BULLS GAP — The American Civil War had not been over quite three years when what is now Speedwell Missionary Baptist Church was organized in Beckner’s School on March 14, 1868.
The congregation of the church, which is located on Speedwell Road north of Bulls Gap, will gather to celebrate their church’s 150th anniversary on Wednesday evening, March 14.
Georgia Lavengood, the church’s secretary-treasurer, said the schoolhouse where the church was originally organized was located “just down the road” from the church’s current Speedwell Road location.
A church history indicates that Beckner’s School, where the church first held services, was located on what is now known as Summit Hill Road near where Hopewell Church now stands.
“Rev. Jesse Hale was the first pastor and there were 14 charter members of the church,” the church history states. “They were John A, Cupp, Molly Berry, Joshua Berry, Sarah Berry, Sherman Spitzer, Elizabeth Charles, W.M. Thacker, Martha Gulley, Buford Gulley, Catherine Walker, Edward Walker, Logan Thompson, Sarah Roark and Jane Bandy.”
Speedwell Baptist Church joined the Nolichucky Baptist Association with 17 members also in 1868 and church services later were held in Beech Grove School for 27 years until a church building was constructed in 1895 on land donated by James and Martha Long.
“During the time services were held in Beech Grove School, Speedwell Church was often referred to as Beech Grove Church,” the church history states.
The church moved from the Nolachucky Baptist Association to the Holston Valley Baptist Association in 1894.
After the first church building was completed in 1895, classrooms were added to the original frame church building in following years.
In January 1963, disaster struck when the original church building was totally destroyed by fire. But members faithfully persevered and only one church service was canceled and that was on the day of the fire.
“By the following Wednesday night, services were being held once again at Beech Grove School,” the history says.
Rev. Billy Bush had only been the church’s pastor for three weeks when it was destroyed by fire in 1963. The church had no fire insurance and Rev. Bush tackled the disaster by sending letters to every church in the Nolachucky and Holston Valley Baptist Associations informing them of the fire and asking for donations, the church history notes.
“Most all the churches responded with donations,” the church history says. “In three months and 28 days, church services were being held in a new church building and there was still $484 in the church’s treasury.”
A dedication ceremony was held for the new church building on Sept. 8, 1963. “By the blessings of God and hard work, prayer and much sacrifice, we have rebuilt God’s house,” an announcement about the dedication service said. An all-day service with “dinner on the grounds” was held to celebrate the occasion.
Speedwell Missionary Baptist Church now has more than 100 members, according to Lavengood.
“On March 14, we will be celebrating and praising God for our precious church and thanking Him for all that He has done for us over the years,” she said. “Please pray for us as we search for a new pastor.”