“It’s Still a Church”: Woodland Hills Baptist Hosts Final Service
Pride may be a strong sentiment to express the emotions of Ty Pigott.
Not short on words or sincere belief, the soon-to-be 64-year-old pastor of Woodland Hills Baptist Church will preach for his last time Sunday in Fondren.
“My banner has been to finish well and I feel like we have,” he said. “We have accomplished what we started and not everyone can say that.”
What is that?
“We kept a church here.”
Honoring a 2014 agreement, Woodland Hills deeded the buildings and property to non-denominational Fondren Church April 30. Woodland Hills will host its final service Sunday.
Founded nearly 88 years ago as Northside Baptist, Woodland Hills, a Southern Baptist church, began in a small white building on the corner of Mitchell Avenue and North State Street in Fondren.
The signing of official papers this week was a culmination of a journey six years in the making.
Pigott remembers well the meeting that brought their church to today.
“Fondren Church had grown to two services at Duling Hall. When (their leadership team, led by pastor Robert Green) came in, I was not prepared or ready. I knew they had something on their minds. They sat in those chairs you’re sitting in… it’s kind of surreal to look back.”
The arrangement called for the growing Fondren Church to invest in, renovate and share space with Woodland Hills, a church whose prominence was highest in the early 1970s.
“(The growth) Fondren Church is experiencing now, Woodland Hills had that season,” Pigott said. “It’s fulfilling in the sense we know there is a vibrant church (still) here.”
After that 2014 agreement, Pigott explained that it was “a foregone conclusion (Woodland Hills’ property) would ultimately belong to Fondren Church.” That day could have come in 2024 or much sooner. He said, “When it was right, it was right.”
As he walked past the platform in the church’s auditorium, Pigott was asked if he ever imagined the drums, the screens for song lyrics and other elements of the nontraditional Fondren Church.
Calling himself and Woodland Hills “very traditional,” Pigott remarked, “We used to take our kids to youth camp and this (style of worship) was what they saw. Now, they’re leading the churches and this is what they want.”
Pigott has never been in this situation, leaving a pulpit without another one waiting in the wings.
“People ask, ‘What are your plans?’ I say to them, ‘When God lets me know, I’ll let you know,’” saying he does have other opportunities he is evaluating.
Pigott’s final sermon here will be on the Church, noting that Woodland Hills Baptist Church has always been a mission-minded church.
“We have been sending out and housing missionaries. With this transition,” (his preferred view of the end of the ministry at Woodland Hills), “we have become missionaries ourselves.”
Some may view Woodland Hills’ last service as a “death.” Pigott understands that perspective. But he looks at it another way, echoing his earlier point of pride.
“You can go to Laurel by way of Newton, MS down Highway 15. When you get almost into Laurel, there’s an electronics store that used to be a church. You know it used to be a church because it’s a church building. My desire was for this not to become an electronics store — or parking lot.”
“There’s a bigger picture here.” Pigott restates. “It’s still a church.”
Robert Green, lead pastor at Fondren Church, offered: “Five years ago, Fondren Church was only two years old, but we needed space. Five years ago, Woodland Hills needed us to become a partner in sharing their space. Neither wanted the building to be torn down or turned into something else. As Sunday approaches and they have their final service, we are grateful they have entrusted us with such a magnificent facility.”