Next month will mark 97 years since a group of members from Bull Creek United Baptist Church met to establish a new church — the Byrges Creek United Baptist Church of Christ.
Natomia Sexton Crowley (1929-2010), who served as a church clerk at Byrges Creek for more than 40 years, a Sunday school teacher for more than 20 years, and is buried in the cemetery behind it, compiled a brief history of the church for the FNB Chronicle in the late 1990s. Her father, Harrison Sexton, was also a clerk and Sunday school teacher at Byrges Creek, and served as the Sunday school superintendent. Two of her great-aunts — Delphia Sexton and Louvania Sexton Hutson, Harrison Sexton’s sisters — were among the church’s 18 founding members.
According to Crowley’s records, the group of 18 members from Bull Creek met on September 23, 1923, at the Cordell school house. At that organizational meeting, Eli Brown served as moderator and R.L. Harness as clerk.
Among the 18 founding members of the church were:
• Elizabeth Newport Jeffers, whose husband, Jasper “Jeff” Jeffers (1843-1901), was a Union veteran of the Civil War;
• Elizabeth’s daughter, Martha Lawson, and her husband, Marion D. Lawson, who donated the land that the church’s meeting house was built on;
• Elizabeth’s daughter, Mary Jeffers Burchfield;
• Elizabeth’s daughter-in-law, Cansada Brown Jeffers (her husband, Elizabeth’s son Jasper Jeffers Jr., was not listed as a founding member, but was a member and one of the church’s early clerks);
• Berry Crowley and his wife, Rebecca, and their daughters Endia Crowley Hutson and Mae Crowley;
• Jasper Sexton, his wife, Nellie Jeffers Sexton, and their daughter, Dora Sexton;
• Nellie’s sisters, Bertie Jeffers Crowley and Gussie Jeffers Sexton;
• Gussie’s sisters-in-law, Louvania Sexton Hutson and Delphia Sexton;
• Ada Sexton; and,
• Allie Sexton.
At the organizational meeting, 30-year-old Rev. William Sherman Watson (1893-1953) was elected pastor of the Byrges Creek United Baptist Church, while Jeremiah “Jerry” Jeffers was appointed moderator.
About a month later, in late October 1923, a committee was appointed to procure a building for the church. Serving on the committee were Jasper Sexton, Jasper Jeffers Jr., Berry Crowley, Alexander “Alex” Hutson (whose wife, Louvania Sexton Hutson, was one of the founding members) and Berry Jeffers, another of the sons of Jeff and Elizabeth Jeffers.
As it turned out, the committee didn’t have far to look. M.D. and Martha Lawson owned a parcel of land just across the street from the Cordell School, on the same knoll overlooking Byrges Creek, and that’s where the church was built.
The original Byrges Creek United Baptist Church was typical for its time: a one-room building, with a potbelly stove in the center to provide heat in the winter. It has been modified many times over the years, but still stands where it was originally built. The Cordell School was located where the church’s fellowship hall is currently located.
Natomia Crowley wrote in 1999 that it was unknown exactly when the church was completed, and when services began in the church. However, it is known that Sylvester Jeffers was asked to build a pulpit for the church in 1926.
“During the past years, there have been many improvements made to the church,” Crowley wrote. “Money was raised by church members through donations of materials, having fundraisers, such as benefit services, yard sales, selling baked goods, selling pop and people making things to sell. Also, donations were received from friends.”
The church floors were carpeted in 1979, a used piano was donated in 1980, and two classrooms were built onto the back of the church for Sunday school in 1981. Central heating and air was installed 10 years later. A remodel was completed of the church’s interior in 1997.
The church’s first pastor, W.S. Watson, served from 1923 to 1926, and again in 1939, 1941 and from 1942 to 1943. M.D. Lawson, who donated the land where the church was built, was ordained as a minister in 1927, and served as the church’s pastor for 10 years from 1927 to 1937, and again in 1938-1939 and from 1944 to 1947. There have been many other pastors through the years: John L. Lawson, Emmett Hughett, Jerry Jeffers, Roy Lowe, Lawrence Blevins, Tom Burress, Isaac Phillips, McKinley Chambers, Odie Brummett, Burt Newport, Shirley Cook, Virgle Cross, George Honeycutt, Lee Williams, Roger Sexton, Arnold Smithers, J.C. Strunk, Ronnie Lowe, Bill Pace, Larry Ellis, Joe Walker, Bobby Massengale and Allen Wood.
In 1991, Rev. Dudley Harness was appointed pastor at Byrges Creek. Last month marked 29 years that he has served in that position, making him the church’s longest-tenured pastor, by far.
And, proving that things always go full circle: In 1998, JR Massengale became the 14th deacon to be ordained at Byrges Creek Baptist Church since those 18 members left Bull Creek to form a new church. Today, he is pastor at Bull Creek United Baptist Church.