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St. Clair Associationís Friendship Church marks 150 years all yearcomment (0)

December 18, 2008

By Jeremy Henderson

How old is Friendship Baptist Church near Springville?

It’s old.

Older than most.

Each year, on the Sunday before Christmas, the church passes out paper sacks filled with apples, oranges and peppermint sticks to all its members, just like the stories you hear from Christmases before toys were the popular children’s gifts. It’s been going on as long as anyone can remember.

That old.

To be specific, it was organized Jan. 17, 1858, by “the scattered members of the Baptist denomination holding letters from the different churches.”

And it’s lasted.

In the face of Northern aggression and depressions and world wars, Friendship Baptist has endured.

For 150 years, people have gathered at the church, located just about five miles above Odenville — first on dirt, then on dirt roads and now on a stretch of Highway 114 in St. Clair County, which is older than the state of Alabama itself.

And now it’s time to celebrate. But rather than one service, or one cake with 150 candles, Friendship decided that such a momentous occasion, such an accomplishment, deserved an entire year.

So for 12 months they haven’t just extended the right hand of Christian fellowship to new members but also to each other, patting themselves and their neighbors on the back for 150 years of perseverance and service.

Friendship kicked off the yearlong party in January with a special message from then-interim pastor and former St. Clair Baptist Association Director of Missions (DOM) Billy Hunt, as well as a covered-dish lunch and personal recollections from some of the church’s oldest members, including Rachael Dunlap, who joined Friendship in the 1920s.

Lonette Berg, executive director of the Alabama Baptist Historical Commission, presented the church with a certificate commemorating its monumental achievement, as did current St. Clair DOM Ben Chandler. Similar acknowledgements were also sent from Gov. Bob Riley.

“We had a very good turnout,” said eight-year member and unofficial church historian Joe Whitten. Whitten served on the church’s anniversary committee. “It was a good day.”

Since then, there have been spaghetti suppers, an old fashioned dinner on the grounds (it rained — they moved it to the fellowship hall) and even a one-day shaped note singing school, “like they used to have,” Whitten said.

But Theresa Thompson’s favorite celebration was the “old fashion day” held in late June. The men wore overalls, and the women wore bonnets.

Thompson, a member since 1978, and a member of the anniversary committee, wore a light blue prairie-style dress.

“We just love the church and the people in it,” said Thompson, who has “only” heard sermons from six full-time Friendship pastors in the 30 years she’s been attending, including new pastor Cliff Vines, who arrived in June.

“It’s just an awfully loving and caring church; that’s why we’re still here,” she said.  

Eighty-eight year old Ray Rogers can’t remember how many preachers he’s outlasted.

It’s a lot.

“Years ago, back here in the country, we changed preachers every year,” Rogers said. “Now we don’t. Sometimes they want to stay a little longer. We’ve had a lot of different preachers, but I don’t think we’ve ever had a bad one, as far as I’m concerned.” 

Rogers, along with his wife, Robbie, has been a member of Friendship since 1936, just over a decade shy of half its history — back when they still baptized new believers in Canoe Creek.

“Of course we’ve got a baptistry in there now,” he said. “Things have grown.”

These days, Rogers estimates Friendship draws “a little over a hundred people” in Sunday School, all of them still quite friendly.

“Yes sir, it’s a friendly church,” he said. “If it wasn’t, I would have moved on a long time ago.”

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