First Assembly of God – Rolla began in a tent on the corner of 17th and Oak Streets during the summer of 1935. Since then the church has continued to grow and flourish and is one of the leading Assembly of God churches in the area.
The Beginnings - From Tent to Building
Throughout the mid-Missouri area, revivals were producing new churches. The year 1935 marks the anniversary of Assemblies of God in Salem and in Steelville. The Pentecostal movement was spreading with the full gospel message which included healing services, enthusiastic singing, Holy Spirit-directed worship and fiery preaching. As the tent went up on the corner of 2nd and Elm Streets in Rolla, a revival was to begin in that summer of 1935 which would give birth to the present Assemblies of God church.When Reverend E.F. Mitchell and Rev. Jones came to Rolla, the revival started. As people began to come and God’s spirit touched lives, Rev. Mitchell saw the need for a Pentecostal church in Rolla. The present site of the First Assembly was purchased for $75. The tent was moved to the cow pasture at this location, and the revival continued.
As fall turned to winter, the revival moved indoors. Meeting in the homes of people like Rev. Renzo Lewis, the blaze of the Holy Spirit continued to warm the hearts of believers. These believers expressed their love for the Lord in response to the moving of the Holy Spirit. A church was being born in the winter of 1935.
Spring was the time for building. Bro. Mitchell borrowed $200 for the materials to start a church building. Working throughout the spring and summer, a small building was still left unfinished by the winter. But the little congregation would gather in this church to worship the Lord. Through the cold weather, the people would sit with their feet propped on cardboard boxes to keep them warm. The only source of physical heat was the homemade stove constructed from a large iron barrel by Bro. Mitchell and evangelist Glenn Kelly. That humble beginning of a church was paid for by the faithful pledging of $1.25 monthly by those members who sacrificed in their giving.
God always blesses the sacrifices of His people and thus the little church continued to grow under the leadership of Bro. Mitchell. The Mitchells lived in a trailer in back of the church until they moved to St. James to begin another Assemblies of God work. Following Bro. Mitchell, Rev. John Lewis and his family came to pastor. Two rooms were added to the back of the church to provide housing for the Lewis family of seven children. There they lived from 1939 through 1941 before moving to St. James.
When this little parsonage was built on the back of the church, the people again gave sacrificial pledges of $6 a month. Through their faithfulness and God’s blessings, within five years the church was completely debt free. Rev. A.L. Burnett was the next to live in that parsonage with his wife and two children. The people continued to grow through the ministry of the Burnetts who shared the love of Jesus to those in the Rolla area.The next two pastors spent relatively short times in Rolla. During the years of 1943 and 1944, Rev. Harry Jenkins served the congregation. Following the Jenkinses was the evangelist Franklin Murray who came from Texas. His singing ministry blessed the people as he pastored from 1944 to 1946. As these men came to pastor, they laid the spiritual foundation for the present-day church. This influence should not be overlooked.
Adult Sunday School Class, 1954
The next pastor stayed in Rolla and saw new construction begin. Rev. George Fry became pastor in 1946 and began to see the need of more Sunday School classroom space. In 1949 the decision was made to dig a basement under the church to provide more rooms. At first only a hired man named Johnnie Lee and a young Paul Mesplay could go under the crawl space to dig out enough area for other men to use a pick and shovel. Again, it was the sacrificial work and giving of the people that produced the needed educational space for a growing Sunday School. Bro. Fry continued as pastor until 1953.
Roberts Multi-Ministries Building groundbreaking, 1978
Following Bro. Fry’s influential ministry, the Rev. Carl Roberts began his 25 years of service to the First Assembly of God and to the community of Rolla. During these years, the church saw growth which required new building programs. In 1956, an educational building on the east side of the main white church building was added. This area gave the congregation much needed space as the needs of the church increased. With classroom space now available, more auditorium demands caused the building of a new auditorium in 1964. Requiring faithful labor and effort from the people, the new auditorium was completed. Through his influence and efforts, Pastor Roberts saw this project completed with the help of many Rolla residents who did not attend First Assembly. The first service was a Christmas wedding in 1964 with the formal dedication coming in the spring of 1965.
The little tent congregation now had a beautiful house of worship dedicated unto the work of the Lord. Upon this foundation and with the blessings of the Lord, Pastor Roberts continued to see the church grow in numbers and its building needs increased. Nearing his time of retirement, in 1978, Bro. Roberts led the congregation in building a multi-purpose building which included a gym area, a kitchen, and more classrooms. The new addition was dedicated on December 10, 1978, and was to be called the Roberts’ Multi-Ministries Building, in honor of the former pastor.
With the ending of the year 1978 came the ending of the fruitful and blessed pastoral ministry of Carl and Golda Roberts. Leaving now a need for a new pastor, the Rev. Vernon Boyer was called as pastor from the state of Florida in 1979. In a relatively short time, Rev. Boyer’s teaching ministry continued to lay the foundation of the Word upon which the present church is built.
Adding On to the Building, 1984
Rev. Gary Bartle followed Rev. Boyer. Leaving the field of public education, Rev. Bartle became pastor on the first Sunday in April of 1980. Having been a teacher, counselor, and administrator in the Owensville School District, Pastor Bartle brought his desire to share his love for people and his love of the Lord with those in the Rolla community. During Pastor Bartle’s years here, the church continued to see the blessings of God. The growth both in attendance and in physical buildings has been steady. In 1984 Pastor Bartle led the congregation in a building program which included an overflow to the auditorium, upstairs restrooms, a library, and additional classrooms The auditorium was also remodeled and new land was purchased for parking areas and future development.
Rev. John Thompson succeeded Rev. Bartle in 1988, and stayed until 1990.
Pastor Chuck and Annette Whitmire, 1990
In 1990, the present pastor, Chuck Whitmire, came to us from First Assembly of God in Steelville, where he had served as a youth pastor. The church has experienced growth in membership and programs, and Pastor Chuck has also been able to see through a large remodeling project in 2006, as well as the purchase of surrounding homes.
From this present moment the members of the congregation are looking back over the past to see God’s rich blessings upon them. Each pastor has been a gift from God to provide leadership. Each building program has been a time of sacrifice which God has blessed. Each faithful member who has passed into God’s eternal presence has witnessed the blessings of God upon the church. From that early tent revival in 1935 to the present, the hand of God has blessed this church and this town with a Pentecostal voice for those seeking to know God.