The Latin Mass community in central Arkansas is seeing the fruits of opening its first church five years ago.
For 23 years, the community had to borrow space at St. John Center in Little Rock or different parishes where they could celebrate the Tridentine-rite Mass.
In 2017, St. John the Baptist Church was established in Cabot in a former daycare center. Since then, the parish has grown and now has two Sunday Masses and more activities for parishioners.
On March 19, the parish took another step by relocating to a former Christian church at 602 E. Main Street. Bishop Anthony B. Taylor led the dedication service.
Pastor Father Jared McCambridge, FSSP, said it became clear in 2020 that St. John the Baptist Church would need to look for a larger church. Attendance was around 170 at weekend Masses in October 2017, and by October 2021 it was around 270.
“Recently, we have been having even more than that, to the point where over the last couple of months at the later (10 a.m.) Mass, we weren’t able to accommodate everyone inside the church. We had 30 or as many as 40 people sitting in the social hall and watching Mass on video and listening to it on speakers from the equipment we had set up during the time when we had COVID restrictions. We have really outgrown the size of our first location in Cabot.”
Remodeling the former church was considered.
“It turned out it wasn’t going to be possible to the extent we had hoped. We couldn’t really expand the seating,” the pastor said.
Pope Francis issued a document in December restricting celebrations of the pre-Vatican II Mass. In the Diocese of Little Rock, Latin Mass is only allowed in the two personal parishes overseen by the Fraternity of St. Peter, St. John the Baptist in Cabot and Our Lady of Sorrows in Springdale.
To address their growth, the Cabot church was able to buy a larger property in December 2020 from a Christian church that was relocating, and they began renovations in the fall of 2021.
Father McCambridge said the property was bought for $550,000, using about $300,000 from the church’s capital fund and a $250,000 loan from the Diocese of Little Rock.
“The zeal and generosity of the parishioners is noteworthy,” he said.
Contractors were hired to install drywall and lighting, paint the interior, remodel an area for a confessional and install a platform for the altar. Parishioners donated their time to finish the project.
“Parishioners did all the framing and some painting and drywall,” the pastor said.
Pews from the former church at 106 Pin Oak Drive were installed in the new church. Other items like Stations of the Cross and sacred art will be brought over and installed, the pastor said. Permanent seating at the new location is the same as the former church, 175, but the Main Street location has more room to add up to 88 chairs to increase seating.
A social hall is attached to the church and will be used for parish activities, music lessons and catechism classes.
Father McCambridge said the former church has been appraised at $275,000 and will be sold to pay off the diocesan loan.
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor began at the dedication service at the sanctuary’s doors, where he prayed in Latin. He sprinkled holy water inside and outside the church. A Mass followed, celebrated by Father McCambridge. Bishop Taylor and Father Martin Seibold, pastor of St. Jude Church in Jacksonville, attended the Mass. The dedication and Mass were in Latin, except for the Gospel reading, homily and one song which were in English.
The dedication was special for Father Greg Luyet, pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Little Rock. His late grandfather, Brother Jack Rainwater, was the pastor of the founding church at that location, Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, in the 1970s. The cornerstone still bears the church’s name and the year it was built, 1972.
Brother Rainwater had a massive heart attack and died in 1978.
“I spent every other Friday night at their house (across the street from the church) to visit and some days during the summers. It was always a treat to visit both grandparents. I remember my grandfather preparing his sermons in the study and watching him work outside. I was very young when he died but have many fond memories of the parsonage, the church and the city,” Father Luyet said.
He said he remembers the kindness his grandfather showed the residents when a tornado destroyed parts of Cabot, and he opened the church to the Red Cross to serve the community.
Father McCambridge said the Latin Mass community now includes some families with three generations. At the dedication and Mass, 40 percent of attendees were children in high school and younger. The needs of nursing mothers are prioritized with four chairs with movable partitions on both sides of the church where they can breastfeed.
The pastor believes the new location will draw more parishioners because there will be plenty of seats at all Masses.
One of the families with three generations are the Naumans.
“It’s a blessing,” Michael Nauman said of the new location, “because we have been told by other Latin Rite parishes that once you get established you will grow. We are seeing people who I grew up with and their kids coming and then new people coming as well.”
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