MOUNT CARMEL — On Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, Mt. Carmel’s Oak Grove Baptist Church celebrated its 150-year anniversary with special music, a guest speaker and a homecoming dinner.
A large crowd gathered for the celebration, and members were visibly proud to celebrate the legacy of their church. The sanctuary was also decorated with numerous quilts that are family heirlooms of church members.
Senior Pastor Todd Haley read a letter that the church had received from Dr. Randy Davis, the president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board that read “on behalf of the 3,200 sister Tennessee Baptist Churches, I want to congratulate you on your 150th anniversary. It’s an incredible milestone in the life of Oak Grove Baptist Church and one which reflects decades of dedication and faithfulness to our Lord.”
A place where people stayDuring the service, Haley also congratulated music director Doug Wagner on 45 years of service to the church. The President and Exec. Director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board also wrote a letter to congratulate Wagner that read in part, “It is not every day that you find someone who has been in the same ministry position for that length of time. Even though you took the job on a temporary basis as a favor to a friend, God had bigger plans. How God has used you, my dear brother.”
Wagner is not the only one who has dedicated many years to Oak Grove.
Three of the “Carpenter sisters,” Noonie Bennett, Frances Whitmore and Patsy Byerley, also spoke during the service. Though each sister has since married and taken a new surname, longtime members of the church still immediately knew the “Carpenter sisters.”
“I want to thank God for my mother and daddy,” Bennett said. “If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here. It never got too bad for them to bring us to church. We had no transportation, and we had to walk everywhere. Our dear friends would come by in their car. Now, there were eight of us (in the family), and they tried to get all of us in that car.”
Bennett explained that this story took place in the days before seatbelts, as several of her siblings would often ride on the running boards of the car as it drove to Oak Grove. She went on to say that she had been attending the church for 80 years, her sister Frances has attended for 78, and Patsy explained that she has attended “all [her] life.”
Even the guest speaker, Dr. Chuck Frazier, grew up in Oak Grove, as his father, Clay Frazier, served as pastor of the church from 1974 to 1985.
Longtime member Joan Ingram, who longtime member Kathy Salyer referred to as the “church historian,” also explained there are numerous branches of her family within Oak Grove.
Ingram grew up attending the church. After living in Georgia for 30 years, she returned to Mt. Carmel and began attending the church again.
When asked about her favorite memory of her time at Oak Grove, Ingram responded, “seeing my mother sitting on the fifth pew and bringing my own daughter here for the first time.”
She explained that her daughter actually wrote a song about Ingram’s mother sitting in “her pew” week after week. For Ingram, life really has come full circle at Oak Grove.
Missions at Oak Grove“Missions has always been a big part of what this church does,” Haley told the Review. “This church, over the years, has been one of the top 10 percent of givers towards mission projects in the state of Tennessee in the Tennessee Baptist Convention. We don’t want to just talk about the love of Christ, we want to live it out.”
Salyer told the Review that the church has a “blessing box” in their parking lot that was built in honor of a member who recently passed away. The church’s Girls in Action group built the box, which is filled with non-perishable food and toiletries that people in need can take for free.
This year will mark 17 years of the church’s involvement with Upward Basketball. They host a Harvest Festival each fall where community members can enjoy free food and games. The church partners with Samaritan’s Purse to participate in their Shoebox Ministry each November. They host a Valentine’s Day Play, which often takes the form of a reenactment of the Andy Griffith Show. Each Christmas, the church hosts an Angel Party where families can enjoy a meal, hear a Bible story, play games, and receive gifts. The church youth group is also very active in mission work.
Salyer also noted that Oak Grove was instrumental in starting both Ridgeview Baptist Church in Church Hill and Belmont Baptist Church in Mt. Carmel.
Church historyThe church began in the Oak Grove School House in 1869 with seven charter members.
In May of 1870, the church members began planning to build a small church building. Though they weren’t able to accomplish their goal at that time, records show that they still made their first pledge of $7 to Home Missions. They later began to worship in a house at Pump Springs and the Liberty School in addition to the Oak Grove School.
“Finances were a problem with the young church,” reads a church bulletin from the church’s 1986 Homecoming. “Sometimes the collection would be just 80 cents or perhaps $1.41. At times the offering would be products of the labors of the members, such as wheat or corn. These offerings were meticulously logged in the minutes.”
By 1900, the group had finally constructed a humble church building, which was located near the present location of the church’s entrance sign.
Though membership went up and down in the early 1900’s, the 1930’s saw the membership begin to outgrow the old building. Thus, a new building was built and officially dedicated in 1936. Church records show that many members furnished much of the lumber from their own property.
The first brick structure, which is part of the current educational building, was built in 1953. From there, the church has continued to grow in both size and membership, as the building has received numerous additions and renovations to achieve the present structure.
They don’t plan to stop at 150 years, though. As a handout given to visitors at Sunday’s service explained, the church has celebrated 150 years, but their story is still unfolding.