Belpre church plans 80th celebration

BELPRE – The Belpre Church of Christ is marking two milestones this year, a celebration of its 80th anniversary and the 40th year of Ron Laughery’s ministry with the congregation.

“Serving the Belpre church for the past 40 years has been a very rich, rewarding experience,” Laughery said. “The church has been supportive of my ministry spanning five decades. Personally, I take no credit for the growth, accomplishments, and achievements the Belpre church has enjoyed during my tenure. All of the glory goes to God. Serving as preaching minister emeritus has brought new challenges into my ministry. I am blessed daily by being able to serve this wonderful family of believers. Great days lie ahead for the Belpre church.”

A special service at 10 a.m. Aug. 4 will launch a four-day celebration, which will include Family Life Week and Vacation Bible School.

Laughery will deliver the message, “The Gospel of God,” part of the theme for the week, “The Gospel: Getting Back to Our Center.” The day’s events will include dinner on the grounds and an ice-cream social.

The day will conclude with an evening service. Jeff Stevenson, preaching minister for the Belpre church since 2010, will speak on “Man’s Need for the Gospel.”

At 6:30 p.m. Aug. 5-7, former associate ministers will speak during the evening program for adults.

Classes for children will be concurrently held.

Laughery came to the Belpre Church of Christ in 1973 from congregations in Louisville, Ky., and Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. This year marks his 55th year in the ministry.

“Ron is a true searcher of God’s word,” said Dan Canada, an elder of the church. “He has emphasized evangelism in his ministry and has been instrumental in the church’s growth to become one of the largest churches of Christ in the Mid-Ohio Valley.”

Laughery preached his first sermon at his home church in Beverly. During his senior year in high school, he filled the pulpit for many congregations in Southeastern Ohio and continued as a preaching minister for the church while attending Rochester College at Mt. Clemens, Mich.

He has preached in more than 250 meetings in 22 states and several foreign countries. He has a bachelor’s in Bible from Ohio University and a master’s in Bible from Amridge University.

Laughery is the executive secretary for the board of trustees at Ohio Valley University and on the board of African Christian Schools Foundation. He semi-retired in 2010 at the church and was named preaching minister emeritus.

“The congregation has experienced unity and a family atmosphere during Ron’s tenure,” said Bob Crum, longtime elder. “He has motivated the church to become more community oriented.”

“The Belpre church has a rich past and an exciting future,” Stevenson said. “The congregation is to be commended for exhibiting such unusual openness to God and an untiring faithfulness to Christ. Ron Laughery is an outstanding example of a Christian, as well as an extraordinarily gifted and fruitful minister of the gospel. God has used Ron to lead the Belpre church to a rare devotion to Jesus Christ, God’s word, and the things of the Spirit. All of this poises the church for another generation of rich influence in the Mid-Ohio Valley, and I’m excited to be a part of the great things coming!”

The origin of the Belpre church dates back to 1933 when the Lynn Street Church of Christ in Parkersburg captured the vision of planting a congregation in Belpre. The late evangelist, Fred E. Dennis from Marietta, held an unprecedented 30-day gospel meeting in the city. The new church met the first time Jan. 9 in the assembly room of Belpre High School and later to the Oddfellows Hall. At the conclusion of the meeting, Dennis recorded in his diary, “The Lord’s church was substantially planted in Belpre.” The new congregation began with approximately 50 members.

In June 1933, the building for the Porterfield (Ohio) Church of Christ was destroyed by fire, and 53 members joined the group in Belpre. Laughery notes that within six months, the membership of the Belpre church had grown to approximately 100. The fledging church built a basement on newly-acquired property at the corner of Walnut and Fourth streets in 1934, followed by a construction of a building and an expansion over the next several years. In 1972 a new building with a seating capacity of around 700 was erected in its present location on Washington Blvd. An expansion in 1989 added new classrooms, a kitchen, and fellowship hall, and offices.

The Belpre church has been served by 11 full-time ministers.

They include D.H. Hadwin, Odes Forshey, Harold Bankes, C.D. Plum, Tom W. Butterfield, James Bailey, Kenneth Adams, Robert Henry, Lewis D. Hussell, Laughery, and Stevenson.

From its inception, the congregation has been active in mission work in Italy, Honduras, Jamaica, and Africa. Using money from the Ruth Smith Trust Fund, the church constructed a building on the campus of Western African Christian College, the largest building in Africa erected by churches of Christ. For many years, the youth group has made stateside mission trips, conducted Vacation Bible Schools, and engaged in service projects.

Locally, Love in Action, the church’s benevolence ministry, has operated a food pantry since June 2011. According to Anita Vaughn, ministry leader, the pantry serves between 700-800 people each month, which includes 20 local children who receive food each weekend.

The ministry also provides assistance for qualified clients and is a distribution center for Ohio’s Commodity Supplemental Food Program.

Another community outreach is Courage to Change, a ministry for those dealing with addictions. The group meets weekly on Thursday nights.

Additionally, a women’s support group, Healing of Past Emotions, meets on Wednesday evenings.

The Belpre church has also sponsored a fall youth rally for the past 25 years and is a major sponsor for the Mid-Ohio Work Camp, an annual event that brings 500 teens to the area to paint houses of low-income families who live primarily in Wood and Washington counties.

The congregation also is a key sponsor of Envision, a church growth conference, which will be held this year on Oct. 25-27 in Belpre.