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Bessemerís Old Blue Creek Church celebrates 150 years, new growthcomment (0)

June 18, 2009

By Gary Hardin

May 10 was the date set aside to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Old Blue Creek Baptist Church, Bessemer, but it also became a time of praise for answered prayer.

The celebration highlighted a recent turning point for Old Blue Creek Baptist, one that began with a few prayer warriors asking God to breathe new life into their church.

When attendance at this Pleasant Grove Baptist Association church dropped to only four senior adult women, they prayed for months, “Lord, don’t let our church doors close. Send us a pastor.”

God answered their prayer early this year by sending Tommy Dennis to serve as pastor. And today attendance averages almost 20.

A heavy equipment operator for a fertilizer company and an adult Sunday School teacher, Dennis felt God calling him to preach. At the time, he and his wife, Rosemary, were members of Hepzibah Baptist Church, McCalla, in Pleasant Grove Association.

Shortly after he surrendered to the ministry, Dennis read in the association’s newsletter that Old Blue Creek Baptist needed a pastor.

The Dennises drove to the church and were walking around the church property when Tommy Dennis fell to his knees and asked God if He might be opening a door of ministry there.

“At the same time, those four saintly women were also praying for God to send their church a pastor. God brought us all together,” he said.

So Old Blue Creek Baptist became Dennis’ first pastorate.

The church was planted in the small farming community of Lawson Town, a mile or so from the current church location. Over the years, the congregation has met in three facilities. The first building was constructed in 1857 and survived until 1944.

“Iron rods around the unstable building held it up for years,” explained Buddy Starkman, a former member of Old Blue Creek Baptist.

Dean Wilson — who is Starkman’s mother, a 45-year member of the church and one of the four prayer warriors — recalled that in the mid-1940s, the second structure was built in the North Johns community.

It was a coal-mining camp operated by Black Diamond Mining Co. and included 48 houses.

In 1974, Old Blue Creek Baptist erected its third building, close to the old North Johns community. That building is still in use today.

“This third church building was the first to have indoor plumbing,” Starkman said, adding his grandfather refused to use the indoor toilet.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the church reached its high point in attendance. But when mining operations in the area were suspended in the early 1980s, the population around Old Blue Creek Baptist declined.

“As long as the mines were viable, the church was vibrant,” Starkman stated.

But the population shift hasn’t dimmed Wilson’s hopes for Old Blue Creek Baptist. “I’m praying for God to send us people. They will have to come from other communities though, because we are so far back in the woods.”

Rosemary Dennis feels equally optimistic about the church’s future.

“We know the Holy Spirit is with us. We have a pastor who preaches the Word,” she said. “I don’t believe God would have led Tommy to Old Blue Creek Baptist Church unless God had future plans for the church.

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