A Short History of the First Cedar Creek Baptist Church
By J. D. Herndon, 1982
The story of a church is truly His story . "Laborers together with God." It is the story of God and man through times of joy and sorrow, dedication and dereliction, response and repentance, programs and purpose. It is the story of families. There are descendants of two of the charter or early members of the church active in church membership today. The story of First Cedar Creek is tied in with the history of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. To put the story in historical perspective there are some i nteresting historical and geographical factors we need to note.
The pilgrimage of this people of God began when Kentucky was a wilderness without status. 1776-1780 the territory was known as Kentucky County of Virginia. In 1780 Virginia divided the territory into three counties, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Fayette. In 1784 Nelson County, Virginia was created from a part of Jefferson. In 1792 Kentucky gained her independence and became the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
The first adventurers came west from Virginia in the 1760s. Some passed through, some returned and probably a few stayed to brave the wilds of this beautiful but dangerous territory. Among those first were the Tinsely and Boone families of our Baptist heritage.
In 1780-81 others came and settled down. Among them were several preachers. It is significant at that early period they considered the establishing of churches a part of their call to the ministry. Two congregations were soon established. On June 18, 1781 Elders Barnett, Whitaker and Gerrard and 18 followers formed Severns Valley. Two weeks and two days later Cedar Creek Baptist church was established.
[The historian, John H.] Spencer intimates that this congregation was as old if not older in time than the Severns Valley group but delayed the day of organization to July 4, for patriotic reasons. The memory of the bloody Revolutionary war was still fresh on their minds.
Joseph Barnett who had come to Nelson County from Virginia where he had served as pastor, officiated at the organizational service for the newly formed church. Without multitudinous precedent and ritual to recite, the service must have been a simple one. No reference is made to the credentials of those constituting the body but their future persistent adherence to faith and order suggest that their credentials were in order.
Barnett served for four years or longer and probably returned on several occassions to serve the church. He was appointed Gentleman Justice of Peace for Nelson County by Patrick Henry, Governor of Virginia, on May 24, 1785. On the same day he was also licensed to celebrate matrimony because he was a minister of the gospel.
Among the charter members were three prominent statesmen. James Rogers built Rogers Fort four miles west of Bardstown. He was a Justice of Peace. In 1785 he attended the Danville Convention which sought to form a government for Kentucky. He probably attended the Constitutional Convention at Danville in 1792. Thouqh not acknowledged as a eloquent speaker he was author of numerous pamphlets. Among them was one on the holy spirit and another on closed communion. Because of religious differences he left Cedar Creek. In 1787 when South Kentucky Association of Separate Baptists was formed, Lick Creek was one of the eleven churches in that organization with James Rogers listed as pastor. After two years, they left that association and
joined Salem Association of Regular Baptists. Later Rogers returned to Cedar Creek. Two other judges were among the charter members. Atkinson Hill was the first judge of Nelson County and Judge James Slaughter was an outstanding citizen and leader in Nelson County.
For the settlers of the Bluegrass, the years of 1782-84 were very difficult. They were terrorii1ed by Indian raids. It was unsafe to venture outside the forts. Little food was produced. Settlers suffered through the winter months from cold and hunger. Spencer observed that the religious affairs were in no better condition than their temporal concerns. There was no evidence of religious revival. The churches had been built up exclusively of persons who had been members before coming west. It is not known that a single baptism had been administered in Kentucky waters. In spite of difficulties, the church at Cedar Creek persevered.
In 1785 the church had 41 members. This was less than when they were organized four years earlier. When Cox's Creek was organized, members in that area probably transfered membership to that church. This is probably true in the case of Rolling Fork, Mt. Moriah, Lick Creek, Wilson Creek, Mill Creek, Salem etc. Cedar Creek was probably the mother church of some of these churches.
In 1785 Cedar Creek, Severns Valley, Bear Grass and Cox's Creek churches met at the latter to form Salem Association. The churches associated together to share fellowship and to hear inspirational messages. The association should serve in an advisory capacity when asked for help by the churches. It could not practice discipline or usurp the authority of the local congregation. For instance "no Queries could be received in this association, but such as had been debated in the churches, and come inserted at bottom of their letter".
There is not much information available concerning the activities of Cedar Creek from 1785-93. It seems that Joshua Morris became pastor during this period. He came from Virginia where he had been preaching with notable success for some twenty years. He was the founding father of the First Baptist Church of Richmond, Virginia, in 1780. He came to Kentucky in 1787. He became pastor of Brashears Creek, Shelby County and from there moved to Nelson County. After becoming pastor of Cedar Creek, he gave stability to the heretofore struggling organization. Under his leadership, preaching that had been of a seasonal nuture became a monthly occurence. During the same period he preached at Mill Creek, Severns Valley and probably at other churches while serving as pastor at Cedar Creek at two other times.
There is no record of meeting houses in Kentucky until about 1785. Cedar Creek probably had a building in 1786 when Salem. Association. met with them. But they did not have a deed to the property until 1793. s no record of meeting houses in Kentucky until about 1785. Cedar Creek probably had a building in 1786 when Salem Association met with them. But they did not have a deed to the property until 1793.
September 1793 Wm. and. Nellie Abell deeded eight acres to Evan Williams and Anthony Foster, trustees for the Regular Baptist Society of Cedar Creek Church for five shillings($1.21). The parcel was to be theirs as long as they remained in union with Salem Association and faithful or nearly the same to the faith and order of the Regular Baptists. The land was on Beech Fork River and bounded on one side by trees. The only other point of survey was a spring. The exact location is still a matter of speculation. According to Mrs. Chester Keeling a log meeting house was built on the site. Her source of information was her gandfather, Reason Barnes, an adult member in 1850. He recalled that the building on this location burned.
The years of 1800-55, were known as ones of prosperity and growth. All was not easy. There were many ups and downs, but the years were marked by effective revivals, outstanding pastors, doctrinal purity and new church buildings. Cedar creek felt the impact of the prevailing revival spirit. There were fifty baptisms in 1801-02 and
This was also a time of marked decline. in 1837 the membership dropped to 35. The following reasons are cited for this decline, lack of church discipline, growth of Campbellism and transfer of members to weaker churches.
The church emphasized not only doctrinal purity but also exact adherence to the christian life. Discipline was a part of the process of discipling. Hardly a year passed without the exclusion of from one to five members. The reasons varied: dancing; nonattendance; unethical business practice; disorderly conduct; gossiping; advocation of infant sprinkling; and keeping profane company. During this period of decline, this emphasis decreased.
By 1826, the followers of Campbell began to separate from Baptist churches to form their own congregations. By 1833, the movement began to make great and deep inroads in the churches of Salem Association. The following resolution was passed by the association "that churches. of this association be advised not to open their doors for preaching to any person holding the doctrine of Alexander Campbell or who called themselves Reformers of the christian order commonly called the New Lights."
The 1826 minutes of Salem Association made reference to the dire straits of some of the churches. "A letter from Salem church at Bardstown was received, stating that they were much reduced in numbers, that only two male members, old and infirmed, remained, had discontinued church meeting for some time." There is some feeling that some Cedar Creek members including former pastor, Joshua Morris, went to the aid of this struggling church.
In 1827, a log church building was erected on a plot of land across the road from the present building. This land was deeded to the church by Polly Bisset. This building was used until 1854, when the present building was erected. On September 10, 1852, the church named B. Summers and John Troutman to superintend the building of the projected meeting house. They were to be assisted by trustees, Samuel Ross, Peter Abel and Reason Barnes. A few months later, in April, 1853, the church voted to start a subscription paper for the purpose of building the new meeting house. In September, another subscription paper was started to pay for the brick and lumber work. These papers were a type of pledge or commitment by church members to provide a certain quanity of money or goods for the purpose stipulated on the paper: grain; meat; sugar; tallow; and even whisky. Collections often involved a great deal of barter and bargaining.
The church minutes of January 13, 1855 implied the building had been completed. Interestingly, the church did not at that time own the land on which the building was built. It belonged to John Troutman. The minutes of September 4, 1854, stated that it was satisfied with the sale of the old meeting house and the exchange of land with Brother Troutman. The deed was dated two years hence. From 1785 to 1854, Cedar Creek was a member of Salem Association. The records indicate that the church was active in the organization. Nelson Association was organized in 1849 and five years later Cedar Creek affiliated with that body. Chambliss claimed that Cedar Creek sent messengers to the organizational meeting of the General Association of Kentucky baptists in 1837. But the minutes of the proceedings do not mention any messengers from Cedar Creek.
Chambliss called the years prior to 1855 "the zenith of Cedar Creek's prosperity and strength." Afterwards, the congregation encountered many difficulties and often weakness prevailed. In any event, there is no evidence that Cedar Creek ever bowed its head in defeat. The story is one of struggle and the march towards a better day.
The church took a backward step in 1856 when they reduced preaching from once a
month to once every other month. This change was short-lived. In June 1857 the church called Richard Slaughter, formerly of Hopkinsville, a graduate of Georgetown College to serve as pastor to preach once a month. Under his most capable leadership the church grew in number and spirit.
Soon the ugly monster of economic problems reared its head again to plague the church. In 1860, they still owed $100 on the church building. They named John Troutman a committee of one to raise the money by subscription all the money he could on the debt and for him to pay the rest. They would then reimburse him. This was easier said than done. They continued to get behind on the pastor's salary. In desperation, they considered selling part of the church property to the Presbyterians. The action was postponed and later rejected. In 1861 they made another effort with subscription papers. This was only partially successful. The next was to request each member to pay 10 cents a month to the church. After a year's struggle the church decided to do the unheard of thing. They decided to take a public offering. In 1862, the church debt was cancelled.
The church was still behind with the pastor's salary. The pastor became increasingly unhappy with the situation. He declined the call in 1862. The next Sunday the church extended the call again and he accepted conditionally. His acceptance speech was harsh and unkind. The clerk's record said that the preacher used some remarks that were calculated to excite and wound the feelings of the members. The church retracted the call and delayed action until the next business session. Slaughter withdrew his name and requested letters of dismission for himself and his family. The request was granted. He moved to Hardin County where he died of typhoid fever on January 16, 1863.
This economic dilemma was widespread among the churches of that area. The Nelson District Board reported the association as follows. "There are even in the bounds of the association several destitute fields where the cause of Christ is suffering for missionary work -- Shepherdsville, Bullitts Lick, Mt. Carmel and Cedar Creek. These churches should receive from us a helping hand. "Later the Association helped these churches. Cedar Creek received $25 for the year on condition that the church pay the pastor at least $100 and $5 a quarter to missions and Sunday School. From 1896 to 1899 the Association appropriated $4 a month to Cedar Creek.
At the turn of the century, a brighter day began to dawn. In 1910 the total expenses were reported to be $37.35. In 1928 the total expenses were $755.93. At this time, the church went to fulltime preaching.
These were years marked by exodus of church members. Many became "trunk Baptists." But with the organization and growth of new churches in the county many transferred their membership to these new churches. On one occasion, the association called attention to several churches that were about to disband because of such small membership and asked the stronger churches of which Cedar Creek was one, to encourage their members to move their membership to these weaker churches to strengthen them.
Cedar Creek did not look inwardly after moving into its new building. They were active in Nelson Association and the State Convention. Tne church's interest in missions during this period was manifest by the appointment of a committee to raise funds for missionary causes. It is noted that the church gave $42.55 to the Cooperative Program shortly after the venture was started by Southern Baptists. This support has continued.
Cedar Creek entered its next period with a rich heritage and bright prospects. Steady growth was in evidence. The economic picture was much improved. Sunday School and W.M.U. were growing.
Marvin Masden came as pastor in 1928. The church became fulltime. Eighty-three persons were baptized during his six-year pastorate. The great depression had its effects. The pastor's salary decreased from $480 in 1929 to $236 in 1936. But, inspite of the hardships he said "Cedar Creek alway treated me right..."
Richard B. Cundiff succeeded Masden. The church grew to 190 members and attained a Standard-Al Sunday School.
At this time the church, as always, called pastors annually. In 1945, they called W. C. Corley to what he thought was an indefinite time. At the end of the first year he was asked to leave the business meeting while the church voted their annual call. He was taken by surprise but absented himself from the proceedings. The church voted not to extend the call but asked Corley if he would serve as interim pastor until they could call another one. He agreed to do so. On the next Sunday he was called for an indefinite time. He accepted, and the church has never extended the annual call to another pastor.
Deacons were elected for life, unless they resigned or were disciplined by the church. In 1956 the church installed a rotating system for deacons. Since 1975, all deacons are active, honorary, retired or resigned.
Since the construction of the present building in 1855 various additions and changes have been made. In 1898 therewas a hitching lot added. In 1954 a parking lot was purchased across the road. Later the parking lot was moved to the front of the new educational building. In 1948-49, an annex was added. This housed the Sunday School rooms. In 1962. the educational building was erected on a site adjacent to the church secured from Mr. and Mrs. Joe Nalley. In 1957, a three bedroom parsonage was built on highway 733 near the church. In 1972, a porch was added to the present building and a bapistry was installed in 1977.
The cemetery surrounds the church on three sides which prevents any significant increase in the size of the present building. For many years the deceased members were buried without charge. But upkeep became too much of a burden and in 1963 the church began to charge $10 for members and $15 to non-members. There has been some increase in fees. A reserved fund has developed through bequest that helps bear the expenses.
For many years the Cedar Creek Church suffered an identity crisis. There are many Cedar Creek Churches in Kentucky At one time there were two in Salem Association. It was the Cedar Creek (formerly Chenoweth Run) located at Fern Creek that caused the change of name. In 1965, the Nelson County church applied to the State of Kentucky for a charter only to learn that the Cedar Creek in Jefferson County had already received its charter. Since no two churches could be chartered under the same name and in order to preserve the historical significance the name was changed to First Cedar Creek.
At the close of 1980 the church membership was 577 with gifts of $51,195. The church is noted for good preaching, active sunday school and organizations of missionary endeavour. The services are enriched with exceptionally good music program involving congregational singing and an excellent choir that is second to none. One of the highlights of the year is their Christmas Candlelight service held either at 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve or at 7 or 11 a.m. on Christmas Day.
Two hundred years have passed since the First Cedar Creek Baptist Church began its pilgrimage of Christian service. The story is heroic. The heritage is rich. But the future is before them with new challenges and new fields of service. They stand ready and willing to follow as they declare "lead on oh King eternal, we follow not with fear" but with faith.
[From The Kentucky Baptist Heritage Journal, Volume IX July, 1982 Number 1; via Adam Winters, SBTS Archives E-Text. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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