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Sawdust Discovery Brings Awareness, Thankfulness

During a church renovation project in Virginia, workers uncovered the sawdust of the original tabernacle, which unlocked significant church history — back to the founding of the Assemblies of God.
A construction worker approached Jeff Carico, pastor of First Assembly of God in Bristol, Virginia, and casually mentioned that the pouring of the footers for the extensive remodel of the fellowship hall (the former sanctuary) had taken longer than expected. Carico then learned the reason behind the delay — the work crew had unexpectedly run into a significant layer of what turned out to be sawdust, so they had to dig deeper for the footers to have a solid foundation.

The worker returned to his duties, but Carico was briefly overwhelmed as he realized the significance of the finding.

“Waves of emotions came over me,” he later stated in a post. “We were touching the sawdust floor of almost 100 years ago. We are literally building upon the foundation of the many generations that came before us.”

Carico, who has led First AG with his wife, Donna, for the past 30 years, says that sadly the workers didn’t realize the significance of the sawdust and had already poured the cement for the footers when it was mentioned to him, making the sawdust inaccessible once again.

“I hope to figure out a way to dig under and recover some of the sawdust as a reminder of those whose shoulders we stand on,” Carico says.

Although the sawdust floor does herald back to the early years of the Assemblies of God, the church also has a direct connection to the beginning of the AG.

“Willie Millsaps (1896-1991) became, I believe, the fifth pastor of our church, which began as a home Bible study,” Carico says. “He attended the 1914 meeting when the Assemblies of God was founded in Hot Springs, Arkansas.”

Also, in an interesting intersection, Millsaps (who served as the first superintendent of the Kansas district and later the Appalachian district) personally prayed over Jack Carnley and his ministry in leading St. Paul (Virginia) Assembly of God. Carico later served under Carnley.

“Pastor Carnley trained me for the ministry,” Carico says. “He prayed over me and my ministry. Now, as a presbyter, when I pray over ministers, I tell them how they’re the fourth generation — not that far from our founding fathers.”

Carico says that when he posted online about the discovery, he received quite a bit of internet feedback from people who had moved away over the years, reminiscing about the church, the people, and years gone by.

“But when I asked our current church members to stand up if they had been here since I started pastoring the church, only five stood,” says Carico, who also had a made-to-order sermon illustration out of the experience. “There’s little connection in our congregation today to the church’s history, but this became an opportunity to educate them on the significance of our past and what is still before us.”

The discovery of the sawdust also provided a pause in Carico’s enthusiasm for the new building, giving him opportunity to reflect on and express his thankfulness for those who came before — on whose prayers and faithfulness the church now stands. He says the experience humbled him.

“To know that your name is added to a list of people who have served in the past and you’re connected right to the beginning of the Assemblies of God is really humbling,” he says, “but it’s challenging as well . . . you have a lot to live up to.”

A grand opening and dedication ceremony of the newly remodeled hall was held on Dec. 18, 2022.

Dan Van Veen

Dan Van Veen is news editor of AG News. Prior to transitioning to AG News in 2001, Van Veen served as managing editor of AG U.S. Missions American Horizon magazine for five years. He attends Central Assembly of God in Springfield, Missouri, where he and his wife, Lori, teach preschool Sunday School and 4- and 5-year-old Rainbows boys and girls on Wednesdays.