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Retired Hagerstown pastor built and built and built

January 31, 2008|By GLORIA DAHLHAMER

Editor's note: This is one in an occasional series of profiles of area residents who share the stories of their lives and experiences.

In his lifetime, the Rev. Arvel Barrett not only built congregations of Christian believers, he also built the churches in which they worshiped.

He says that was a pretty good experience for a man who had no carpentry skills.

Three times the retired Assembly of God pastor was called to pioneer new churches. Three times he built the structures in which they congregated. He says those early years of establishing new churches helped strengthen his own faith and prepare him for future evangelical and pastoral work.

The retired pastor of Hagerstown's Assembly of God church on East Wilson Boulevard, Barrett says he felt a calling to ministry early in life. "I had a genuine experience of salvation when I was a teenager," he says. "The Lord became real to me, and I began to feel a calling to the ministry."

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He enrolled in Southern California Bible College at Pasadena at age 19, transferred the following year to Central Bible College in Springfield, Mo., and was graduated in 1941 at the start of America's involvement in World War II. As a clergy student he was treated as an ordained minister and was draft exempt.

Instead of the Army, he says, he was called to Doniphan, Mo., and a congregation of less than a dozen people. "Three women in town wanted to build a church," he says. "They paid room and board for a pastor."

"I built that church almost single-handedly. It was a 30-by-50 building, and I put it up roof and all. Fortunately, I landed in the home of the best carpenter in town, and he showed me how to do it."

Barrett's salary at that church was $5 a week. He preached for a neighboring congregation for another $5. "I had a simple faith to trust God for my needs," he says.

Barrett has ample reason to cherish memories of that first church. He met his late wife there. "She arrived in town three weeks after I did," he says. "She needed a ride to church, I offered, and we were married a year later." They celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary in 2006. She died earlier this year.

His second pioneer pastorate was in Dixon, Mo. A traveling evangelist had conducted revival services in an open-air park, sparking a thirst for a permanent church. Barrett was their man.

"I built a church house for them," he says. "It was simply walls and a roof, no floor, no ceiling. But I got a raise in salary to $15 a week to finish the building. My wife and I lived in three rooms in the back of the church, and I drove a school bus to supplement my income."

His third call to pioneer a church came after several years of evangelical work. A fellow student at Bible college who was pastoring a church in East Baltimore told him folks wanted a church in Dundalk, Md. "So we went to Dundalk, and I built another church for another small congregation."

Barrett left Dundalk for his first full-time supporting church in Winchester, Va. He pastored that congregation for six years, pastored another church in Shenandoah, Va., and then, in 1957 was elected pastor of Hagerstown's Assembly of God.

At that time, he says, the congregation was housed in a small church at Howard and Spruce streets. "We were there 21 years," he says, "but we were rapidly outgrowing the space. We built the church on Wilson Boulevard in 1963, added a second structure in 1968."

Even there, the preacher was called on to utilize his carpentry know-how.

"When we decided to build, I hired a small contractor and his crew by the hour. The men of the congregation and I also worked on the construction."

He recalls constructing arches for the church building. Then a freak storm came along and blew them all down. "Now that's an outstanding memory," he laughs.

When Barrett came to the Hagerstown church, members numbered between 100 and 125. When he retired, membership had grown to about 400. Today, he says, the church boasts a vibrant ministry that reaches far beyond the church walls.

Barrett remains a member of the church. He says the greatest changes he notices in today's church are changes in music and programming. Like many modern-day Protestant churches, Hagerstown Assembly of God now offers two types of worship service on Sunday mornings: a traditional, or classic, service and a contemporary service. One includes traditional music, the other, contemporary instrumental and vocal tunes.

For some years after he retired from active ministry in 1984, Barrett and another retired minister provided worship services at area assisted living facilities.

Now 88 years old, he says, he plays the occasional round of golf but spends more time reading and listening to Bill Gaither tapes.

"They sing the old songs," he says of the Gaither vocal group. "That's what I like."

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