Bethany Primitive Baptist Church will celebrate its 100th anniversary of continual services next week, according to Elder Larry Wise.
Reaching the century mark is due to the church’s members displaying dedication through adversity over the years, he said.
It is the second oldest surviving Primitive Baptist church of the two currently in Pontotoc County. Hopewell Primitive Baptist Church near Randolph is 182 years old.
The Bethany church, located just west of Ecru on 4905 Highway 346, will recognize its 100th anniversary during its annual meeting Sept. 6-8.
Services will be held Friday Sept. 6 at 7 p.m. at the church.
Services continue at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 7 with a review of church history followed by regular services, and then lunch.
Services resume on Sunday at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 8, conclude that morning, and will be followed by lunch. The invited minister for the annual meeting is Elder Ricky Harcrow of Fort Payne, Ala.
Elder Wise has served the church full time (every Sunday) since 1991 and twice a month for 10 years prior to that.
Church deacons are Phillip Wise, Terry Wise and Jerry Coleman.
According to original handwritten church records extensively researched by Elder Wise, Bethany Primitive Baptist Church was organized Oct. 21, 1919 when a group of men and women met at Cobb’s school house in Union County to organize a Primitive Baptist Church to be known as Bethany.
The 10 charter members that comprised the original Bethany church were: A. B. Sides, D. A. McCollum, M. A. McCollum, R. L. Hamblin, J. R. Thomas, May Thomas, D. J. McCollum, Eva McCollum, Callie Adams, and Lullar Hamblin.
The presbytery of the church constitution consisted of Elder W. J. Parker and Elder J. A. Miller. After the constitution, the church met in conference and called for the ordination of Brother J. R. Thomas to the full work of the gospel ministry. Elder Thomas was called as the church’s first Pastor.
Conference consisted of preaching from the pastor or other minister after which any business was addressed.
The church had services at Cobb’s schoolhouse for about a year. On Saturday before the first Sunday in September, 1920, conference attendees voted to move the place of conference and service to Buchanan schoolhouse in Pontotoc County.
At the next conference, the church ordained D. J. McCollum and R. W. Wise as deacons.
The church met at Buchanan until land was donated by the Grady family at its current location and a building erected there; the exact date is unknown. A committee was formed to look into building a new meetinghouse in October, 1935, but this was probably after they moved to the church’s current location. The committee was made up of W. F. Bailey, R.W. Wise, M.M. Wise, R. L. Tubbs and H.D. Browning, records indicated.
The church meetinghouse has seen many improvements over the years, including an extension to the pulpit area in the back of the church in 1954, Elder Wise said.
The church continued to have lunch outside with dinner on the grounds. Rest rooms were outdoor privies (one for the men and one for the women), separated by considerable distance, according to church records.
A new brick building was erected in 1971 complete with rest rooms and the old church building was used for a lunchroom.
In September 1982 the church approved a lunchroom addition for church use and the use of the Harmony Valley Singing School students. The old church building was later converted into dormitories for boys and girls in Harmony Valley Singing School.
This building was later moved off the premises in August, 2005 to Wise Family Farms prior to construction of a metal building for boys and girls dormitories on the same site. This building still remains on Wise Family Farms.
In 1994 a pastor’s office and library addition to the church building were completed. The library has many books that were in the library of the late Elder E. D. McCutcheon and consists of both reference books and books by prominent Primitive Baptist Elders and other religious writers. The library also has many VHS tapes of church services and sermons preached by Elder McCutcheon.
In February, 2006, a house and approximately one-acre lot adjacent to the church were donated to the church by church members Bobbie Hale and her husband, Eudean. The house was subsequently torn down as beyond repair. The lot is used as extra parking space for meetings when the ground is dry.
In 2011 the church had extensive interior renovations done involving the ceiling, walls, lightning, pulpit, foyer, bathrooms and complete new windows for church and lunchroom. The church met in the lunchroom for three or four months while these renovations were done.
No look at Bethany’s history would be complete without mention of The Harmony Valley Singing School held at Bethany for over 30 years.
Church records indicate the school taught students the fundamentals of music and four-part harmony using shaped notes. Classes assembled outdoors for many years under a tent or under the shade trees of the church. Breakfast, dinner and supper were furnished for the students during this time and students stayed with families.
The old church building was later converted into dormitories for boys and girls. Classrooms were later added and a new metal building for boys’ and girls’ dormitories was constructed in 2005. The dormitories had an adult male or female in charge of supervision.
As the years passed many other singing schools came into being and helped fill the void for music instruction. The student enrollment continued to decline at Harmony Valley, and the school closed in 2013.
Over the years, music directors and teachers labored, mostly without pay, to teach students at the school. Elder Roland Green was music director for many years until his health failed him. His son Phillip Green took his place for a few years. Ron Box and his wife, Debra, from Nashville, Tenn., came to teach class for over 20 years and Helen Beauchamp and Janice Holder were regulars during that time. Elder E. D. McCutcheon promoted the singing school and made cassette recordings. Toy Wise also helped promote the school, records indicated.
Conference times and church service times have changed over the years. Meeting one Saturday and Sunday monthly in the early years gave way to two Saturdays and Sundays monthly around 1961. Beginning in January, 1975, meetings were held every Sunday for worship services. Bethany still continues this practice.
Many pastors have served Bethany church for the last 100 years. Church records indicate a list of those men and their tenures includes:
--Elder J. R. (Rob) Thomas 1919—1923.
--Elder J. A. Miller Nov. 1923—Nov. 1934.
--Elder J. D. Holder Oct. 1935—May 1971.
--Elder James Allen Rushing was an assistant to Elder Holder Oct. 1968—Oct. 1971.
--Elder E. D. McCutcheon Oct. 1971—Nov. 1981.
--Elder Larry Wise Nov. 1981—Oct. 1991.
--Elder Roger Browning Co-Pastor Nov. 1981—Oct. 1991.
--Elder Larry Wise (Full Time) Oct. 1991—present.
Elder O. L. Hawkins preached one Sunday a month (the 4th Sunday) for about two years from 1971 to 1972.
Bethany Church has also seen 11 ministers ordained from its ranks, according to church records. They include:
· Brother J. R. (Rob) Thomas ordained after the constitution of the church and was called as its first pastor.
· Brother Larry Wise was ordained to the office of Elder in September, 1976.
· Brother Roger Browning was ordained to the ministry in September, 1980.
· Brother Robert Shettles was ordained to the ministry in June, 1984.
· Brother James Hall and Brother Gene Browning were ordained to the ministry in October, 1990.
· Brother Jerry Wise was ordained to the ministry in March, 2000.
· Brother Robert (Rusty) Wise was ordained to the ministry in April, 2007.
· Brother Jonathan Wise was ordained to the ministry in March, 2014.
· Brother David Wise was ordained to the ministry in May, 2015.
· Brother Jeremy Wise was ordained to the ministry in January, 2018.
One of these ministers, Elder Gene Browning, is deceased and two, Robert Shettles and Roger Browning, are no longer preaching for the Primitive Baptists. The other seven are still actively pastoring and preaching the gospel.
Said Elder Wise: “We endeavor to worship according to the New Testament pattern of worship in Spirit and in truth (John 4:24) and embrace everything that is commanded in this pattern and refrain from everything that is not commanded and for which there is no clear example in the New Testament.
“Bethany continues to function under the same principles and Articles of Faith under which she was constituted,” Elder Wise said.
The church has come from 10 charter members to a membership high of between 90 and 100 members. Today, records reflect a membership list of 58 but many of those are unable to attend and some are inactive.
“For these 100 years the Lord has blessed Bethany with peace and our prayer is that God will continue to steer this church over and through perilous times which are becoming more prevalent, and thus fulfilling the Scriptures,” Elder Wise said.
Asked why the church has survived for 100 years, an accomplishment many other churches haven’t equaled, he replied: “We’ve had dedicated brothers and sisters in Christ, dedicated to the cause of Christ, who have continued to meet and serve the Lord despite all adversity.
“Consequently, the Lord has honored their obedience by continuing to preserve the church at this location.”
Asked what the biggest hurdle the church will have to overcome to survive another 100 years, Elder Wise responded:
“Remember there’s a falling away from religion in much of society today. To survive, the church must overcome that, and overcome the misconception that many people have of what we believe as Primitive Baptists.
“That misconception is that we believe that God predestinates all that comes to pass. We don’t believe that. We do believe that God predestinated a chosen people to be conformed to the image of his son.”
The incorrect view has kept many people away over the years, Elder Wise said.
“Contrary to what people believe, we welcome anyone and everyone from the surrounding communities to worship with us regardless of their beliefs. Come and see how we worship, and that we believe in the concept of salvation by grace.
Primitive Baptists believe heaven goes by merit, (that is the merit of Christ’s blood and not any act of the individual) and not religious denomination, he said.
“We believe there will be millions of people in heaven who are not Primitive Baptists, as God’s Spirit reaches His people wherever they may be located,” Elder Wise concluded.