Chatham 250 Church & Community Histories Project
Our beloved Chatham County is celebrating its 250th anniversary this year, 2021. I refer to Chatham County as “beloved” because it has been my home for more than seven decades. Hilary Pollan introduced me to Chatham’s plan to really celebrate this milestone. She invited me to take part in meetings to share ideas and I knew right away what I would offer. I wanted the Committee to collect the histories of Chatham’s churches and communities. I know firsthand the strength of heart and determination of Chatham’s rural folk; these community and church founders.
In 1979 our church, Taylors Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, under the leadership of our then Pastor, Rev. Gregory T. Headen, would celebrate our first 100 years. Rev. Headen researched and published our church’s history for inclusion in our Centennial booklet. This booklet has been my encouragement to continue documenting Taylors Chapel’s journey over the years. It became ugent to me for us, church families, to record the history of these folk who had laid the foundation on which we have been building all these decades later. The faces of these brave, hard working elders I can still see. They introduced generations of us to the greatest news we will ever hear; The Good News! There were a few who could really read, not all had the opportunity to go to school. All of them could pray, sing, recite favorite bible scripture and they encouraged us to know a new one every Sunday. I feel an urgency to record the histories of these churches!
Taylors Chapel’s church elders from my adolescence are now all gone from this world. They belonged to an era and possessed strengths we cannot replicate. They provided so much and expected so little. I believe we should record these histories, pen their names and give the generations coming behind us a guide to preserving the foundations we all stand on. When occasions present, we need to say their names and share the history of their roles in the church.
My parents’ families were born, raised and most of them lived their entire lives in Chatham County. The values they taught us are still the core of my existence.Pleasing my parents was what I lived to do. I have a sister older than me and one younger. My daughter tells me “that’s the middle child syndrome”. We enjoyed a fairly good life; we were economically not at all well off but did not realize this until we were older and exposed to others who had more. Daddy and Mama worked hard jobs: Daddy worked at the sawmill; Mama worked at the poultry plant. As children, our work was school and after- school chores and homework. So weekly, we hunkered down and followed this routine Monday through Friday.
My favorite day of the week was Sunday because we went to church. I loved the Service and fellowship of the church family before I learned to really love Jesus! Church services were led by the eldest members. They said prayers so intense I remember some of the words to this day.
“O Lord we come this morning, knee bowed and body bent before Thy throne of grace…...Like empty pitchers to a full fountain.”
Listening to these words was enough to transport even my young spirit to a place much loftier than the wooden floor and hard pews of our church building. It was not unusual to hear different versions of this prayer over the years. I learned as an adult they were actually part of the poem by James Weldon Johnson, “Listen, Lord, A Prayer”. The songs they sang were meant for the Lord’s ears. To quote some of them before they would break out in song, “No form or fashion meant, just trying to please The Lord”. And the words of the song that would follow;
“That bread, that bread, coming down from heaven. That bread, that bread, coming down from heaven. That bread, that bread, coming down from heaven,feed me til I want no more”.
Chatham’s Churches and Communities’ History project promises to allow us a look back at where we have come from and an assurance we can, as Christ’s church, get to where we should be, from here. We hope you will view the Church and Communities’ History project on the Chatham 250 website: www.chatham250.com.
Annie Taylor McCrimmon
June 7th, 2021
The Churches and Community Histories Committee has been hard at work reaching out to churches across Chatham County to learn more about the religious communities that have been serving the county for hundreds of years. In addition to collecting wonderful songs, photos, artworks, and histories individual to all the churches we have connected with, being able to see the breadth of this history has taught us many things that Chatham 250 would like to share with those browsing our site.
For one, the churches we have received histories from have been founded during an incredible range of time, from the mid-1700s to 1936! The timeline of church foundings is not consistent, and it seems that churches were more commonly formed in bursts around important events. The first few churches in our histories were founded around or slightly before the American Revolutionary War. The next big wave of church foundings was around the time of the Second Great Awakening, a period of history in the country where people were becoming more religious and becoming more involved in church organizing than ever before. This was also a time when many of the religious groups that many Chathamites are familiar with, like Methodists and Baptists, first assembled their communities in the United States. The last period in our record is after 1900 but before World War 2. This range of histories that spans the entire duration of the Chatham’s 250 years of history, and even goes beyond it, is a treasure trove of stories about the lives people have been living in the county, working with their religious communities for centuries.
(A heatmap of the listed founding dates of the churches who submitted histories to our collection)
The Church histories contain stories about how churches were formed as well, for instance whether the congregations began when people migrated into Chatham County, or were formed of local Chathamites. These church histories are also deeply interconnected, as many new churches were formed as congregations split and some members left other churches to create new ones. It is common in these histories to find mention of other churches who we have collected history from, or even other churches that were from a different part of the state or a different part of the country. The pages are filled with stories of dedicated ministers, preachers, and reverends who in many cases built churches from the ground up, literally, with the help of congregations who had been meeting informally in tent churches or forest meeting spots. These histories show that doing the work of building a beloved community of faith is not always a simple road, and often is only possible due to the diligent work of outspoken leaders and their congregations who have helped make Chatham County what it is.
These stories also show how communities of faith in Chatham County are continuing to be a critical piece of Chatham’s fabric today. Many of the histories that we have received have been updated to reflect recent history. The work that these churches have accomplished during the COVID-19 pandemic are certainly worthy of being included in their institutional histories, and the degree to which these churches have gone out of their way to engage in faith as a mission, to help people have food to eat, clothes to wear, personal protective equipment, and a place to pray despite the conditions of the past year is remarkable.
Chatham 250 invites you to explore the history of our county’s churches in the church histories, photographs and more below: