Freddy Mason has been preaching 45 years at Cedar Grove
When Freddy Mason was hired to preach at Cedar Grove Baptist Church in 1967, little did the members know what an adventure it would be! Young, single, and inexperienced, many of the ladies in the church claim to have “raised” him, providing meals for him and doing his laundry. Cedar Grove and Freddy Mason sort of grew up together. When he began preaching there, the church had no running water, no bathrooms and no air conditioning. Freddy tells of the early, winter days when the attic was full of red wasps. The heaters would warm up the church and the wasps would come out of the attic to get warm. “One time during a service, a wasp went up my pants legs while I was preaching and stung me,” recalls Mason.
In his early years, Mason wore lots of “hats.” Besides being a preacher, he tried his hand at being a car salesman, selling real estate, being a deputy and then teaching school. Longtime members Juanita Clinton and Jan Lovil tell how the church would pray for Mason a wife. “He had lots of suitors, but he never let any of them stick around until he met Suzanne.” According to Leann Marshall, “Marrying Suzanne was the best thing that ever happened to us.” Through the years, Mason has done it all, from marrying folks to burying folks. The first couple he married was Doug and Patsy Waldrop, and since then has performed hundreds of weddings. He’s now marrying the children of those he married in earlier years. Mason remembers one story about a man and woman who were friends and would whisper the latest gossip during the church service. “It got to be that their hearing got so bad that when they’d whisper, everybody could hear them. His wife separated them and wouldn’t let them sit together anymore!” Diane Phillips recalls her mother being told by a previous preacher that she had to “take that crying baby outside.” But Freddy would never do that. When a baby is crying, he would tell the parents not to worry; “it’s like music to my ears.” Freddy always said he would rather hear a baby cry than a saint snore.
To many of the people in Panola County, Freddy Mason is considered the “Community Preacher.” Much of the reason for that is his longevity—45 years at the same church. “That’s kind of evolved,” says Mason. “When you stay somewhere long enough, you get to know everybody, help everybody and do what you can. I get lots of calls from non-members. If at all possible, I don’t turn anyone down. If they need somebody, I try to do what I can.” According to Juanita Clinton, “there’s not a better person to preach a funeral or a wedding. He knows just what to say to the family to lift them up.”
Under his leadership, Cedar Grove has continued to grow and prosper. In his early years, Mason would have a good crowd of 35 each Sunday, and now well over 135 are in attendance. The building soon became too small and additions and new construction began to take place. In 2001 the original 1912 building was removed and replaced with a beautiful new sanctuary. “God is good. We started out slow, but it’s really grown. It was in 1980 when we finally had 100 members, and it’s more than tripled since then,” comments Mason. “We are blessed beyond imagination with the folks we have in our church. We have a lot of fun people that make it fun. God has blessed us financially, and it’s from giving. Every Sunday Jerry Morris, our church treasurer, gets excited about how much the offering was that day. Some days it’s just amazing that so few people can put together that much money and give it to God.”
Over the years services have begun to focus more on the family. Sunday mornings include happy birthdays and anniversaries, ‘atta boys’ and ‘atta girls’ when someone has done something good. The church continues to grow with lots of young families. Three nurseries were built to accommodate all the children. “The babies love Freddy,” says Patsy Waldrop. “He goes to the nursery every Sunday morning and loves on the little ones.” With the recent health problems Mason has faced, he has had to cut back on his duties. Where he used to do it all—pastor, piano player, youth leader—he now preaches just the Sunday morning service. Associate Pastor Paul Cocklin has stepped in and done a fabulous job according to several church members. One made the statement that Cocklin “reminds me of a little Freddy.”
What is it that makes Freddy Mason such a likeable person? Leann says it’s because “he loves people unconditionally. He’s not judgmental and he doesn’t put people in boxes. He’s just a loving person and that appeals to people.” Diane thinks it’s because “he appeals to all ages. He’s had that drama training and he puts so much of that in his sermons.” Holly Bonner likes the fact that “he preaches life applications. You can understand how it relates to you.” Mason says, “It’s not me giving to the church, it’s the church giving to me. They put me through college, put me through seminary. I just owe them so much. All the wonderful experiences and families, baptizing kids, watching them grow, burying grandpas and grandmas. It’s just a great feeling when you see somebody and you know you have roots with them…you go way back. I guess God just blessed me in leaving me there that long. I never really wanted to go anyplace else.”