by Dr. Mark T. White
From the yellowing pages of The Raleigh Times, the Triangles’ now defunct “evening paper,” comes the story of a church which dates back to 1811. Voices of the past, speaking through spidery, old-fashioned handwriting, tell the trials, triumphs, and even the misdemeanors of a once small church of long ago, now the First Baptist Church of Clayton.
Our church, which now covers over two city blocks, was once only an ambitious little church located across the railroad tracks from what was Bartex Mill and near the old McCuller’s Cemetery in what is now West Clayton.
Records show that the church was founded by William Creath of Virginia and Robert T. Daniel of Wake County. It was then called Johnston Liberty Meeting House. The first two members received into the church were Judith Avery, and Regdon Johnson, who became its first pastor.
According to The Raleigh Times article written by Betty Garvey, who was a member of our church, the elders kept a careful eye on their flock and condemned offenses such as card playing, gossiping, drinking, dancing, and something they discreetly called “disorderly walking.” Anyone who stepped out of line was reported to a committee composed of the pastor and church elders. Unless the sinner repented and asked for forgiveness, he was either expelled for a limited period, or excommunicated from the church.
From 1839 to the latter 1800’s, the church diary is merely one long record of misdemeanors. The clerks who kept the records seemed to record every detail of member’s offenses. “The elders probably became distraught with some of their women folks,” wrote Miss Garvey. “The strict rules and regulations of the church stamped out all the women’s natural forms of expression such as gossiping, arguing, and bustle-twitching; therefore, the women who yielded to their natural impulses could be assured of monthly meetings with the elders.”
Now, the Baptists and the Methodists are on the best of terms, but once the relationship was not so loving. In March of 1842, “Eliza Turner was excommunicated for disorderly conduct and for associating with the Methodists in Raleigh.” The career of Lewis Poole can be followed with interest. After a long life of ups and downs and monthly moral skirmishes with the elders, he finally wrote a letter of apology to the church in May of 1858. He was given the gentle boot of the church elders; however, evidently he and the church became reconciled because six years later he was excommunicated again for associating with the Methodists!
I’m glad we’re living in the 21st century, because oftentimes I’m found associating with those pesky Methodists myself!
Mark T. White is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Clayton, NC. This article first appeared in their church newsletter, The Outlook.