other churches grow, giving encouragement and financial support to churches in Zyphyrhills, Florida, Mountain Home, Arkansas, and West Plains and Nixa, Missouri.
As a result of his dedication to the church, Pastor Alcorn has never been camping. “Camping is a weekend activity,” he said, “and I can’t be away on Sundays.” He doesn’t consider this a loss, though. “To live as a pastor, you must be sure of your calling,” he explained. “It’s hard. You have to wear many, many hats. You have to be able to change them very quickly. And you can’t gripe about it. It’s part of what you do.”
Fortunately, Pastor Alcorn’s hard work has been well rewarded. Among the most meaningful highlight for him was baptizing his father. He has also baptized four of his five grandchildren and scores of others who have accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior. In fact, the greatest joy of his ministry, Pastor Alcorn said, “are all of the people I’ve baptized. All of the people I have helped become disciples.”
Other joys he’s found during his twenty-five year tenure as Pastor of Ava General Baptist Church include watching the church grow and change. Since joining the church, his congregation has grown so large that he now offers two Sunday morning services instead of just one. The church itself is bigger than when he started and now encompasses two detached buildings and three parking areas.
Pastor Alcorn also finds great joy in watching the leadership grow and sharing in the lives of his congregation. He has seen former teachers and classmates become members of his church. He has seen Sunday school students become Sunday school teachers, youth directors, and deacons.
“I am very fortunate,” Pastor Alcorn said. “I’m surrounded by a great group of people. They are exceptionally supportive, exceptionally talented. We have a huge volunteer base. They come from all walks of life. Some have Ph.Ds, some are managers, some work in retail or own their own business. Some are retired educators. Some are farmers. They’re a very diverse, intelligent, spiritual group.”
His congregation thinks the world of him, too. Longtime church member Karen Heriford says, “From the very first time he preached here, his sermons have been an inspiration to all.”
Janice Campbell, the organist during the second Sunday service, said “He prepares every single Sunday! You have to wonder how he comes up with his sermons week after week. How does he keep them meaningful, practical, organized, and thought-out?”
Pastor Alcorn explained that when he first took the pulpit forty-two years ago, preachers were discouraged from academics and were supposed to draw their sermons solely from within the pages of the Bible. They were not supposed to bring notes to the pulpit and their sermons were expected to last one hour. Times have changed. Now, he reads extensively. While his sermons are always founded on the Bible, he peppers his sermons with information garnered from theological books, Christian magazines, life experiences and world events. Rather than notes or flashcards, Pastor Alcorn usually writes out his complete sermon and brings it with him to the pulpit. His services usually last more than an hour.
Of the pastor’s attributes most recognized by many in is congregation are his compassion, leadership, and contribution to the community. Sunday school teacher for 55 years, Daisy Shull said, “What he’s brought to our church and community is compassion! He’s been there for my family. He’s been there for everybody in the church. Everybody can have love. He shows it.”
Janice Campbell said, “Pastor Alcorn cares about people at a gut level. He feels what you’re going through. Yet, he remains a strong leader.”
His mother, Ruby, said, “Oren has always been compassionate. Even when he was little.
Mildred Watson said of Pastor Alcorn, “he “has been a blessing to the church and the community. He feeds us the Word every week and has a wonderful helpmate in Donna.”
That sentiment is echoed by longtime church member Karen Heriford. “Oren and Donna have worked tirelessly giving their time, love and support to the church and community.”
Since coming to the church twenty-five years ago, Pastor Alcorn has brought many gifts to his congregants and the community. Peggy Porter summed up Pastor Alcorn’s tremendous contribution this way: “Oren has had a great impact not only on our church, but the entire community by doing one thing very well this past 25 years — very simply pointing people to the only source of eternal salvation through the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Note: Every congregant interviewed for this article expressed gratitude to Pastor Alcorn and said that they felt truly blessed by him and his many contributions to their lives.