Celebrating Retirement from Panola College & 50 Years in Ministry at Cedar Grove!
2017 is a huge year for Carthage’s beloved, multi-talented, bivocational friend Freddy Mason. He just retired from Panola College after a long and successful career, and in November he will celebrate a Golden Anniversary—50 years of being the pastor at Cedar Grove Baptist Church. He says, “I have been blessed to have two wonderful careers that I have loved. For most of my tenure at Cedar Grove, we weren’t large enough to support a full-time pastor, and my work at the college made it possible for me to be doubly blessed! Now we are to a point where we need a full-time pastor, and my retirement from Panola will allow that.”
Cedar Grove was organized in 1905, and the first church building was erected in 1915. “That old historic church had high, curved roofs and was all wood; there was some great singing in there!” he says. “The building was moved to the community of Easton near Cherokee Lake West in 2001 when we began construction of our present building, and it is still being used as a church today.”
Freddy was raised in Carthage, graduating from CHS and spending two years at Panola College on a drama scholarship. He worked for two years and then started classes at East Texas Baptist University in Marshall in September of 1967. “A. P. Bazer, pastor of Cedar Grove, was leaving and recommended that they hire me to replace him,” he says. “Dr. Billy Simmons, pastor at Central Baptist, joined him in the recommendation, and I was hired. I never dreamed they would want someone like me who had never finished anything. And I certainly never dreamed I would still be the pastor 50 years later! We have all grown up together! I pastored this congregation while they put me through college at ETBU for two years and then through seminary at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary for three years. I would leave New Orleans every Friday after class, and since the seminary was closed on Monday, I would return Monday afternoon. (I learned every possible route to and from New Orleans!) This special flock took such good care of me; some of the ladies of the church would even wash my clothes and get me ready to go back.”
He remembers that in those early years, the church had no air conditioning. There had once been a pot-bellied stove in the center, but now there were two gas heaters, one on each side of the church. Wasps had built nests in the attic, and when the heat was turned on, the wasps would come down into the sanctuary. There was no running water, so no toilets, but an outhouse out in the back. “I had never experienced anything quite like that,” he recalls, “but we got window units, and then central air, and it wasn’t long until we needed Sunday School space and a fellowship hall. So we began our first building project. All the construction was done by church members except for the brick masonry. Then we ran out of space again and built our present building—the sanctuary in 2001 and the rest of the building in 2010. The church has been landlocked for 50 years, and we have filled up every inch of this one and a half acres with concrete and buildings. We have prayed for a long time that God would provide us with more space, and He did! We have just recently acquired some adjacent property to the west. We haven’t started making plans yet, but we are excited to get to keep moving west!”
One of Freddy’s favorite memories is the first Vacation Bible School they had after he had been there a short while. “They had done VBS previously, but not in awhile. We only had a few children but decided to do it anyway. I somehow got some balloons printed with our information to promote VBS, and I stayed up all night blowing them up. I filled my old green car with them and just drove around town, passing out balloons to every child I saw. We are blessed have so many kids now, and to me that’s what ministry is all about! I still just love VBS!”
He also recalls conducting his first wedding and first funeral, saying he was shaking with nerves more than either the bride or the groom, and that Dr. Billy Simmons came and helped him with the first funeral because he didn’t have any idea what to do. “These are the things that build a pastor, though,” he says, “the relationships made through weddings and funerals and VBS and other ministries. The people! The biggest comfort I ever had was having Aubrey Wedgeworth on the platform with me leading singing for so many wonderful years. I knew that whatever came up, he had it covered. He taught me how to do church, and it was a sad day for me when he decided he was too old to do it anymore!”
Another favorite thing is just seeing things come to fruition. “Our staff started with just me,” he says, “then added a youth director. We now have associate pastors of youth, of music, and of children, and the biggest help—a full-time secretary. I don’t know how I would get by now without Stacey Morris! We have also gotten our first bus. And it has been wonderful to be able to help young men who first started in youth ministry with us go on to pursue doctorates and become ministers all over. We are not a perfect church, but like I always tell people, ‘If you ever find a perfect church, don’t join it—you’ll just mess it up!’ We serve a perfect God, but we are imperfect as we serve.”
Freddy gained a love for speech and drama at CHS with Orita Morrison. “She was fantastic,” he says. “I learned so much from her, especially a love of public speaking. I was so frightened at first, but ended up going to state in extemporaneous speaking and was thrilled to death. Orita then began teaching at Panola College at the same time I started there. We were both also involved with the Village Players, a local theater group founded by Q. M. Martin. He would do all the scenery for our productions, and it was as good as what you’d see on Broadway. We did dramas and musicals, and the music, choreography, and dancing were just so amazing and professional! And the dramas we did at the college were great, too. We did ‘Death of a Salesman’ and got the school’s first Superior rating from the Texas State Speech and Theater Association. The next year we did ‘Inherit the Wind’ about the Scopes trial and were selected by the Texas Educational Theater Association to present it as theater in the round in Corpus Christi. I have so many extraordinary memories of that time!”
He first thought he wanted to major in music and become a band director because he had enjoyed playing the trumpet so much, but he claims that music theory nearly killed him, so he decided to major in speech with a minor in religion, a combination that has served him well. His first year out of seminary, he served as leader of the Baptist Student Ministries at Panola and was later hired by the college to teach speech, first as adjunct faculty and then full time. “I loved it,” he says. “We got to take kids to so many wonderful places for debate and speech competitions! At that time, Liz Hedges was head of the Drama Department, and she also let me help with her productions.” He later moved from teaching into administration, first as Director of Academic Faculty, then Dean of Liberal Arts, and finally as Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
“I really enjoyed the whole thing!” Freddy says. “Panola College is such a jewel—such an asset to our community. We are so blessed that Q. M. Martin had the foresight to see that we needed it, and he convinced enough people and got it done. We would not be able to qualify to start it today because we don’t have enough residents to meet today’s requirements, but he got us going at just the time we needed to get going. It is such an important asset to our community and our whole county!”
Freddy married his wife Suzanne late in life, much to the delight of his church family, who had been praying for years that he find a wife. “We are learning day by day how to be retired,” he says. “I have been off for two whole weeks, and we have really treated it like a vacation because we have so rarely ever taken any vacations at all.” His lifelong community wishes its dear servant a blissful retirement and a continued rich ministry with his beloved Cedar Grove congregation!