Oldest church in Forrest County going strong at 116By BETH BUNCH,
At 116 years old, Petal Presbyterian Church is still going strong and keeping busy spreading the word and love of the Lord.
In fact, they are getting ready to send a missionary to South Africa, enjoying weekly services and are looking for a new music director.
“We’re hanging in there after 116 years,” said the Rev. Ken Ribelin, pastor of the church.
The church is the oldest church in Forrest County and has been guarding its spot on Petal’s South Main longer than anyone else in town.
Although the church sits next door to Ace Hardware, which was completely destroyed in the 2013 tornado, “God saw fit to leave us alone, to spare us, for which we are very appreciative,” Ribelin said.
“Even though at the time, the choir was having practice at the church and singing, ‘“Lord, Take Me By the Hand, Take Me Home.”‘
While many churches in this day and time have stepped away from the traditional services many knew as a child, Ribelin is quick to say his church is very traditional and historic in nature.
“We still do church like it used to be done with your mother, dad, grandmother and grandfather,” he said. “We sing the traditional, classic hymns and have a Bible-based sermon. We are Biblically conservative.”
Ribelin, a retired chaplain of the National Guard and the 2017 recipient of the Bobby Runnels Award presented by the Petal Area Chamber of Commerce, has served as the church’s pastor for the last 38 years. He has also served as pastor of the New Augusta Presbyterian Church for the past 31 years.
While Sunday School is being held in Petal, Ribelin and the music director have been making their way to New Augusta for worship from 9:30-10:30 each Sunday morning before making their way back to Petal via River Road in time for a quick run-through with the choir prior to the 11 a.m. service.
“And we get out promptly at noon,” laughed Ribelin.
With a constant membership of about 80, Ribelin said that’s been an historic number through the years.
“We see constant replacement when a family moves or someone dies; there’s always somebody to fill in,” he said.
The church is getting ready to send Evan and Bonnie Jones and their two young children to Burkina Faso in South Africa to serve as missionaries for the next three years. Ribelin said Evan grew up on the Ivory Coast and has lived all over the world, including Turkey when his father served there. “He’s ready and willing for the great unknown,” Ribelin said.
Ribelin explained that Evan’s brother, Ian and his wife, have already been serving as missionaries in that area.
Their father, who Ribelin knew when he lived in North Carolina and during seminary, is also a missionary serving in London, England.
“We’ve been supporting the work of this family for about 40 years,” the pastor said.
The Jones family has been focusing on raising money for their journey and are almost 85 to 90 percent pledged.
According to Ribelin, after their three years they will return to the states for five or six months to give reports of their work to sponsor churches and raise money to return.
In South Africa, they will be working to build a hospital, school and church.
During the summer months, the church sponsored weekend-type activities for the youth of the church.
A thorough history of the church was compiled by Ribelin and can be found on the church’s website. It provides a detailed account of the church’s early years, from its founding in November 1902, to the many dedicated pastors who have served through the years, even those who walked across the East Hardy bridge on their Sunday to preach.
The Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist churches located along that particular stretch of Petal’s Main Street became spiritual partners as they shared the Presbyterian facility until churches of their own could be built.
Through the years the church has purchased surrounding property for education buildings, parking and other needs.
For more information, visit www.petalpresbyterianchurch.org
9:45 AM – Sunday School Assembly
9:55 AM – Sunday School Classes Begin
11 AM – Morning Worship Service
5 PM – Youth Fellowship Classes
5 PM – Adult Choir Practice
6 PM – Evening Worship Service
7 PM – Prayer Meeting / Bible Study