First Baptist Church to celebrate 125 years of history

By Tanya Chilton tchilton@civitasmedia.com

May 2, 2014

First Baptist Church of Elkin, which now resides on Gwyn Avenue, will be celebrating 125 years on Sunday after first being organized on May 18, 1889, from a presbytery of elders who convened in Elkin for the purpose.

According to the book, “First Century, A History of First Baptist Church of Elkin, North Carolina 1889-1989” by late church member Hazel Byrd, the Elkin residents saw a need in the 1880s and the need was soon met in the form of the First Baptist Church of Elkin. Church organizers were W.B. Woodruff, who became the pastor in June of 1889, R.R. Day of the Yadkin Association, Elder W.F. Byrd of the Elkin Association and Elder E.N. Gwyn of the Brier Creek Association.

In the small wooden church originally located on Elk Spur Street, Woodruff delivered the first message from Matthew 16:18, stating, “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

The early members adopted the Articles of Faith, a Constitution and Church Covenant at its foundation.

From 1899-1903, the Rev. C.G. Utley pastored and the church met on the Sabbath twice a week. They selected a new Main Street site to support growth. While Utley pastored, an early interest in missions began to be purposed in the form of missions and mission work.

In 1916, the First Baptist Church became a member of the Surry Baptist Association as deacons and trustees continued to watch it grow. Chatham Manufacturing Company was the largest town employer and brought employment to the area. As the community grew in number and prosperity, so did the church. In Byrd’s book, she revealed that the Rev. C.S. (Spurgeon) Norville pastored from 1917-19 and “began having services each Sunday in the month.”

The First Baptist Church stood out as a stabilizing force in war and peace. In 1921, the church received aid from the State Misson Board, and in the 1920s, the church membership doubled under the Rev. W.T. Baucom., who added eight Sunday school classes. He had a new bell installed and the church had a parsonage. In 1927 under the Rev. J.M. Hayes, 370 members of the Baptist Young Peoples Union became active and the Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) reached out in missions.

In 1927, The Tribune ran a history article on the church that spoke of its growth and erection at the Main Street location. The walls were constructed by hand-made bricks put in the wall for $5 per thousand by member, B.F. Rollins.

In 1928, the Rev. Eph Whisenhunt, who had worked missions in Shanghai, China, became pastor and helped the congregation weather the storm of the Great Depression and remained steadfast after family tragedy. As businesses shut down, Byrd reported the townspeople’s faith triumphed in the midst of the challenges.

At its 45th anniversary, the same message from the gospel that first Woodruff had preached from Matthew 16:18 was delivered.

The Rev. Stephen Morrisett took over the pastorate in 1940, who had an M.A. in musicology from Cornell University and a Th.M. degree from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He led the prayer team in Wednesday services and pastored the church through the difficult years of World War II in which some members and their families served and/or perished.

Byrd wrote, “Much priority was given to the young men entering service and the families of the service men and women were given spiritual support by the pastor especially in times of grief and sorrow when death notices arrived, or notices of missing in action or wounded in action. Eighty-eight young men and women holding membership in First Baptist Church served in the armed forces during World War II.”

Lifelong member of the First Baptist Church of Elkin Fred Norman served in the Third Army and Sixth Armored Division and fought in the Battle of the Bulge alongside General Patton. Norman was awarded the Bronze Star. He carried a Bible, “a testament” given to him by the First Baptist Church and his mother. In the Bible, Norman has a salutation written by Morrisett and a prayer card laminated and signed personally by Patton that still remains.

Norman, who was a deacon and taught Sunday school, recounted many faithful had helped him though it all. He expressed his joy and satisfaction of watching the church grow over the years and happiness when the church grows. Norman, his late wife and children made the church their home, as did his family before him.

Mary Norman is the longest standing member of the church.

A unique ministry to the deaf approved by the Rev. Parker J. McClendon and installed in 1965 by Anne Adkins more than met the challenges of the ’60s. The deaf community described McClendon a “Friend of the Deaf.”

In May of 1989, the church celebrated its centennial, as members, under Dr. David Hughes, thanked church fore-bearers and committed themselves to continue with the same faith as the founders and to remember and celebrate heritage.

Twenty-eight-year member Betty Pittman said she joined the church after moving to the area with her husband Carson who was in the highway patrol and was moved by the church’s hospitality.

“The people have been awfully good,” said Pittman. She said the church’s dedication and what it has produced is important to let others know. She called the church welcoming in a way that really is meant.

Pastor Rick Bennett, who recently came to serve the church, said, “My hope for our anniversary is to bring attention that we have been here 125 years, apparently we have done something right.” He said the congregation’s faith continues to amaze him with all they do with and what they have in number. The Rev. Bill Leathers will speak on Sunday.

Bennett said it will give him the chance to host and “get to know other’s stories.” He said it will be important to remind folks of what God has done through the church and its impact.”

“God is actively renewing and reconciling,” added Bennett.

Tanya Chilton may be reached at 336-835-1513 or on Twitter @TanyaTDC.