Editor’s Note — In recent months, “Focus On: Religion” has profiled the early days of some of Scott County’s oldest churches, including First Baptist Church of Oneida, New River Baptist Church, First Baptist Church of Robbins and Barton Chapel Congregational Church in Robbins. In continuing with that theme, this is a look at the early days of Helenwood Baptist Church.
The Town of Helenwood has come and gone. Main Street still exists, through the middle of what was once a bustling mining town in central Scott County, but it isn’t as much a main street as it is a gateway to Helenwood Detour Road and Helenwood Loop Road on the opposite side of the railroad tracks that once hauled many tons of coal out of town, and supplies into town.
But, still there, on Helenwood Main Street, is the Baptist church that served the town for much of its duration and still serves as the community’s most notable church in the town’s aftermath.
Helenwood United Baptist Church, now Helenwood Baptist Church, was organized in December 1906 — just over 112 years ago. Its start came three days before Christmas in 1906, when Pine Creek Baptist Church sent a delegation to Helenwood to organize a new church. Among the group were moderator Richard Ellis and Truman Ellis, both of whom were elders at Pine Creek. Also present was L.D. West, the clerk of the church at Pine Creek.
Charter members of Helenwood Baptist Church, whose letters of recommendation were approved by the committee that day, were Ruth Wilder, Denton Owens, Alba Robbins, John Moore, Parazada Moore, L.D. West and Arbana West.
That organizational meeting on December 22, 1906 began with prayer by Truman Ellis and a devotional led by Richard Ellis. Afterwards, the new church’s members read the Articles of Faith of the West Union Association, which was at that time one of the largest Baptist associations in the region, along with the newly-formed New River Association and the Big Emory Association. The Articles of Faith were adopted, along with Rules of Decorum and the Church Covenant.
Richard Ellis was elected as the first pastor of Helenwood Baptist Church, a position he would hold for four years. Truman Ellis would later serve as pastor for 11 years.
In those early days, Helenwood Baptist Church met on the first Saturday and first Sunday of each month.
In 1931, a quarter-century after Helenwood Baptist Church was formed, an event took place that might have seemed insignificant at the time, but would turn out to be rather significant in the course of the church’s history: Virgil Cecil made a profession of faith and became a member of the church.
Cecil was the great-nephew of George Cecil (1861-1941), a well-known Baptist minister who had helped organize First Baptist Church of Oneida and served as that church’s first pastor. Throughout his tenure in the ministry in Scott County, George Cecil pastored many churches from Oneida to Smokey Creek. He was said to have baptized 3,999 persons — and officiated the weddings of just about as many.
George Cecil’s older brother Reuben Churchwell Cecil (1853-1929) was also a preacher. He was Virgil Cecil’s grandfather.
By 1931, Rube Cecil had died. George Cecil was still preaching — and would up until his death 10 years later — but was getting up in years. But that weekend at Helenwood Baptist Church, it became assured that the lineage of the ministering Cecil family would continue in Scott County for many years to come.
The pastor at Helenwood in those days was Sam Garrett, who would go on to pastor at New River and Winfield, among other places. He died in the pulpit while preaching at Oneida’s Bethlehem Baptist Church in 1964. Garrett had followed John Blevins, who had pastored the Helenwood church for four years after Truman Ellis.
Garrett would be followed in the pastoral role by Joe Bowling, who would preach at Helenwood for one year, and then Roy Blevins, who was pastor for five years.
In 1937, Blevins resigned at Helenwood and accepted the pastoral role at Bethlehem — where he would pastor for 46 years until his declining health forced him to retire in 1983. Chosen to replace him? Virgil Cecil.
Cecil would go on to become the longest-tenured pastor in Helenwood Baptist Church’s 100-plus years. He was in the pulpit at Helenwood for 37 years before his untimely death in 1974 at the age of 67.
Following Cecil’s death, Hobert Wright — who had been ordained in the same ordination service as Roy Blevins at Black Creek United Baptist Church nearly a half-century earlier — served as pastor at Helenwood for a short time. Then, Wheeler Blevins, a first cousin to Roy Blevins (their fathers, John Blevins and James Daniel Blevins, were brothers), served as pastor for a short time.
After that, Virgil Cecil’s son, Milford Cecil was elected pastor at Helenwood. He served as pastor for 10 years before stepping down and accepting the pastoral role at Paint Rock Baptist Church, where he continued in the ministry until a battle with cancer forced him from the pulpit. He was just 54 when he died in June 1997.
When Milford Cecil left, his brother Roger — another of Virgil’s sons — was appointed pastor, and continued in that role for 33 years until his declining health led him to retire just last year.
David Barnhouse is currently pastor at Helenwood.
For 80 of Helenwood Baptist Church’s 112 years, either Virgil Cecil or one of his sons has stood in the pulpit as the church’s pastor. (A third son, Wendell, continues in a leadership role at Helenwood; a fourth, Vaughn, lives in Crossville, where he owns a software systems company.) Combined with the ministry of Milford’s and Roger’s grandfather, Reuben, and their great-uncle, George Cecil, it’s fair to say that the Cecil family has played an indelible role in the formation of Scott County’s Baptist congregations.