Red Oak Baptist Church is the center of the community

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 23, 2003

The main social life of the Red Oak community introduced in last week's column centered around the Red Oak Baptist Church. This church which continues to be a an important part of the area was established in 1901.

Missionary Pierce Donald Bulger who was presented in last week's column preached in a "protracted meeting" for several days at the little one-room schoolhouse known as Liberty Grove School. During this period a number of families came together with others from the Shiloh Baptist Church to establish the new church. There were some 37 persons who became the charter members. The first candidates for baptism at Liberty Grove were Tolue (Eiland) Sightler, Carrie (Eiland) Acree, Fannie (Soles) Bulger, Mary (Soles) Martin, Mae (Soles) Clary and Rhoda Eiland.

P.D. Bulger became the first pastor and served until 1906. In 1904, the Cole and Kennedy Turpentine Company donated a piece of property to the church for the erection of a building. J.A. Eiland and A.P. Hilson were the first two deacons appointed. The young church became known as Liberty Grove and was known as such until the church body voted in 1915 to change it to Red Oak.

During the following year, the church building was totally destroyed by a major storm. The remaining lumber was sold for the sum of $10.55. The zealous church members immediately sought a means of rebuilding. With the cooperation of the Woodmen of the World, the congregation began constructing a two-story building. The church would meet on the first floor and the Woodmen of the World on the second floor. Some years later the Woodmen decided to move, some to the North Creek Lodge and others to Andalusia. In 1936-37, the church building was renovated and make into a one-story facility.

During the earlier years, the church functioned basically as others of the time period. Services were held at the time most convenient for those traveling in wagons and in consideration of the seasonal weather. The church was a most important part of the socialization of the community. Families enjoyed getting together and visiting and fellow shipping with each after the church services.

Another practice was the "disciplining of wayward members," which occurred quite regularly. Some of the common charges included gossiping, drinking, dancing, and using profane language. The process was for someone to report the guilty party to the church during conference time. A committee of three men would be appointed to visit and confront the accused and ask them to answer the charge at the next conference meeting. If they did this and asked forgiveness, they were restored to fellowship; otherwise, they were no longer considered to be in fellowship. Through the years this practice was slowly eliminated.

Music has been an important part of the history of the Red Oak Church. Many singing schools, particularly for the children, were held teaching both four shape and seven shape notes. This emphasis has assured the church of always having good musicians and directors along with singers. Even today there is a continuation of many of the older members assembling and gathering with others in the area to sing the popular sacred harp style.

In March 1933, a committee was appointed to secure electricity for the church building. This was followed by other improvements and changes to the facility. During World War II, additions were added to the north and south sides of the auditorium. These areas were soon partitioned off and the area behind the pulpit was divided to create classrooms.

During the tenure of R.M. "Uncle Mac" Corbitt, the building was remodeled and gas heat was installed. V.D. Maraman was another who pastored the church for a number of years. Under the leadership of D.S. "Dock" Stephens, the church launched a major building program with a groundbreaking for an educational building on September 9, 1962. Chairman of the building committee, John J. Kelley, was assisted by J.T. Whatley, Willard Kelley, Clyde Corbitt, and Pat Norris. In November of that year the church voted to begin conducting full-time church services.

Brother Dock resigned from the church for a few years, but he was led back to serve as pastor once again. During this tenure, the church voted to build a new and larger auditorium. Ground was broken on December 1, 1968, for the new sanctuary. Again, John J. Kelley was elected chairman with the assistance of F.A. Norris and Clyde Corbitt. The building was completed, and a dedication service was held in it on September 1969. Only two years later, a "note-burning" ceremony was held signifying the cost of the building had been fully paid.

About this time, the deed to a parcel of land adjoining the south side of the cemetery was presented to the church by Mrs. Ealie Clark. This allowed enlarging the cemetery and a committee was elected to manage it. The members included Emmett Corbitt, Tally Cockcroft, Pat Norris, Shirley Sightler, and Hiram Cheshire. These men represented many of the families in the church and the community.

In 1972, a recreation area was constructed, which included a paved tennis/basketball court, barbecue pit, swings, and plenty of room for other games such as volleyball and relay races.

In 1975, a devoted church member, Mrs. Lee Patterson, donated a parcel of land for the location of a pastorium. Men of the church began the dedicated work of constructing the house, which was completed that year. The following year another "note-burning" occasion was held.

In 1979, additional classroom space was added to the existing educational complex to accommodate the growing Sunday school and church training enrollment. The building committee included John J. Kelley, Tobe Kelley, Fairon Norris, Ray Sasser, and Grady Page. That year the first youth minister, Tim Willis of Florala, was called to work with the church youth. He used his musical talents to lead them in numerous activities including a number of cantatas. Others succeeding Tim included Faye Sightler, Alan Watkins and Ricky Oswald.

In 1988, a committee for planning a fellowship building was elected. The group, composed of Frazier Jackson, Tony Holmes, John J. Kelley, Illa Ruth Norris and Paul Mixon, secured plans and coined the name Founders Building in memory of the church's charter members. The construction committee, including Ford Bulger, Foster Weed, Gordon Bulger, Murry Johnson, Ray Sasser and John J. Kelley, was appointed in 1992. The building was completed and has become a useful facility for the church and its many activities.

Today, the church is thriving with a full program of work. The current minister is Clyde Northrop, a resident of the Salem community. The church anticipates continued growth and serving as an important beacon in the surrounding community.

The source for this historical data is the special historical publication produced by the 2001 Homecoming Committee for the Red Oak Baptist Church. The book includes much additional information on church and conference records. Anyone interested in the church or the community should consult this fine publication.

The Covington Historical Society will meet at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 29, in the Andalusia Public Library.

Guests are welcome.