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Woodland’s Rocky Branch Church marks 150 years of ‘hospitality’comment (0)

June 28, 2007

By Anna Swindle

Rocky Branch Baptist Church in Woodland has come a long way from its start in an outdoor tent made of tree branches in 1857.

Since then, the church has had 46 pastors, built two wooden churches and a rock church and acquired two graveyards.

It’s the people, though, that have helped to sustain Rocky Branch Baptist for 150 years, said Pastor E. Clayton Scott.

"Our church is a very loving and caring church," Scott said. "We never meet a stranger and our congregation makes people feel right at home."

The church, which is in Randolph Baptist Association, recently had a chance to prove their hospitality.

On May 20, Rocky Branch Baptist Church celebrated its 150th anniversary, and that Sunday the congregation’s average of 50 attendees jumped to 300.

"We had a lot of socializing and meeting and greeting," Scott said. "Many people came who had families with a long-term relationship with our church, including the great-great granddaughter of the church’s founding pastor."

The church recognized four six-generation members in attendance, as well as Mary Nell Edmondson who, at 95, is the church’s oldest living member.

Congressman Mike Rogers and state Rep. Richard Laird were in attendance and presented letters of congratulations from Gov. Bob Riley to the congregation.

The choir led the congregation in singing old hymns, and after the service the group moved outdoors to enjoy lunch at the church’s covered pavilion table.

"We just had a wonderful day," said Clara Rollins, a member of the church for 72 years. "We have one of the nicest country churches, I think, that you’d find anywhere."

Rocky Branch Baptist’s rich history and representation in the Woodland community certainly gives the church much to celebrate.

"Our church has been especially known for its missions work and its Vacation Bible School (VBS)," said Algalene Sheppard, a Rocky Branch Baptist member since 1941. "Also, we still have discipleship training, which many churches have stopped doing. That makes us unique."

The Woman’s Missionary Union at Rocky Branch is strong as well, and last year they received an award for being among the top 100 churches in the state for giving to the Kathleen Mallory Mission Offering.

They also annually support the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering.

Because the Woodland area is a rural community, it often loses its young people to larger areas with more job opportunities.

This has affected Rocky Branch Baptist’s population as well.

"The church was much more family--oriented in the old days, when we still had lots of young members," Sheppard said.

Now, according to Scott, the average age of Rocky Branch members is 55.

Still, the church has not become discouraged and has adapted to its changing demographic, he noted.

One of its main ways to reach out to the community is through VBS, usually held the first week of June.

"During Vacation Bible School, we usually have about 100 children in attendance," Scott said. "Bible School is very important in this area, and it’s a great way for Rocky Branch to impact the area and the children especially."

Rocky Branch Baptist is optimistic about the future, and according to Scott, "If we can just maintain our support of missions and of the community, we’ll be happy."

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