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Together they stand

Vaughn Church celebrates 125 years of community, memories by Allison Carter | September 27, 2014 at 1:30 a.m.
Courtesy Photo After many renovations, the current Vaughn Presbyterian Church building stands proudly on Arkansas 12, just north of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport. The church, which was founded in 1889 in a one-room schoolhouse, celebrates its 125th anniversary at 10 a.m. Sunday at the church.

There was something magical in the snow that night.

It fell straight down and gently. Without so much as a breeze, the white flakes flurried from the late night sky and caught in his mother's lamplight.

He sat snuggling in the night air atop his father's shoulders as they walked home across the field. It was Christmas Eve, and he had just met Santa Claus. Groggy and with a tummy full of candy, he rode on with the great anticipation only a child can feel that special holiday.

Waiting at home was a red wagon -- a gift from Santa. The 3-year-old was delighted but confused. How did Santa have time to deliver the wagon when he was so busy handing out gifts at the church?

Decades later, Lynn Brown knows the answer, but the intrigue of those early Christmases still brings warmth to his soul, he said.

"Christmas at the church was always a big deal," he said. "Christmas Eve was always busy at the church. People would come from other churches to take part in our service. And Santa would be there, passing out candy and little gifts that parents would get for their kids. It was always exciting."

Alongside member Don True, Brown joined the church in 1944 and is the oldest living member of Vaughn Presbyterian Church in Benton County. Originally named Hazel Glen Presbyterian, the church was formed in 1889 by 20 citizens of Hazel Valley in the one-room school house there. Evangelists, the Revs. J. L. D. Houston and T. B. Lunsford, led the congregation, and the church began to grow.

"From the beginning, it was a family church and a community church," said the Rev. Susan Gray, current pastor of the church. "As the families have grown and moved away, the community has changed and so has the church. It has a wonderful history and presence in the community."

As the congregation expanded, the church had to as well. Propped up on log skids, the schoolhouse was moved to Vaughn because it was a big town -- Vaughn had a post office. And, with the help of carpenter Sylvester Rife, the expanded schoolhouse was dedicated in September 1900.

The church continued to play dual roles through its early history, Gray said. "We have always supported our schools," she said. "In 1912, we actively encouraged Vaughn's first school." A permanent school building was built in 1914 on church grounds, which in 1927 became Vaughn's first accredited high school, while the church building served as a study hall and extra classrooms, she said.

"Many of our members have attended the Vaughn School and have fond memories of it," she said.

The name of the church changed from Hazel Glen to Vaughn Presbyterian Church in 1950, which many say was due to the difficulties in finding the church building. "The last straw was supposedly when a man from Fort Smith stopped at a Siloam Springs cafe and asked the waitress, 'Where is Hazel Glen?' She said 'I don't know. She don't work here now.' Everyone had a big laugh and petitioned the Presbytery to change the church's name," Gray joked.

The present church manse was built in 1956 through the efforts of the congregation. The church would sponsor an eating booth and welcome donations of pies and the proceeds went to sponsor the project, Gray said. "One man donated over six hundred hours of labor," she said. "In the past several years, improvements have been made possible by individual gifts, the women of the church and memorial gifts."

The church has continued to grow during the last decade. From 2006 to 2008, the church was renovated and equipped with new pews, a rose window and an electric piano, and improvements were made to the kitchen, bathrooms and classrooms, she said. Although plans had been discussed to move the church to a different location, the idea never stuck.

"We've decided to stay right here, renovate the building and do what we do best," Gray said. "We love and care for each other and praise God. He is the reason we are here then, now and into the future."

NAN Religion on 09/27/2014

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