It’s “the little church with a big heart” and this month, the Elm Creek Baptist Church near La Vernia will celebrate 140 years of sharing God’s Word.
Nestled on a little rise on Sandy Elm Road off F.M. 539 about 6 miles east/northeast of La Vernia, the little white wood-frame church offers an image of times past. But don’t let its old-fashioned appearance fool you; Elm Creek Baptist Church continues to be a vibrant center of worship for the devoted faithful, and “the church doors have not closed since it opened in 1883,” said Terrie Leonard of La Vernia, who serves as church clerk and worship leader.
The little German church
The little church was first organized Jan. 21, 1883, by the Vorpahl, Fechner, and Achterberg families, who met in their homes initially. In 1885, the church purchased an acre of land from the Vorpahls for $10.
The church was first known as the Elm Creek German Baptist Church; all services were conducted in German, according to the church’s history at elmcreekbc.org, and the early church records also were kept in German. The name was changed in 1942, omitting “German.” Services continued to be the language of worship until 1948, when a new member — a non-German speaker — joined.
A storm in 1950 severely damaged the original building. In August that year, the original church was torn down and a new one erected by the members, using the original materials. Through the years, electricity, gas, and restrooms were added, along with a kitchen and nursery space. An expansion and renovation in 2003 added 1,200 square feet to the church’s footprint, expanding the nursery and adding more classrooms and a fellowship hall. In March 2004, Otto Vorpahl, a descendant of one of the founding families, donated another acre of land; the family still owns the land surrounding the church. A baptistry was added that year, allowing the first baptism inside the church since its founding.
Michael D. Insley has been serving as the pastor since last May. Prior to coming to Elm Creek Baptist Church, he was pastor of Sweet Spirit Baptist Church in St. Hedwig for eight years.
Terrie and her husband, former La Vernia city Councilman Randy Leonard, joined Elm Creek Baptist Church in 2018. After worshipping at a large La Vernia church for more than 20 years, the couple began looking for a new church home; they’d visited the little Elm Creek church a time or two.
“One day in early 2018 … we were driving to Seguin and saw it anew,” Terrie recalled. They visited the following Sunday and “felt at home and fell in love” with then-Pastor Don Howard and his family.
Soon after joining, the Leonards began serving the Lord alongside the pastor. Terrie and Randy became good friends with the Howards.
“I began teaching children’s Sunday School the moment a child walked in our doors,” Terrie explained.
Randy began taking care of much of the aging building’s maintenance; Pastor Howard invited him to become a deacon, and he still serves as such.
“What drew us in was the Holy Spirit, of course,” Terrie shared. “And what we loved about it was the way they still sang hymns out of the hymnal.”
She was approached by Veronica, the pastor’s wife, about singing a special, which Terrie did. That led to her helping lead worship in song with Pastor Howard. When he resigned in 2021, she took over leading worship, and continues to this day.
“And yes, we still use the hymnals!” Terrie exclaimed.
The church has had its ups and downs through the years.
“We struggled through COVID like many other churches, but we kept the doors open through that and a declining attendance,” the church clerk observed.
Currently, Elm Creek Baptist Church has 41 members, “with about half that amount on the active list,” Terrie shared. Average Sunday attendance is around 12.
Among the worshippers is Ted Hollister, who’s attended since 1998, after he bought a small ranch on the same road as the church.
He, too, found the little white church in the country felt like home. One of his favorite events at his new faith home was a Christmas Eve service sometime before 2000.
“I grew up in a small Baptist church in Berlin, Germany, so missed the holiday songs in German,” said Ted, whose father was in the U.S. Air Force. “Most of the [Elm Creek] members could still speak and sing in German, so they did the service in German for the first time since the World War II era, when they changed to English.”
Ted, who manages the church’s technology, including the projector and sound system, also enjoyed “crashing” a photo shoot at the church.
Christian country singer Clifton Jansky was using the church “for some old-timey photos,” Ted recalled. Jansky still has the images, he said. The church has invited him to attend the anniversary celebration later this month.
Who knows who you might meet at Elm Creek Baptist Church, the little white church in the country, working still to fulfill its mission of “equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:1).
Join the celebration!
Elm Creek Baptist Church will celebrate its 140th anniversary with services on Sunday, Jan. 22, at 10:30 a.m. This will be followed by a fellowship meal.
Everyone is invited to the celebration, and is “kindly asked” to RSVP by Thursday, Jan. 19, by calling 830-321-0934.
The church is located at 395 Sandy Elm Road, La Vernia.
Learn more by visiting elmcreekbc.org.
Read More:Celebrating with Elm Creek Baptist Church — ‘equipping saints’ for 140 years – La Vernia