By CAROL FERGUSON
Churches often use the label “family church” to indicate a friendly, welcoming atmosphere.
First Pentecostal Church of God in Greenville is also a “family” church in the basic sense of the word, for it has been pastored for 50 years by members of the same family.
Rev. Joyce Pattison, the current minister, said her father, Rev. W.L. Nelson, came to the church in 1962 when officials of the Pentecostal organization asked him to help the struggling congregation which was down to four members and about to close its doors.
Nelson agreed to become their pastor, and he withdrew from the Assemblies of God organization in which he had served churches in Clinton, Trenton, Gladewater and Wolfe City.
“The beliefs are the same, and our dad changed denominations to help this little church,” she explained. “It was a very difficult time, but he brought with him a family who had gone with him from church to church, wherever he pastored,” she said. The family included the two young daughters, Joyce and Joann.
Music became an important part of his ministry. Both Nelson and his wife, Vernell, played guitar, mandolin and piano, and in addition he played the harmonica and his wife, the accordion, Pattison said. The daughters sang along with their parents.
“Our father and mother were both great ministers, musicians and singers,” she said.
When W.L. Nelson died in 1986, Sister Nelson, as his wife was called, became the minister.
The congregation had grown substantially, but still faced difficult times. A fire in the late 1960s totally destroyed the church annex. “There was a picture in the Herald-Banner, front page I believe, with the pulpit still burning,” Pattison recalled.
Then in June 1998 a rainstorm dropped more than two inches of rain on Greenville in about an hour, forcing sewage water to back up from the bathrooms inside the church.
“We couldn’t use the church for more than six months, but the city let us use Municipal Auditorium at no cost for our services,” Pattison said. “There’s a song our gospel group sings, “The Church Has Been Through The Fire and It’s Been Through The Flood” ... and it is true for our church.”
Vernell Nelson died in July 2010 and was succeeded as pastor by her daughter, Joyce.
Pattison confessed that becoming either a minister or a minister’s wife was the furthest thing from her mind when she was growing up. In 1969 she married Dwayne Pattison who is the current mayor of Caddo Mills and is also a retired locomotive engineer for Union Pacific.
During a period of serious health problems, however, Pattison says she perceived a call to serve God, and she began to study under the guidance of another minister. She was licensed in 1998 and ordained in July 2001.
“God has a plan for each of our lives,” she said.
The Pattisons have a daughter, Jennifer, who is a fourth grade teacher in Caddo Mills, and a son, Jeff who is a marketer for Glen Oaks Hospital. Her husband also helps with her ministry, and he serves as song leader at church services.
W.L. and Vernell Nelsons’ love of music is also apparent in their children and grandchildren who are members of The Messengers gospel group. Daughter Joann and her husband, Ray Welk, started the group in the summer of 1990. The Messengers perform throughout the area, “at more Baptist churches than Pentecostal,” said Pattison, laughing. They have been featured at the Hunt County Fair, have recorded two CDs, and have won several music competitions. Joann herself was up for musician of the year at the Gospel Music Artists Association this past year, and she has won many awards over the years..
Despite their other engagements, The Messengers have vowed to stay faithful to First Pentecostal, their home church in Greenville, said Pattison. They sing at every service — Sunday mornings and evenings and on Wednesdays.
Family members of The Messengers include Joann and Ray Welk; their daughter, Melissa; the Pattisons’ daughter Jennifer and her daughter Shelbie. The Pattisons’ son, Jeff, sometimes joins the group. Other regular members are friends Mike White who plays piano and Wesley Smith, bass player, who also performs at the Caddo Mills Opry every Saturday night.
“We all work together as a family, and our church is growing rapidly,” said Pattison. Attendance can vary from 75 to 200 persons on a Sunday.
“On the last Sunday of each month we have a ‘tag team’ preaching. Each minister or those who feel the calling to the ministry gets a total of five minutes to bring their thought, and five to seven ministers participate. The amazing thing is that each sermonette is usually related and can be tied together, and no one has been given a certain passage or topic to speak about,” she said.
“We have five families carpooling in from the Plano, McKinney, Princeton area, and people drive in from Rockwall weekly to attend Sunday morning and evening services. We are averaging eight to 10 visitors weekly right now, and they are visiting and staying.
“God has truly blessed us,” she added.
First Pentecostal Church of God is located at the corner of Walnut and Pickett streets. Sunday services include Sunday school at 9:45 a.m.; 10:30 a.m. worship service; evening service at 6; and Wednesday, 7 p.m. Anyone wishing to hear music from the church may go to the website www.firstpentecostalchurchofgod.net