Historic Atkins church gets new life

By Tammy Keith Published January 23, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Justin Hubbard of Russellville sits in a pew in the Simple Truth Church, the Atkins church that he pastors. His late great-grandfather pastored a church in the same building for many years, but the family put it up for sale. Hubbard’s grandmother, Linda Lewis, bought the building after Hubbard told her he felt called to preach.

Just like so many people who have come through its doors, the 1833 church in Atkins has been saved.

Justin Hubbard of Russellville, whose great-grandfather was the pastor there for years, has given the church a new life.

“I’ve been in church all my life,” Hubbard said. “The Lord called me to preach one day. I called my grandma — my great-grandpa was her dad — and that was when the church was for sale, and we figured it was going to be torn down.”

It is the oldest building in Atkins, said David Lindsey, a lifetime member of the Pope County Historical Society.

Hubbard, 33, said he told his grandmother, Linda Lewis, that he wanted to use the church.

I said, “The Lord has called me to preach — what do you think about me preaching?’

“Usually, she doesn’t say yes right away without thinking about it. She said, ‘I think it would be a great idea,’” Hubbard said.

Lewis said her father, James Boren, poured his life into the church. He died in 2001 and left the building to his children.

Lewis said she couldn’t stand the thought of it being torn down, but neither she nor her brothers could afford the building’s upkeep.

“The only person that looked at it was the guy that built the apartments across the street, and he wanted to tear it down and build apartments, and I wasn’t going to have that,” she said.

About six months after the church was put on the market, Hubbard called her.

“I was happy, but I wasn’t real surprised because I already believed that I was going to get to hear him preach,” Lewis said.

“I’d been praying for him for a long time,” she said.

She took out a loan to buy the building and bought out her brothers’ share.

Hubbard said he was 19 when his grandfather died, and he remembers attending the church.

“I didn’t pay as much attention as I should,” he said.

Then, the church was the Free Holiness Pentecostal Church.

Hubbard, who doesn’t have any formal religious training, changed the name to Simple Truth, a nondenominational church.

“To me, it should just be Christianity; it should just be about Jesus Christ,” he said. “That’s why we went nondenominational.”

Hubbard said he will keep his job at a freezer plant in Russellville.

“I’m like my grandpa — he said he had a degree in kneeology, not theology,” Hubbard said, laughing.

“I just trust the Lord to guide me. Of course, I read a lot of it, and I’ve learned a lot over these last months.”

Hubbard said he is a recovering alcoholic, also like his grandfather.

“The Lord saved me. I guess when I was about 28, I stopped drinking,” Hubbard said.

“My grandpa was an alcoholic, too, and he quit. Our lives were a lot alike.

“I always tell people, ‘I am not perfect.’ I don’t claim to be,” Hubbard said. “Being a Christian, we all make mistakes, but the goal is to get better every day and live for the Lord.”

Hubbard said his goal is for the church to continue to grow.

“We’ve had so many people, just by word of mouth, start coming. It’s such a blessing; it’s been unbelievable,” he said. “I give all the glory to God.”

Lewis said it’s all part of God’s plan.

“It’s wonderful; it’s a blessing from God,” Lewis said. “It’s a tribute to my father — there are so many similarities in their lives. I tell Justin all the time, ‘You’re more like your great-grandpa than you even realize.’ They both had a problem, and both turned their life around for the Lord.”

Lindsey was happy to hear about Hubbard’s plans, too.

“They’ve cleaned it up real nicely, and I’m tickled to death they’re fixing it up,” Lindsey said.

Lindsey, who has published a history of the church, said it was built in November 1833 north of Atkins in what is now called the Buttermilk community. At that time, the community was called Glass Village, named after Chief Glass of the Cherokee Nation that had a village there, Lindsey said.

He said Chief Glass was a salt maker.

“He took water out of Point Remove Creek and got salt,” Lindsey said.

The church was first called the Regular Baptist Church of Christ at Point Remove Creek. In 1875, it became Point Remove Primitive Baptist Church.

In February 1925, some church men took the building apart, Lindsey said, and moved it by horse and wagon to Atkins and put it together at its current location, 901 Avenue 1 NW.

Lindsey also attended church in the building “as a little boy,” before it was moved to Atkins.

He tried to save the church when it was for sale.

Lindsey said he contacted Potts Inn in Pottsville to see if the people who run the museum wanted it.

“They said they didn’t have room,” he said. “That was really my only outlet. Nobody else was interested.”

Lindsey said some of the church’s original elements are there — the outside of the church, rafters, floor joists and even the rocks the building sits on.

He said the original plank wood floors are likely under the carpet, too.

“The front part of the building is still basically the same,” Lindsey said.

He said a back wall was removed years ago to add a kitchen and a fellowship hall.

Lewis said her extended family held birthday celebrations and holiday meals there, even after the building stopped being a church.

Hubbard said his great-grandfather, though, just ran a hose into the sink for water. Running water and a stove were added later.

The exterior of the wood-frame building got a fresh coat of white paint, Hubbard said.

Some of the original wooden benches from 1800 are still being used, he said, along with pews obtained from another church.

Services are held at 10:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. on Sundays and at 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays.

“He’s doing a fantastic job,” Lewis said. “He’s got a real heart to help people.”

For example, she said, Hubbard took coats to give to the homeless in Little Rock, and when he ran out, he gave the coat he was wearing to a man.

“We’re just a small congregation, but he has helped so many people already, helping to pay their bills, helping to buy them food. He helped three families buy presents at Christmas,” she said.

Hubbard said he and his family were attending First Assembly of God in Russellville before he felt called to preach.

He brought his mother-in-law with him, who plays piano at Simple Truth. Hubbard said his wife, Sara Davis-Hubbard, “has a beautiful voice; she sings for us.”

The couple have a 3-year-old son, Carter, and another child on the way.

“In about six months, we’ve had about 30 people saved, and we have between 40 and 50 members. It was meant to be,” Hubbard said.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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