Back To The Beginning

Experience Family, Experience Faith, Experience Spring Creek Baptist Church: Pandemic brings back open air services reminiscent of historic past

IREDELL – As stated in a 1943 publication of Social Forces, “Before the advent of telephone, automobiles, and the radio, the people of the rural community thought and talked in terms of the neighborhood, community, county and – less frequently – the state, but little did they discuss nation and international affairs. After these conveniences became commonplace, the farm family was no longer isolated.”

This was very much the case with the Spring Creek Community in Bosque County; a community that was built after the Civil War – established in 1870 – on church, school, cotton and corn. Everything in the community revolved around the family, the farm, the church, the attached school and later the community post office. Whereas politics and patriotism were taken seriously, farm-related topic such as the weather or the price of cotton were main topics of conversation.

Both WWI and WWII brought significant changes as well with many youth moving away to gain better paid employment outside of their community and county. But Bosque County remained instilled in their souls, and many returned to enjoy retirement here.

With the world upside down in these challenging COVID-19 times, it seems the services have come full circle, back to those days of yesteryears in which the community was first established. Weather permitting, the churchgoers congregate and sing together outside under the live oaks surrounding the sanctuary. With the mockingbird’s song in the background and the wind rustling the leaves, Spring Creek Baptist Church exemplifies how worship has knowing to do with the building, but the spirit within.

Sunday service Rooted in Christ, Locally Committed, Transforming lives is at 11 a.m. The modern twist is that the sermons are also streamed through Facebook Live.

In these 2020s, Spring Creek Baptist Church is still a very important hub for the residents living close by. It is also the place of worship for area church goers who enjoy the long and winding meditative drive deep into the serene and beautiful heart of Bosque County. The car has replaced the horse-drawn carriage, but some still like to come on horseback, or in a gator. They experience the presence of the Lord traveling through the countryside, long before they enter the sanctuary.

With the arrival of young pastor Coleman Reidling and his wife Louise, along with musical director Joshua Turpin and his wife Britney, the church is experiencing rejuvenation much appreciated by the core congregation. Young as they are, the new church leaders embrace the strong sense of community and fellowship beyond the church.

For years, the church opened its doors to Divinity graduate students of the George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University, offering them the practical training and experience they require. But Pastor Reidling and his wife are so committed to their church and the area that they are putting down roots, recently purchasing a home in Clifton. He cherishes the richness of the stories, the history, the deep roots and connections going back generations.

“The church and school was the hub of the community,” Reidling said. “The church is still that. And we welcome anyone willing to travel here to worship. We care about all.”

Still a Truett student, Joshua Turpin is the current music director of Spring Creek Baptist Church.

Freida Golden is a fourth generation member of the church and is keeper of records as it were, gathering articles, photos and minutes from the past. She is an invaluable source of church history for the congregation members and preachers alike.

The church was founded as Spring Creek Missionary Baptist Church of Christ on May 24, 1874, with nine charter members, becoming the 11th Baptist church in Bosque County. But by 1883, the membership had already increased to 85 and on Sept. 26, 1883 four acres was deeded for religious and educational purposes. Services were conducted in the school until the building was dedicated on May 23, 1909. The school building is now used as a family center, a gathering place for community meals and more.

In a 204-page thesis by Sharon Siske Crunk submitted to the Baylor University for her Masters Degree in 1994, the history of Spring Creek is extensively described. She explains the history of this small community, which is much like many dotted throughout Central Texas. She also describes the inevitable decline of the community.

The original settlers were Anglo-Saxon with Southern cultural heritage. They spoke English and were predominantly Protestants. They had strong connections to the land and place, mostly farming 100-200-acre farms. Taking an active part in the school and church was considered as being and belonging to the community. Over the next decades, the community always pulled together for their own through hard times, something that endures to this day.

In December 1870, marks the first recorded family in the community, Robert Beverly Harris, his wife Amarintha, and six children. In the 1870s, the place of worship and school at Spring Creek was a one-room wooden building 100 yards from the creek bed in a grove of live oak trees. Located next to the structure was the community cemetery with its first marked burial of a child, two-year-old Will Bullard, mentioned in the cemetery’s Texas Historical Marker placed in 1987. Many of the early burials were of children under the age of six.

“As settlement along Spring Creek increased after the end of the Civil War, land in this area was set aside for a Missionary Baptist Church, a school and this cemetery,” the marker states. “According to local tradition, the first burial was that of a horse thief hanged in the vicinity.

“The earliest marked tombstone however, is that of two-year old Will Bullard who died in 1881. In its role as a reflection of the area’s heritage, Spring Creek Cemetery is the burial site of many early settlers, war veterans, school teachers and church members. “

Wagon and mules – that were more heat resistant than horses– were very important possessions to the settlers. Some had a milk cow or two; there were chickens for eggs and meat and some of the farmers had pigs. Women kept household vegetable gardens while the men were hunters and fishermen which supplemented the diets. The families kept bees for honey and fruit orchards.

The community was much isolated, and therefore very self-sufficient. The purchased salt, tea, sugar, flour and coffee from local grocery stores in Meridian and Iredell. Practicing religion in pioneer communities was a way to worship, but also so socialize. Through the years three different Protestant religious denominations predominated at Spring Creek – Baptists, Methodists and Primitive Baptists.

The simple message of “sin, conversion and forgiveness” always centered on individual salvation, which appealed to the pioneer communities. According to Siske, the simple message of “practical piety” that Baptists communicated through lay preachers appealed to the spiritual needs of the unpolished frontier men and women, as did the “justification and sanctification” preached by traveling Methodist preachers.

After opening on May 24, 1874 as Spring Creek Missionary Baptist Church of Christ founded with the purpose of providing “a congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the Gospel” with the initial membership was nine people, membership grew to 126 in 1910, only to drop to 23 in 1926.

In 1882, under the guidance of Pastor J.W. Station, a separate Baptist house of worship was initiated. It wasn’t until 24-years later that the plans came to fruition. The land already being used for religious and educational activities was bought for $5 from J.F. Williamson, a charter member. Even though the Baptists now owned the land and the building, the religious denominations continued the joint use for the next 26 years.

But finally in 1909, the new Baptist church house – the present building –- was dedicated. The yard around the new building filled with people, horses and wagons.Whereas dancing was frowned upon with the Protestants; singing was encouraged, especially through hymns.

Revivals were held during the cotton crop laying-by time, when the farmers could be absent for several days. The revival events usually ran from Sunday to Sunday, with services every night. The revivals usually concluded with baptisms of church members. An open-air covered tabernacle for summer services and revivals was built in 1916, but unfortunately could not stand the passing of time. It was torn down in 1947.

“From a distance, the hot, still air of the night, heavy with the smell of horses, carries the sound of singing people,” Siske describes. “Lanterns light a brush arbor or tabernacle under which a crowd of about a hundred or so have gathered. The men and women sit on wooden benches. Some of the younger children who have not already fallen asleep on pallets laid by the sides of the aisles squirm in their seats, other passing time counting doodle bugs in the light of the coal-oil lamps. The singing ends and a man ascends the pulpit.”

Meridian’s ballad hunter and folklorist John A. Lomax recorded an early Methodist July/August camp meeting at the Spring Creek meeting ground. “The campers – often entire families, with their dogs, mules, horses and chickens – drove in from many miles around, and camped in open clearings or under live oaks,” Lomax wrote. “Darkness provided the only privacy. Late to bed and early to rise was the rule.”

The three denominations held religious services on alternating Sundays. But most Spring Creek residents found the general worship and socializing before and after the service more important than adhering to a certain doctrine. Only the Primitive Baptists were more hesitant about attending other church services because of doctrinal belief conflicts. They held to a strongly pre-destinarian, Clavinistic church doctrine. Their ministers emphasized salvation by grace, election, predestination effectual calling and final perseverance of the saints. They required no formal training of their ministers, considering the call of God to be sufficient.

This smallest, group was the first to cease holding their regular meetings at the Spring Creek Church house. The community’s Methodists eventually chose to join in fellowship with the Methodist congregation in Iredell in the early 1940s.

Funerals involved participation of all residents – from body preparation, casket construction, the wake and actual burial. Cemetery work days were another day for Spring Creek residents to visit with other community members as they raked the grass, pulled weeds and did repairs. This tradition has survived time, and is still a bi-annual affair for the present Spring Creek Baptist Church congregation.

The greatest concerns for the secluded community were very locally oriented – too much or the lack of rain, the cotton boll weevil and the leaf worms. All of which negatively influenced the cotton crop and the community’s economy.

“While the opportunities for a broader education improved, the communities that lost their schools began to lose integral parts of their identities,” Siske writes.

The Spring Creek school consolidated with the Iredell Independent School district sometime in the 1930s. And the Spring Creek community began its decline. The Post Office and local store at “the crossroads” which sold gasoline shut down. Additionally, agriculture was moving from small acreage farms to larger highly mechanized, irrigated larger farms. In Bosque county, much tilled land reverted to pasturage for raising livestock.

Most of the generation that grew up during the Great Depression and came of age during WWII sought better paying employment outside their community, and would not return to their place of origin. The church closed in 1970 because of lack of attendance but reopened in 1986.

Since then, it has been an active church meeting every Sunday with its congregation, loving members who cherish their little church in the country side and embrace its motto Experience Family, Experience Faith, Experience Spring Creek. The church was incorporated in 2016 under the name Spring Creek Baptist Church of Bosque County. The church seeks to be a caring community, coming together to grow in faith, hope, and love, that they might serve and witness to one another, our county, and the world in the name and way of Jesus Christ.

When Spring Creek community re-established a Baptist church, they took advantage of both the Baptist Association of Churches in Bosque county and Baylor University Theology Department. Beginning in 2004, ten years after the first academic year of Truett Seminary, Spring Creek Baptist Church started welcoming Truett students as pastors. Since that time, the church has come to see assisting Truett students in their God-given calling to serve churches as part of their mission.

Covering the entire wall behind the altar is an impressive, enlightened painting of the Jordan River by Mary Cree Cosby. Cosby started baptistery painting at the age of 56, and in her lifetime painted 411 of them - many depicting the River Jordan, directly flowing into the baptistery. The Spring Creek Church painting dating from 1952 was discovered, rolled up in storage and lovingly restored by Nell Bates in 1999. The painting, the cemetery, the bell tower is worth the scenic drive through Bosque County to the church.

“Spring Creek Baptist is off the beaten path,” one of the church’s former Pastor Burden said in a 2017 blog post. “You wind through the backwoods of Bosque County to find it. It’s easy to get lost if you don’t know exactly where you are going. Unless you know exactly where to turn off of Highway 6 onto County Road 2160, it’s unlikely you will ever see Spring Creek Baptist at all. But if you ever do find it, be thankful for it.

“The next time you’re passing through Bosque County on a Sunday morning, think about stopping by and worshipping with them. I doubt the creeks will be up, and I know it would make the Lord smile, for your sake ant theirs.”

Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS & courtesy of SPRING CREEK BAPTIST CHURCH

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