HOT SPRINGS VILLAGE – Barcelona Road Baptist Church hosted a celebration on Sunday, Sept. 23 to honor its three ordained ministers – Duane Blakely, minister of music; Elton Gray, associate pastor, and Bruce Swihart, pastor. Combined, they have served in ministry for 175 years in seven states and a foreign country.
The celebration, which took place during their regular Sunday morning worship service, included a sermon by both Gray and Swihart. Music was led by Blakely.
“I don’t know of any other church staff that has 175 years of combined ministry at one church,” said Swihart. “I treasure this, … and I am honored to serve the Lord with both of these men.”
Swihart became the music director of Twin City Baptist Church, Mishawaka, Ind., on Sept. 21, 1952, as a junior in high school.
“The preacher said to me, ‘Next Sunday, I want you to be our music director from now on,’” Swihart said. “That’s when I started my ministry 60 years ago.”
For nearly 30 years, Swihart served as minister of music, minister of education, minister of youth or associate pastor in Arkansas, Indiana, Missouri and Texas.
At 40, he entered Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS), Fort Worth, Texas, where he earned a Master of Divinity degree and a Doctor of Ministry degree. Before coming to Barcelona Road, he served as pastor of First Baptist Church, Glenwood; East Side Baptist Church, Paragould, and First Baptist Church, Huffman, Texas.
Swihart also served at the Arkansas Baptist State Convention from 1998 to 2003 as director of church leadership support and team leader of the leadership and worship team. Additionally, he was interim or intentional interim for Parkway Place, Little Rock; First Baptist Church, Searcy; First Baptist Church, Heber Springs; Immanual Fellowship Church, Searcy; First Baptist Church, Arkadelphia, and Calvary Baptist Church, Benton.
Swihart has served as pastor of Barcelona Road for the past five years.
Gray preached his first sermon Sept. 20, 1952, less than a week after surrendering to the ministry at Liberty Grove Baptist Church, Jackson, Tenn.
“I knew even back then that I was beginning my faith journey,” Gray said. “I never dreamed that it would go for 60 years.”
Gray received his undergraduate degree in social studies from the University of North Alabama, formerly Florence State Teachers College, in 1958 and received his Bachelor of Divinity degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in 1961. His first pastorate was at White Head Baptist Church in Rogers, Ala., from 1956 to 1958.
Gray went on to pastor several churches in Alabama and Mississippi from 1961 to 1970. He was then appointed as a missionary for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board in 1970. He then served as a missionary pastor of Koza Baptist Church, Okinawa, Japan, from 1971 to 1996. He has served as the associate pastor of Barcelona Road since 1999.
Blakely earned his bachelor’s in music education from Eastern New Mexico University in 1959 and later a Master of Church Music degree from SWBTS in 1962. Before coming to Barcelona Road, Blakely served churches in Portales, New Mexico, and Cleburne, Beaumont, San Antonio, Marshall, Brownwood and Garland, Texas.
“Pat and I greatly appreciate these 10 years the Lord has given us to minister here with such caring folks and with a choir and musicians who are diligent and willing to work hard to provide quality worship music week in and week out,” Blakely said. “It’s been a great blessing to work with Pastor Charles Long for the first five years and with Dr. Bruce Swihart these past five years. We look forward to what the Lord has in store for us and this dear congregation in the years to come.”
In addition, Blakely has taught on the faculty of East Texas Baptist University and served as an adjunct professor at SWBTS and in 2003 was awarded the Distinguished Service Award from the SWBTS School of Music. He served for 25 years at First Baptist Church, Garland, Texas. Altogether, he has served in ministry for 55 years.