While the world around it has changed over the years, Central Baptist Church and its 101 Bible Class have remained.
Though the Bible class, which started out as a men’s Bible study in 1951, was aired on the radio for its last time Sunday, Aug. 25, the class still has hope for the future as the area around it, midtown Gainesville, is revitalized and new members make their way to the church.
“The basics haven’t changed,” Jim DeLay, who taught the class for about 20 years, said of the class. “It’s still singing and teaching. That's the two main things of the class and it's always been that way.”
Before his voice was ever featured on the radio, broadcast live through a microphone — in more recent years, recorded and aired a week later — he remembered listening to the 101 Bible Class through his own speakers.
“I graduated high school in 1954 and I used to listen to the 101 Bible Class on the radio on Sunday mornings for the two or three years before I finished high school,” DeLay said.
The room where the 101 Bible Class is held is a typical room — tile floors, fluorescent light and black chairs in rows of five. But on the walls is where the class comes alive.
There are photos of past classes and past teachers, a few photos of past pianists who led the class and there's even a large, framed list of the class’ first members.
“We've still got good people here, good people in church and it's still God's plan,” said Coleen Pethel, whose husband, Jack, played two stints behind the piano for the class. “He's still got something for us to do, so we're still keeping on with his guidance.
“We're still here, we're still here.”
Back in its heyday, the 101 Bible Class had more than 100 members, and that’s where it got its name in the first place. Its members prayed for 101 members to join the class and it surpassed that just a couple years into teaching.
The class continued to grow and at one point was at 128 members. But that number has begun to dwindle as members have died and new members aren’t joining.
“The class and the teaching and the singing, nothing has changed,” said Bobbie Powers, who’s been a member for 40-plus years. “It's just (members are) all going away. Everybody's gone on and there's no one to come in.”
It’s not an exclusive class. It’s open to the public and even those who aren’t part of the church. There are no membership dues. It’s just a Bible class that has stood the test of time.
It almost didn’t, though. The class thought about stopping altogether, seeing as there are only 12 members now. But the Rev. Mike Taylor wasn’t going to let that happen. He’s only been the pastor at Central for five months, but one of his first moves was to make sure the 101 Bible Class persisted.
“To me, it's a step backward if you start subtracting class numbers,” Taylor said. “I just don't feel like the lord's done with this. This is like a freight train rolling down hill — the history of the 101 Bible Class.”
The 12-member class agreed.
“We keep going and hoping that they follow,” Powers said.
Jan Cobb, who’s been a member for about 15 years, said the 101 Bible Class is “old school.” They sing gospel songs and songs from the church hymnal. There’s nothing contemporary about it and that’s the way they like it.
“Unfortunately that’s kind of going away,” Cobb said of gospel music in churches. “The people that are still here, everybody still has beautiful, pure hearts. But that era of people, as we all know, our world is losing.”
Music has always been a big part of the class. When members and others were sick or couldn’t make it to church, Cobb said they would have family bring a portable radio to them just so they could hear the music and message.
“It’s always been known for its singing,” Cobb said.
Now, with the changes in media, Pethel said she’s not sure how many people they’re reaching through the radio anymore, which was part of the reason they decided to go off the air.
“At one time, we had a homebound ministry and there were lots of people listening on the radio,” Pethel said. “But lots of them have died, so we don't know if we’re reaching very many people.”
Even with the radio show coming to an end, the church is hopeful for the future.
As the landscape of midtown changes, Central and its Bible class are looking forward to the possible growth. As more and more people are drawn to the area with the greenway, new music school, restaurant and upcoming skate park, Taylor said it’s time for the church to get ready.
“We're on the verge of a great revival,” Taylor said. “The lord is bringing people back to things of beauty and things of quality and integrity.”
And for him, that starts with Central.
“The lord's got a hand on Central Baptist Church,” Taylor said. “He's not through with this congregation and I think we're at the point of turning a corner. So if there's an opportunity to ride the momentum that's come through 68 years of the 101 Bible Class, I think we need to ride the crest of the wave and pursue it.”