Old timers wouldn’t recognize the village of Bracken nowadays. Well, except for the fact that the bass-fiddling country preacher is still there.

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JD1+Jack Day stands behind the pulpit at Black Oak Free Will Baptist Church — one of very few times, he notes, that’s happened without him wearing a suit and tie. 


Edit: Jack Day passed away on Feb. 9, 2016.

Jack Day was a fresh-faced preacher when he gave his first sermon at Black Oak Free Will Baptist Church on August 4, 1968. The 34-year-old had just been licensed as a minister, and some of the church’s deacons thought “the boy might make us a pastor” after hearing him preach at a local convention.

Turns out, they were right. After giving a couple of trial sermons, Jack was voted in and has been there ever since. “I’m seeing the third and fourth generation of people saved and baptized that was here when I come here,” says Jack of his 47 years at the church. “It goes back a little ways.”


 Following a different tune

Despite how things have worked out, Jack didn’t plan to become a minister. In fact, his first love was music. “I just started playing when I was a kid,” recalls Jack. “I first started playing a little ol’ ukulele. Then I got to playin’ the mandolin, then I got to playin’ the little fiddle…and this group was needing a bass player. So I went to town and bought me a bass and picked it right up and started playing with them.”

He picked it up well. The group – named The Clearwater Trio – proved good enough to perform on a weekly television show in Sedalia. “The band guys would come and get me because I couldn’t even drive,” says Jack, who remembers leaving after school on Friday to go up for the shows.

I’ve not always been a preacher. I’ve seen fights. I’ve seen stabbins.’…And so it’s sorta been educational. When I preach against sin, and I preach against drinkin,’ I know what I’m talkin’ about.”

While they were on the road, the group found extra money by playing in nightclubs – venues that, believe it or not, the minister appreciates today. But not in ways one might expect.

“I can put it thisaway, and I hope you understand what I mean: I’m truly ashamed of what I did and how I played, where I played,” says Jack. “But it wasn’t all in vain, and I’ll tell you why. Now, then, when I talk about sin, and I talk about what them kinda things will do for you, I know what I’m talkin’ about. I’ve not always been a preacher. I’ve seen fights. I’ve seen stabbins.’ I’ve seen everything in those places. And I’ve seen husbands with other people’s wives. And things like that. And so it’s sorta been educational. When I preach against sin, and I preach against drinkin,’ I know what I’m talkin’ about.”

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Jack Day (far right) plays his upright bass with bluegrass legends Bill Monroe and Jim McReynolds at Marshfield High School.

Those days came to an end when Jack got saved in his early 20s. Even when he quit the nightclubs, however, he still didn’t want to become a pastor – but he had a feeling that’s what he was supposed to do. “The Lord began to deal with me about becoming a minister,” says Jack. “And I’d argue with Him about it.” Jack ultimately gave up the fight and entered the ministry, where he’s been ever since – along with his bass fiddle, which he regularly plays with Black Oak’s choir.

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Black Oak: The little country congregation that could.

That old time religion

Black Oak as it appeared when Jack began as pastor.

Sitting on one of the church’s pews, he recalls his earliest days as pastor when he led bi-monthly services for his congregation of around 15 people.

Mostly farm folk, his congregants used the trip for more than just spiritual instruction. “We were supposed to start service at 10 a.m., (but) it might take 15 minutes to get them all in the house,” says Jack. “You know, this was about where they always seen each other. They’d have a pretty good visit out there before you’d ever get ‘em in here. When it was over, the same thing again. I liked that.”

Those farmers aren’t around these days. Today, the church’s members drive from places like Marshfield and Niangua to attend services, when in the past they came from right down the road. And that ease of travel has shown up in other ways. “It’s much more thickly populated around here,” says Jack of the area, which is still known to old-timers as Bracken. “There weren’t no houses around nowhere. And now, there’s just houses on every corner.”


Black Oak, yesterday and today

In a day and age where rural congregations are quickly becoming a thing of the past, the 81-year-old ‘s work with the church is remarkable. Jack has led the church through several renovations and expansions, giving ample room for the church’s attendees, which average 80 each week – services which, according to Jack, keep traditions such as old hymns and the King James Version of the Bible alive. “I know that the bigger churches, and you might say the uptown churches, they modernize quite a bit,” he says. “But they still like ‘Amazing Grace’ out here.”

Change, however, has occurred in other ways. “Starting out, we just had church two Sundays a month,” says Jack, a tieback to the days when circuit preachers, who split their time among several rural congregations, were the norm. “Well, the off-Sundays would come…but people would show up on those Sundays, too. I’d have to say, ‘Sorry folks, this isn’t church day. Come back next Sunday.’”

It took some work, but Jack convinced the deacons that they did indeed need to have church every week. And now it’s more than that: The church has two services and Sunday School and a Bible study on Wednesdays each week, as well as two revivals, Vacation Bible School and a Christmas program annually.


Lessons of love

When dealing with people, Jack has learned  that love is always important. “Everybody’s got a problem and a feeling that they worry about,” he says. “I try to help ‘em with that. Try to encourage ‘em.” And most of all, “(I) mainly try to get ‘em to look to the Lord for their help.”

That feeling comes through in Jack’s sermons, too. “I just try to preach the love of God and what He died for,” he notes. “But I always think about John 3:17 — ‘For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.’ That’s always been a real favorite passage of scripture to me. But all the Bible’s full of lovin.’”

That love has also shown up in the approximately 1,400 funerals Jack has preached. Of course, he doesn’t just bury members of his congregation – many are people in the community who he’s met or have come kind of a connection. And there are “people that don’t have nobody to do it,” says Jack of other of his funerals. “They call me instead of the bartender, maybe.”

Jack and Freda Day pose with a cake in recognition of their 25th anniversary with the church in 1983.

A picture of Jack’s ministry would be incomplete without mentioning the woman who’s been at his side for 60 years. Freda Day, the woman who said she could never be a pastor’s wife, has “been a good help to me here,” says Jack. “And I miss her so bad I can hardly stand it.”

It is not death that has taken Freda away – it’s Alzheimer’s disease. But when faced with her diagnosis, Freda made it clear that she wasn’t supposed to be Jack’s first priority. “My wife said to me, here before she got as bad as she is now, she said, ‘Jack, I don’t want you to let my problem cause you to not take care of the church,” Jack recalls. “’I want you to keep on keeping on.’”

And keep on he does. “The good Lord just really hasn’t said quit yet,” says Jack. “I know we’ll know when the time comes. And when the time comes, I will turn it over to somebody else. (Until then) I need somethin’ to keep me out of meanness.” Of course that’s not the only reason. “I’m doing it because of Christ,” he says.

When that time comes, Jack knows how he wants to be remembered. “I want ‘em to know and remember that I was just an old servant of God,” he says. “I want ‘em to think maybe that I practiced what I preached. More than anything else. That I wasn’t a phony.”


Want to attend? Black Oak Freewill Baptist Church, located approximately six miles east of Marshfield on State Hwy. DD, holds services on Sunday at 10 a.m. (Sunday school), 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. On Wednesdays, Bible study is held at 7 p.m.

4 thoughts on “Old timers wouldn’t recognize the village of Bracken nowadays. Well, except for the fact that the bass-fiddling country preacher is still there.

  1. Jack Is a remarkable man. He believes in people when they quit believing. Jack tries to show them the light at the end of the tunnel by guiding them to the light switch in complete darkness. I am Honored to know Jack and Call him a Friend and Family.

    Amazing Article. Thank You.

  2. Pastor Jack Day is a remarkable man, his kind loving heart is present and forth coming to all that has had the privilege of getting to know him. His sermons are God’s words that bring knowledge and truth and most of all God’s love thru scriptures. He is truly an insperation to each and everyone in the congregation…. his presence in Black Oak Freewill Baptist inspires us to trust and appreciate each and everyone . To know Jack Day is truly an honor. MAY GOD BLESS YOU BROTHER JACK ALWAYS AND FOREVER.

  3. I’m a Springfieldian with lots of relatives in the Niangua & Marshfield area…I also worked at Cox Hospital. Jack Day visited so often at the hospital that I saw him more then many employees. He preached so many funerals my family attended that it is a shock if we attend a funeral with another person preaching. So impressed by how much he cares not just for those who attend his church, but everyone from the area. He was a classmate of my uncle…William “Sonny” Lester Garton II who died over forty years ago, but each time I see Jack Day I remember my uncle. Jack Day doesn’t know me at all, yet he has blessed my life many times…wouldn’t the world be a better place if all Christians had that kind of impact on others.

  4. I have known Jack for many years and when I think of a Pastor that practiced what he preached he is one of the first that comes to my mind. He not only Pastured his flock at church but I often had him come to visit my Mom when she was sick in the hospital or nursing home and in her own home. Jack always took time to talk about the old days and friends they have shared over the years. He always left my Mom in a happier place after their visits and she always was just waiting for him to come and share the Word and a prayer with her again. We will all miss Jack down here but Heaven has received a Saint that don’t need a statue to be remembered by his friends and loved ones.

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