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Baptist church in Pine Apple gets ministry opportunity when people flock to front porchcomment (0)

July 13, 2006

By Grace Thornton

Sit a spell and visit.”

That’s your invitation in Pine Apple, population 145.

It’s a small dot on the map as you drive through Wilcox County, but when a freshly paved section of the two-lane state Highway 10 skirts the well-groomed row of houses 21 miles off Interstate 65, there’s no mistaking where you are.

At almost every one of the town’s large white wooden houses, a wraparound porch boasts a flag with a pineapple sewn or painted on, drifting lazily in a breeze generated by ceiling fans mounted above rocking chairs and porch swings.

But despite appearances, Virginia Grimes, who’s lived in Pine Apple for decades, will tell you the town isn’t really all about the prickly tropical fruit.

“It was named Pine Apple, not pineapple, for the pine trees and apple trees around here,” she said.

It just turns out that the pineapple was a bit easier to champion as a mascot, a better banner for the whole town to unite under. Town members did just that about a decade ago, and the outreach of the local Friendship Baptist Church has never been the same since.

The Pine Barren Baptist Association church — established in 1825, the same year as the town — became one of the main attractions of the town’s Front Porch Tour, a go-at-your-own-pace trek around Pine Apple put on by town residents the Sunday before Memorial Day each year.

“Here in Pine Apple, it feels like it did in the old days,” Grimes said. “People don’t lock their doors; there’s no loud music and there’s no crime.”

The only crime there, she added jokingly, is building a house without a front porch.

After eating fried chicken at the old school, visitors are offered a map featuring six homes, a barn museum, three log cabins, a library, two cemeteries and two churches (with cemeteries) — Friendship Baptist and the local Methodist church. And from 1–6 p.m., Pine Apple residents sit out on their front porch; serve homemade ice cream, lemonade and cookies; and tell stories about the histories of their town and buildings.

And people flock from miles around to take part.

“We had more than 300 people this year, and the crowd grows every year,” said Grimes, who is instrumental in Pine Apple Promotions, the committee that puts on the tour.

The result is a flood of people coming to the morning services of Grimes’ church — Friendship Baptist — that day. Thirty locals may attend Friendship’s only weekly service on a good week when everyone on roll is present. But when tour time comes to this sleepy town where most have lived for at least a half-century — if not their whole life — fresh faces come pouring in and opportunities for ministry abound.

The visitors hear the gospel, rub shoulders with a community of caring Christians and get to hear the history of a church with a stalwart legacy of faith.

“Some folks come back home and want to see the sanctuary; others come because they wanted to go through the tour and thought they’d go to church while they were here. They get to hear the history of the church, which is really quite amazing,” said Jeannie Walker, whose husband, Noel, served his last Sunday as pastor of Friendship Baptist the Sunday of this year’s tour.

Accompanied by lemonade and homemade cookies — “very good ones,” she said — Walker and others sat this year and talked with the visitors who ambled up the big front steps of the small brick church, sharing with those who’d sit awhile about how this wasn’t the way the 181-year-old church used to look.

“In 1945, the preacher’s daughter was getting married and they had the old wooden stove all heated up and had the place decorated. They went home to come back later for the wedding, and the stove blew a gasket or something. It just engulfed the church in flames,” Walker said.

The bride-to-be that day was Sophie Jackson, daughter of then-pastor J.B. Jackson, who served decades as an Alabama Baptist pastor — as did Sophie’s brother, Lamar Jackson.

Realizing they were fighting a losing battle on the building’s behalf, church members turned to saving the furniture.
The pulpit furniture, marble-top Communion table, pump organ and several other antique pieces are now in the current church building — built in 1948.

“The church burned down but the Jackson wedding went on as planned — down the street at the Methodist church,” Walker said.

Many church members still have memories of that day and the church the way it used to look. Like William Norred, 89, who was baptized 79 years ago in the old baptistry — a small pool made from a dam built in the creek behind the church.

Norred and his wife, Doris, have helped the church minister to the community’s visitors for decades, even housing them when they come for the tour, hunting season and Pine Apple’s popular Hunter Appreciation Day every November.

“The Norreds have more than one home, as do many of us here in Pine Apple. We’re all house-poor, as they say,” Grimes said with a laugh. “But during the special events and hunting season, the population of Pine Apple triples.”

And small as it is, Friendship Baptist has tapped into the readily available supply of male leaders. The church has what member Alvin Stone said might be the longest-running brotherhood ministry in the state.

“We started in 1957 and we have only missed one meeting since then — and that was the Monday night after Hurricane Ivan,” he said. Many charter members of the group are still attending, and they sometimes almost have as many in attendance at the meetings as they do in Sunday-morning worship.

Brand-new pastor Glen Smith was the featured speaker at the June meeting.

“It’s a nice little community,” he said with a smile. Just a few weeks into his new role in his new community, Smith is already encouraged by the possibilities the little church has.

“It’s exciting when people do what God has in store for them,” he told the congregation on a recent Sunday morning. “A great church is a great church of faith. If there are 25 or 30 people, if they are people of active faith, now that’s a great church.”

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