If you don’t believe in miracles, it could just be because you haven’t yet met Jerlee Owens. Owens, a founding member of La Marque’s 70-year old Progressive Missionary Baptist Church at 320 S. Bell Drive in Texas City, is 92 years young and, like her church, doesn’t believe that believers are intended to ever fully retire.
In 1947, Owens came to La Marque from Galveston. As she did so, S.A. Anderson, a member of Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church, saw the need for a new church here. Rev. Anderson held the new fellowship’s inaugural worship service in the local Masonic Hall after several preliminary meetings in his home. Owens was there then and is still very active at the church now.
“We then built a small frame church,” she said. “After that, we bought the lot on the corner of FM 1765. St. Luke’s Church, Progressive MBC Galveston and our own members worked together to build that new church as volunteers. We sold dinners, newspapers and whatever we could to make it happen.”
Anderson had worked as a longshoreman before becoming a preacher. He told Owens that he felt that his co-workers needed a mainland church they could attend and that there were few Baptist churches available nearby. Few congregants had cars and most of the area roads were yet unpaved, so having a church within walking distance was key to reaching their community.
The new flock adopted the Progressive name from the Galveston church of the same name which had helped sponsor their launch.
Owens grew up and became a radiology technician at the University of Texas Medical Branch.
“I started classes at UTMB in 1957 and was in the first radiology technician class to graduate in 1959,” she recalled. “I came from Live Oak Baptist in Galveston as a young lady. This was a small church which was personal and a family to me. My cousin was a member and related to the pastor and she invited me in. It just started growing. I said, ‘This was fun.’ We liked to go up there. Even with services twice a day, I’d walk up there since I didn’t have a car. Only one or two members had cars back then. So we built up by families. When we outgrew our first buildings and we had to hurry up and build again.”
There may be some houses of worship which are filled with spectators, but if Owens is any example, Progressive is not one of them. She’s coordinating the church’s 70th anniversary events (see box.) She has been the president of the choir, taught Sunday school, led training union (a Baptist educational class) and worked with the usher board here. More? She has also been a deaconess.
Fellow member Carol Smith also helps out at Progressive.
“What a celebration, a milestone church anniversary,” Smith said. “It’s amazing to think that it was seventy years ago that a small group of people gathered together with the desire to plant a church to have an impact on our community.”
Smith came to La Marque in 1972 and looked over a number of churches before choosing Progressive.
“This place captivated our hearts,” she said. “The members made us feel welcome into the church family. There were ministries there for the whole family to become involved in. So, here we are now, 45 years later.”
Her husband, Deacon Bobby Smith, added, “I invite all to join this wonderful church family to do the work God has assigned to us. Find your niche and get to work.”
Watch for details on Progressive’s anniversary celebration in an upcoming Faith Focus.
Next week in Our Faith: A small church celebrates its hard-won recovery from Hurricane Harvey.