WABACO — Ten decades, 36,500 days, or 5,200 weeks – any way you want to say it, Wabaco Pentecostal Church has been around for a long time. For its first few years of existence, however, the church didn't even have a pastor. It took seven years before a full-time pastor would address the congregation, which actually first met in Hazard's Backwoods in 1913.
Now, 100 years later, Rev. Buddy Turner, who has led the congregation at Wabaco since 1982, is preparing for the church's centennial celebration this week.
“We're hoping a lot of people are going to come,” Turner said about this week's celebration, adding he knows a few of the church's former pastors will be in attendance.
Just like most small town churches, Wabaco Pentecostal Church came from humble beginnings. Just a short time after the church formed, it moved to the Allais community near where the vocational school is currently located. A short time after that, the congregation moved again, this time just across the North Fork of the Kentucky River to its present location in Wabaco, where the church also took its present name. By 1920, Rev. Willie Rison and Rev. Brick Meyers served as the church's first pastors.
Though the church has remained active in Hazard, by no means has the local community been its sole focus. Thousands of miles away, only days after Communism fell in the former Soviet Union in the 1990s, Turner found himself in Russia, one of a several missionaries looking to make inroads in the country. It wasn't the best of situations, he remembered. Martial law was still in place as they made their way to the Ural Mountains. They were warned of even speaking English in public.
Somehow, they were able to plant the seeds that would become a new church in the former Soviet nation. That church has blossomed, he noted, and has since helped additional congregations in the country.
“The last report I got, they started three other churches off that church,” Turner said.
Wabaco Pentecostal Church's outreach would not be limited to Russia. The church helped found a congregation in Romania and paid for a Bible school in Brazil. They have three churches in Cuba, purchased Bibles to be shipped to China, and support mission work in Mexico, Romania, and Ecuador thanks to contacts with other missionaries.
The church has also remained active locally, of course, most visibly with the Wabaco Christian Academy, located just a stone's throw from the church near the banks of the North Fork of the Kentucky River.
“It was a vision the church had about 13 years ago to start a Christian school,” Turner said.
The small academy graduates just a hand full of students each year, but Turner noted that many have gone on to continue their education and become professionals in one career or another.
“We had graduates go to UK, Eastern, Morehead, Alice Lloyd,” he said. “They've become teachers and pharmacists.”
With 100 years in existence, the church's members have witnessed a lot of local history. In the 1970s, Wabaco Pentecostal Church hit a major roadblock when a fire destroyed the main structure, but it was not a tragedy the congregation would fail to overcome. With help from the community, the church was rebuilt even bigger than before.
“The community came together and helped us build the church back,” Turner explained. “When we built it, we didn't owe a dime on it. We're still grateful to the community for that.”
Today's congregation at Wabaco Pentecostal Church is made up of young and old alike, with ages in between. Turner said there are plans to continue outreach and missionary work, hopefully for another 100 years.
“Our vision for the church is to grow and to increase,” he said.
For the near future the community is invited to the church's 100th anniversary celebration this week, which kicks off on Tuesday evening with the theme of celebrating 100 years of fire on the mountain. The celebration will include services each evening through Sunday, Sept. 8.