In the year 1871, a group of 48 people came together on the Texas frontier to establish Ash Creek Baptist Church. Today, the church is still standing in Azle, TX, and celebrating 150 years of fruitful ministry and church planting in its community.
“If not for the faithfulness of those 48 charter members and so many other people who came before us, we wouldn’t be where we are now,” said Dr. Wesley Shotwell, pastor of Ash Creek for over 23 years. “As we look back, we give thanks for the life and heritage of these founding members and look forward to setting an example of faith like theirs for our future members.”
A history of church planting
In a social media post made by Ash Creek in advance of their anniversary celebration, the church highlighted its faithfulness in church planting, saying, “A characteristic of a Christ-centered, spirit-filled, God-led church is the commitment to plant new churches. We multiply the kingdom, spreading the gospel further by planting churches whose people can continue the excellent work of making God known.”
Over the past 150 years, Ash Creek has been integral in planting 11 churches in the Azle area, just northwest of Fort Worth. Two church plants were underway when Shotwell arrived, both of which were planted in partnership with Texas Baptists and are still operating today.
One of Ash Creek’s most significant church plants is Primera Iglesia Baptist de Azle, which began about 20 years ago and was planted in partnership with Parker Baptist Association. This Hispanic congregation, led by Pastor José Villalobos, has grown to a membership of 70-80 people and recently bought a piece of property, where they have plans to build their own facility.
“We gave them a start-up grant, provided some supplies like hymnals and Bibles and invited them to use our facilities,” said Shotwell. “Now they are on their way to being completely self-sufficient and can continue reaching the people of Azle for years to come.”
Celebrating the past, present and future
Ash Creek held its sesquicentennial celebration on Sept. 18-19, starting the festivities by setting up a museum of church records and artifacts in its oldest building, which dates back to 1891 and is still in use today. Members fellowshipped and perused the museum before gathering in a cemetery behind the church where 17 of its charter members are buried. There, members celebrated and honored these founding members and other former members who contributed to the church, reading their names aloud and laying flowers on graves.
“That was a really nice moment,” said Shotwell. “We were standing in a place where we normally come to grieve, but instead it was a time of thanksgiving for these people we didn’t know, but without them wouldn’t be where we are.”
After Sunday morning worship, the festivities continued as Ash Creek celebrated the past, present and future work of God through their congregation — members thanked the Lord for his use of an old building that was recently torn down to make way for a new facility, they performed a note burning to celebrate God’s faithfulness in helping the church pay off a debt and they held a ground breaking ceremony for a forthcoming sanctuary reconstruction project.
Craig Christina, associate executive director of Texas Baptists, attended the Sunday celebration to bring greetings from Texas Baptists and present a certificate of congratulations to Ash Creek.
“We are so proud of what the Lord has done here at Ash Creek Baptist Church,” he said. “What an exciting day, and how great to see so many signs of great [church] health. Ash Creek has been one of the most faithful churches in giving. We pray for 150 more years of what God is going to do through your church.”
In looking back and giving thanks for the past 150 years, Shotwell shared his excitement and vision for the future work God will do through Ash Creek.
“My prayer is that we may continue to reach people for Christ and have just as good a future as we have a history,” he said. “Azle is growing. There are lots of new houses going up and people coming in. We want to be ready for them and have a message of hope for them and be a community of faith for them so they can come to serve God, not just while we're here, but for the next 150 years.”