When Bion Irwin was only 8 years old, he had a front seat for a miracle.
Living in Ava where he grew up, Irwin watched his father become a Christian.
“It changed his life,” he said. “God totally turned Dad’s life around in a good way.”
Ultimately, his father, Max Irwin, became a pastor.
And so became the future of his son.
Bion Irwin, now 46 years old, is the new pastor of the Seymour Freewill Baptist Church, duties he began in June after coming to the community from Eupora, Miss., a city of about 2,000 residents, located about one hour from Tupelo, Miss., the hometown of Elvis Presley.
“Eupora was roughly the same size as Seymour and also is in Webster County,” Irwin said with a smile.
However, he’s not a stranger to the area.
Far from it.
The youngest of six children, Irwin grew up in Ava and is a graduate of Ava High School, just 20 miles southeast of Seymour.
In the ministry for 23 years, he was ordained in 1999 and has pastored at many churches in the Ozarks over the past two decades, including locales such as Branson, Couch, Mansfield, Myrtle and Vanzant.
“I’m very familiar with the area ... this is home,” Irwin said, smiling. “I was raised in Douglas County. I appreciate the values here, the atmosphere here.”
In Seymour, he loves the community involvement.
“That’s something to be said for Seymour, and I’ve seen that in a very short time since becoming the pastor here at Seymour Freewill Baptist,” he said.
“The people of Seymour love their community. They love each other. They support each other. It’s special.”
Irwin wants for his long journey in pastoring to make a long-term stop in Seymour.
He and his wife, Catrina, are the proud parents of six children. They have two grown daughters who are 23 and 20 years old, respectively. Still at home are four younger children, ranging in age from 4 to 11.
“I’m a bi-vocational minister and always have been, as I always have worked a regular job, so to speak, while also pastoring a church,” Irwin explained. He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees while currently working on his doctorate degree. Recent work experience includes jobs with Missouri State University in West Plains and with the Mississippi Division of Medicaid.
His journey to Seymour was a unique one.
Irwin said a woman who he previously pastored told him about the opening.
“Several calls were made, and I ended up getting the call to come to Seymour,” he explained. “I believe in following the lead of the Lord, who ultimately brought me here.”
He replaces Derek Terry, who stepped away after pastoring the Seymour Freewill Baptist Church for more than a decade. Before that, his father, Gene Terry, served as the church’s pastor.
“It’s a wonderful church that’s filled with good people,” Irwin said. “I’ve got big shoes to fill.”
He said the church is looking to grow.
“We were running around 100 (people) in our services before COVID-19, and since that time we’ve been around 40 to 70 people,” he noted. “In the past, as recent as just five or so years ago, there were between 130 and 160 at Sunday services each week.
“That’s my vision. To see us back to numbers above 100 or more. We recently had 109 children at Bible school. That was encouraging.”
Weekly services include Sunday school at 9:45 a.m., with Sunday-worship services at 10:45 a.m. Prior to both services, there is a prayer group at meets at 9:15 a.m.
On Sunday evenings, a prayer group meets at 5:30 p.m., followed by regular services at 6 p.m. Wednesday-night Bible study starts at 7 p.m.
“There’s potential here for great growth, and in all of my years of pastoring, this is the first time I’ve pastored at a church inside the city limits,” Irwin concluded.
“It may seem odd that I’m so excited about that, but I see the opportunity and benefit of being inside a city. We want for the Seymour Freewill Baptist Church to be a community church, to reach out to the people in Seymour.
“We welcome everyone. To anyone looking for a church home, give us a try. We’ll feel blessed to see you.”