BIG CYPRESS — The early days of Big Cypress First Baptist Church could have never predicted the impact the church would have on the community. A small gathering that once convened at the Big Cypress Day School is now a large following that, 65 years after the church’s beginning, has its own building and big plans for the future.
In honoring the success of the First Baptist Church, Pastor Salaw Hummingbird and members of the congregation held a two-day celebration in Big Cypress, beginning Nov. 11 with a community supper and vocal performances by local church groups. The bulk of the event happened Nov. 12 with more performances, an honor ceremony for local veterans, a church service, a depiction of the church’s history and a special tribute for select church members who have remained faithful to Big Cypress First Baptist for decades.
While the anniversary celebration commemorates the construction of the official church in 1952, its origins truly began with Oklahoma Creek missionary Reverend Stanley Smith nearly a decade before that. Rev. Smith held dozens of social gatherings throughout Seminole communities in the ‘40s to share the message of Christianity.
“Stanley Smith was bringing good news and that’s what kind of initiated everyone to start hanging around the church more, when they began to hear what he had to say,” Hummingbird said, explaining that Rev. Smith eventually encouraged Sam Tommie, Henry Cypress and Josie Billie to return to the Tribe from bible college to help start a new church.
With their help, Big Cypress First Baptist Church, then called Big Cypress Baptist Church, opened its doors in 1948. Since its inception, the church has seen many pastors take the lead, including Henry Cypress and Paul Buster, who is now located in Hollywood.
Even with all the changes that occurred the past 65 years, Hummingbird said that church members are just as faithful today as they were in 1948.
“They have a lot of history that goes along with the church. Our elders are so filled with so many [memories of what took place at the church],” he said. “Alice Billie is one of our eldest members – she’s 103 – and she’s been with the church for a very long time. She comes very regularly; she hardly misses church.”
Hummingbird, who has pastored the church on and off since 2001, explained that Big Cypress First Baptist is not just a place people go to on Sundays and Wednesdays for services. According to him, the church works hard to show the community its doors are always open.
“The church in itself is always a light for the community; it’s always involved in community events,” he said. “The church is a great asset to our community. We provide a great opportunity for everyone to come and be part of it.”
One of those opportunities is in the form of Operation Christmas Child, an annual project sponsored by the international relief organization Samaritan’s Purse. For Operation Christmas Child, Big Cypress First Baptist hands out shoe boxes to community members, who then fill the shoe boxes with small toys, hygiene items and school supplies. This year, the church collected roughly 97 boxes, which they then sent throughout the world to children who are impacted by war, poverty, natural disasters and other devastating occurrences. Before sending the shoe boxes to the children, church-goers took them to the First Baptist Church celebration, where the congregation prayed over the boxes, wishing their receivers well.
Hummingbird said that practices such as this help keep the church’s history alive and encourages younger generations to continue under its fellowship in new and innovative ways.
“We wanted to start doing a little bit more of the history of our church and bringing things up to date so that our young ones can pass all of that on as they continue on with their walk with the lord,” he said. “By celebrating 65 years, we’re recognizing how long God has been working in the Seminole people and all of the generations of the people that have come from that long ago.”