HATLEY – Monroe County’s oldest continually active church, New Hope Primitive Baptist Church, has a history dating back 200 years. This year, the church is celebrating that milestone.
“The history of this church can be spanned in four lifetimes,” said church historian Billy Griffith, who verified it’s the county’s oldest active church.
Church members said it’s commonly known that the church is the oldest continually active church in North Mississippi.
The church is now situated on property along Hatley Road first donated by the family of Polly Ridings Tubb in 1896, but its history traces it back much further to another part of the county.
According to church history compiled by Griffith and former long-time church clerk Fairybelle Tubb Hathcock, the first congregation was originally organized in the home of John G. Fowlkes southwest of present-day Becker.
The first church building was a small brick house that was constructed near Weaver Creek with bricks made by slaves belonging to the charter members. Several of the slaves later became members of New Hope Church.
New Hope Primitive Baptist Church’s pastor Elder Tim Cunningham has served the congregation since 1998, 10 years after being ordained as a Primitive Baptist elder. He began preaching as a teenager.
“A church is not defined by its brick, mortar, wood and glass, but by its people,” he said. “One of the metaphors of the Lord’s church given in the New Testament is the body of Christ, with Christ as the head and each person serving as an individual member of the body, fulfilling a unique purpose as they have been gifted by God.”
Carolyn Griffith related memories that were passed down through the generations, recalling connections with the James Creek community in Itawamba County.
“Families would ride wagons to a monthly gathering that centered around dinner on the grounds. We still have descendants of the Tubb family here,” she said.
A capella singing is an important part of church services.
“Some of our younger singers have been involved since they were 2 years old,” Carolyn said.
Per Primitive Baptist tradition, all the worship is corporate in the sanctuary.
“Primitive Baptists do not have age-segregated Sunday school classes. We practice family-integrated worship, where the youngest to the oldest worship together in one common assembly. We emphasize the importance of expository Bible preaching and teaching, while encouraging parents to use the Sunday sermon as a basis for further private instruction of their children in the home,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham espouses a simple and focused mission for the church he serves.
“We believe we offer something unique within Christianity today. Many churches are all about elaborate programs and rousing music and theatrics. We are concerned with glorifying God by the simple proclamation of the gospel and the simple manner of worship prescribed in the New Testament: praying, preaching, singing, giving and fellowship,” he said.
Cunningham believes the future of New Hope Primitive Baptist Church is assured by remaining faithful to core beliefs.
“We find no reason to change our methods to accommodate current societal or religious fads and trends. Practicing authentic Biblical Christianity is the key to our surviving and thriving in the future and the basis upon which God will continue to bless New Hope Church and every other church, according to His will,” he said.