WREN – For the Coontail community, New Hope Church is as much a symbol as a raccoon’s tail. Stories from long ago even suggest the Coontail name derived from a hunting trip when Jim Clark and Ed Cordell took refuge from a storm in the old New Hope Baptist Church.
While inside, coon dogs ripped off the tail of one of the raccoons killed in the hunt. As a joke, the men nailed the tail to the door of the church, and it wasn’t taken down for quite a while. The church took on the nickname Coontail Church and eventually the nickname carried over to Coontail Road itself.
While the New Hope Church standing now was built in 1904 and has endured spurts with little to no activity, Thursday night and Sunday morning services going since May are breathing new life into the historic church.
“Evidently, there was a movement of God here. When I talk to people who were in here, they said there was a movement of God. We can feel the spirit of God grow in every service,” said Bro. Ken Lockhart, who started New Hope House of Prayer from a prayer group held in his living room.
According to Lockhart, the last congregation to use New Hope Church had six members when it closed three or four years ago. The 22 people at his prayer meeting expressed they wanted to find a building to have prayer meetings.
“I prayed about it and looked at three or four buildings and said, ‘Let’s find a church. There are some rural churches out there not being used.’ Somebody called to say the church on Coontail isn’t being used,” Lockhart said.
More recently used by the Wren RCDC, Lockhart talked with the club’s president, Candy Archer, about the possibility of using the building and within seven days had the first prayer meeting there.
“I knew it was a historical site and at one time had large services. The fact it was a historical site caught my attention. I have a thing for small churches. I think we’re neglected them and shoved them to the side,” Lockhart said. “There’s something special about things dead coming back to life, and we’re doing that here. When we’re out here, people slow down and wonder what we’re doing.”
He wanted to maintain a piece of the church’s past through the new name. Lockhart has 45 years of experience through nondenominational and Assembly of God churches.
Thursday services are at 7 p.m. with worship, devotional and prayer, and Sunday services are at 10:30 a.m. with worship, preaching and children’s church. The services incorporate contemporary and traditional worship.
He said most of the members come from Egypt, Wren and Aberdeen. More than half of the congregation is comprised of 9- to 16-year-olds.
“One of my concerns was that this is an older building and how are these kids going to react. They’ve all responded great and said this place is awesome,” Lockhart said. “Our youth group is going to grow faster than our adult group.”
The church is also involved with Broken Lives Ministry in Nettleton and will be involved with jail ministry.
“We want to let God have His way. This is His church, not our church. In all my years of ministry, I have never felt as peaceful as I have here,” Lockhart said. “The presence of God is definitely returning. You can definitely tell it in the worship services.”