Nancy Liner said she can't remember anybody being brought in front of Hiwassee Baptist Church for "nonattendance" or "un-Christian conduct," but it apparently happened on numerous occasions shortly after the church was founded in the early 19th century.
"It was more than church back then," she said. "It was court. They took care of everything. They made sure everybody obeyed the moral conduct of the church."
If congregations went by those rules today, Liner added, "there wouldn't be anybody left."
Hiwassee Baptist Church, likely the oldest church in Southeast Tennessee, will celebrate its 200th birthday on Saturday, Oct. 6, at 10 a.m.
The service will include a presentation of church history, comments from former pastors, honors offered by the state of Tennessee and the McMinn-Meigs Baptist Association, displays of record books and documents, and an old-fashioned lunch of beans, soup, cornbread, coleslaw and cobbler brought by attendees.
The Calhoun congregation is the Southern Baptist Convention denomination's oldest in Southeast Tennessee, according to records provided by Nicki Brooks of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. It is also older than any Episcopal or Presbyterian congregation in the southeast portion of the state. The closest 200-year-old Methodist church, according to the Rev. Roy Howard, a denominational historian, is in Kingston.
Liner, a member of the anniversary committee, said the church's earliest documents date to 1824, but the origin year of 1812 "has been passed down through the years."
"The first 12 years," she said, "we cannot find a record of."
Through the years, and in contrast to history of many churches in the South, the congregation listed "a man of color" as a member in 1834 and sent representatives to the Cherokee nation.
In 1863 and 1864, according to the congregation history, the then one-room Hiwassee Baptist "did not have church for a year because of the war."
Hiwassee Baptist also was the mother church to a number of congregations in McMinn and Bradley counties, according to Liner. Among those, she said, are three historically black congregations in the Charleston, Tenn., area.
Liner said her husband's family is one of the oldest in the church, dating "six or seven generations" to around the time of the congregation's first record book, which is bound in wood, with a hand-stitched burlap cover.
"They played a big part [in the church's start]," she said.
John Moore, a retired farmer whose family goes back several generations in the church, said he has always lived on dead-end roads south of Hiwassee Baptist and so has had to pass the church on nearly every trip he's made.
He recalled how members helped build two additions to the church and how various plants purchased homes of members but how the people continued to attend even after they moved away.
Moore said the people -- "God-fearing, God-loving" people who "loved the church" -- have kept the congregation in existence.
"It's not just a community thing," he said. "It's something that is rooted there."
Hiwassee Baptist, located in McMinn County on a bend on the banks of the Hiwassee River, has 100 members and a weekly attendance of about 50, Liner said.
She credits the survival of the church -- in only its second building -- to its members' dedication.
"They have not strayed from the true King James Bible," Liner said. "We don't use those other versions. We stick to the old rules."
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