CARDSVILLE • Pastor Bobby Howell of Enon Primitive Baptist Church says he wants his church service to echo those from generations long gone.
“We want our church service to be as it was 2,000 years ago,” Howell said. “We don’t want to add or take anything away from it.”
Nestled deep off the worn backroads of Itawamba County, the nearly two-century-old church has stood steadfast against the tide of time. Visitors won’t find a coffee bar when they step in the door; they won’t see arms swaying in rhythm to contemporary Christian music; nor will they be in awe of grand theatrical lighting during the church’s Sunday service.
What they will find is a simple brick building perched in a well-manicured clearing. Not even a steeple reaches up to touch the sky; only towering pines and oak trees surround the grounds, almost as if they are there to protect it.
In the beginning
It has been 186 years since the founders of Enon Church penned their constitution. Some say the church’s credentials date to 1835, yet others lean toward 1837. The stylish penmanship of yesteryear makes the date debatable among historians and church members, but for all intents and purposes, 1835 has been settled upon.
As old as the church itself are its meticulously kept minutes, many of which are recorded in the 1980s editions of the Itawamba Historical Society’ s publication, “Itawamba Settlers.” Throughout its long history, the only time the church failed to chronicle its meetings was during the Civil War.
Dotted with familiar family names and some long since forgotten, those called upon as the presbytery were Elders Lemuel Pruwitt, Charles Hodges, Sounders Mills, and John L. Oypent.
As was written in the church’s constitution, “We met the members praying to become a church at the meeting-house near James Bowlings, Itawamba County, Mis., on Saturday, before the second Sabbath in March 1835 – and upon examination found them orthodox and of sufficient strength, where upon we proceeded to Constitute them into a church, upon the following abstract of principles, to be known by the name of Enon.”
The founders chose the name “Enon,” the Greek form of the Chaldee word meaning “springs,” representing the place in which John baptized.
The original church building stood near where the old Beene Cemetery is located today, according to Betty Jean Robinson, who has been a member of Enon for 66 years. Although Robinson said the exact date could not be pinpointed, the first church building burned some years later. It was rebuilt on land donated by Chester Bourland, where it stands today. Three of the original hand-hewn timbers from its first building rest beneath its floor.
“We used to have a meal after church every Sunday and we would sit on those timbers,” Robinson told The Times.
Doctrine and songs of old
The doctrine of the Primitive Baptist is as old and simplistic as the grounds of the church itself.
“We believe in salvation by grace,” Howell said. “When Jesus said, ‘It is finished,’ the salvation for his people was complete as far as eternity is concerned.”
In the church’s Abstract of Principles, 10 articles of faith were agreed upon over 180 years ago and remain even unto today. Among them is the doctrine that there is one true and living God, but that there is a trinity in the Godhead, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost and belief in baptism and the Lord’s supper are ordinances of Christ instituted for believers.
“We don’t have Sunday School classes or offer anything outside the realm of a service where the Gospel is preached,” said Howell, who has been bringing the messages for the last 20 years.
The 1611 King James Bible is the only version used by Howell and congregants alike.
Of its over 18 decades of existence, one pastor served nearly five decades.
“Bro. Grady McWhirter was our pastor from 1939 until his death in 1988,” Robinson said. “He was our longest serving pastor.”
There are no musical accompaniments, no piano, no guitars, only acapella songs fill the air every first and third Sunday when the handful of members meet.
“In years past, we did have Sacred Harp singings, but there are very few of those around anymore like there was once,” Robinson said.
Sacred Harp, or “shape-note” singing, was once as much a part their faith as their doctrine. Singers gathered in a hollow square with each side assigned to the four parts: treble, alto, tenor, and bass. Participants would take turns leading by standing in the center of the square. Singers would begin by singing the notes “fa, so, la, mi,” to learn or practice the tune.
The results of songs like “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks,” would raise the rafters and could be heard from many Primitive Baptists congregations across the county.
“We joined with other churches from time to time, like James Creek, for an all day singing,” Robinson said. “It was something to hear.”
It is one of the few things to have changed since the church’s beginnings, and although the voices that once raised the rafters are not as powerful, they are as humble and faithful as always. The Bible remains the same, the doctrine remains the same, and the church is still known by the name of Enon.