(Editor’s note: This is another in an occasional series about the churches of Iola.)
“We’re just a country church in town,” the Rev. Marion Sponseller says of Community Baptist Church, 124 N. Fourth St. “You might say we’re a little old-fashioned, but the people who come here care, enjoy fellowship and like to worship.
“The old devil hasn’t passed away, he’s still working,” Sponseller allowed, and that his goal is to evangelize and edify through sermons each week to encourage salvation for the lost and “a closer walk with the Lord for those who are saved.”
The church also is a “hospital for the hurting,” be it physical or spiritual.
“We stick to the Bible” — the King James Version, initials on a signboard in front the church declares — “and our interest is in saving people … so they can grow in their walk with the Lord and he can use them,” he added.
HOLDING FORTH from a pulpit for years wasn’t in Sponseller’s plans, although the eternal destination for his soul always has been on his mind.
For 36 years he cut dress parts at the Miller & Son factory, rising to head of the department. It was there he and Ron Murrow began a friendship based on their interest in what the Bible has to say. Murrow eventually spent 16 years preaching at Mt. Oren, a little country church near Redfield.
“Ron and I got to talking about the Bible,” which led to questions about their faiths, Sponseller said. “We got to the point we’d have Bible study during our breaks.
“It was kind of like iron sharpening iron,” Sponseller said.
At the time he was attending a church where his study of the Bible led him to develop some conflicts with its beliefs, including that he could lose his salvation. The Baptist belief is that once the gift of God’s grace is accepted, salvation is eternal.
He sought counsel from the Rev. Robert Means, pastor then of Iola’s First Baptist Church. Later Means moved to a Baptist Church in Moran.
“One night Means talked with us (he and Murrow) and such a calming spirit came over me,” Sponseller said.
He had been attending a Baptist church in Iola, but then he and his family moved their attendance to Moran, where he was a faithful congregant for the next 15 years.
“Rev. Means put me to work,” Sponseller said, which included teaching an adult Sunday school class and occasionally behind the pulpit for Sunday services, a trying task at first.
“I took speech in juco and didn’t like getting up and talking in front of people,” he allowed. “The first time I preached, I said to myself, ‘I’ll never do that again.’”
But, with Means as mentor, along with Finley Compton, another strong fundamentalist, Sponseller reached the point where he was comfortable in the pulpit.
“Then, I felt a call” to the ministry, he said.
In 1998, Sponseller became Community Baptist Church’s pastor. Today, at age 72 and with no inclination to step away, he is in his 13th year at the church.
His approach is simple.
Anytime there is a question about anything, “I go back to the Bible and that settles it,” Sponseller said.