A petition was approved on March 14, 1835 for the organization of a
regular orthodox Baptist church at the Eddins Schoolhouse in Benevola,
Ala. The church was constituted with 22 members by J.P. Taylor, William
R. Stancil and Richard Wilkins. Taylor was the church's first pastor,
and Mr. Stancil its first clerk. The church adopted 12 Articles of
Faith, a set of rules or decorum, and gave itself the name Forest
For several years, the church conferences were held once a month of
Saturdays. A clerk was appointed named R. E. Johnson, and two
deacons--Watson shoemaker and John Carver--were elected and ordained in
June 1835. The ordinance of footwashing was adopted in September 1835.
In January 1836, a new pastor John H. Taylor replaced J.P. Taylor and
served five years. In June 1836, a committee was appointed to purchase
two acres of property from Gabriel Eddins and Arch Taylor to locate a
meeting house for the church for a mere $26.50. Almost everyone
contributed to the fund, and the largest donation of $5 came from James
H. Ferguson. A treasurer John Carver was appointed.
The records from 1837 reveal how the early Baptists operated in the
South. IN February of that year, an accusation was brought against a
member for drinking spirits. A committee of one or two people was
appointed to go to the wayward person, cite them for what had been done
and ask him to come before the church body at the next conference. The
individual had to give satisfaction to the church for his actions to be
restored to full fellowship. If not, he could be excluded or given a
letter of dismission.
These type of cases were common among the early years of our church.
Different people were cited for not attending church, immoral conduct,
stating falsehoods, living in disorder, using profane language, using
cruel treatment of a slave, or communing with the Presbyterians or
Methodists. One of the most unusual charged against a member was the
case of a man who was cited for "playing the fiddle for others to
dance." And women were not exempt either. Two women in 1842 were once
cited for "frolicking and dancing." It turned out that one was restored
to the church, but the other was excluded.
In 1837, Forest Baptist Church suffered what must have been one of the
worst setbacks it ever experienced. In September of that year, after
the annual association meeting, a motion was made to withdraw all
support from missionary and benevolent institutions of the association.
The motion failed to pass by a vote of 12 to 14. Those 12 walked out;
they called for letters of dismission, but there were not granted. The
church wrestled with the crisis for over a year. The records who that
the church finally granted letters of dismissal to some, excluded the
rest, excluded four more who joined the 12 and accepted a few back who
changed their minds.
The church survived. A new deacon James H. Ferguson was elected in May
1838. The church voted in December of that year to hold communion
quarterly, a practice we still observe. In 1839, a committee was
appointed to collect subscription papers to build a meting house. A
book published in 1840 called "History of the Rise and Progress of
Baptists in Alabama" gave the number of members of Forest Church as 63.
The books said the church had prospered considerably since the missions
There is a gap in the records prior to 1841, and it wasn't uncommon for
the church to skip its conference meetings two or three months in a
row. In March 1841, M. P. Smith was chosen the new pastor, succeeding
John Taylor. Smith preached for 19 years, and the church seemed to
experience a golden age.
Forest Church sent reports and representatives to the district meetings
of the association in August. The records of August 24, 1845 show that
the church collected $1.50 for Association funds and 50 cents for a
copy of the minutes. Today, our church makes a quarterly donation of
$200 to the Pickens Baptist Association and pays $7 for a set of
In 1853, 13 persons were saved in revival, one of the largest one-time
increases in membership at the church. This was nearly matched in 1856
when N.A. Crawford had 11 of his slaves join the church at one time.
Slaves had been attending Forest Church since it was founded. They had
to answer to accusations just like their masters, and the record books
show that they were occasionally cited for using bad language or theft.
In 1860 Forest Church had a protracted meeting for eight days in
September. The clerk wrote that the church was "graciously revived and
dismissed in powerful harmony." He also reported that $8.75 was raised
for domestic missions. At the end of 1860, the church wanted M. P.
Smith back for anther term, but after 19 years, he declined. By January
1861, the church had its fourth pastor J. C. Foster, who served for one
In January 1862, the church chose a new pastor named William Ashcraft
who served at least three years. Even Benevola was touched by the Civil
War, and in September 1864, when the church opened its doors for
membership a woman named Teer presented a letter from her son A. J.
Teer who was in the Confederate Army. the letter asked for fellowship
in the church when he came home. Happily, the records show A. J. Teer
came forward and was accepted by the church in December 1864.
The last entries in the old record book came in the summer of 1865.
Mention is made of the death of a long-time clerk named John Upchurch
and the election of a sixth pastor L.S. Foster. Any details after the
Civil War regarding Forest Church are based on memories passed down to
The old church building was torn down in 1962 and a new one, the
existing structure, was built in 1963. A steeple was added to the
church building in 1995. A list of pastors of the recent past includes,
in order, J.M. Mills, H. Clyde Hollis, Donald Strickland, James
Bouchillon, Billy Joe Thompson, J. W. Caldwell, Ernest Chappell, Robert
Covington, Larry Potts, B. W. Allen, Horace G. Williams, and our
current pastor Dr. J. Vernon Blackburn, who came here in March 1982.
Forest Baptist Church
By Bro. Gary Farley
Now in its 171st year Forest Baptist in the Benevola community has
never been a large church. Recently, I read the minutes of the church’s
first thirty years, 1835 to 1865. I discovered some interesting facts
about church life in a rural community during that time period. The
material deals with theological and personal conflicts, the pragmatic
use of resources, and continuing desire to restore relationships.
When the church was constituted in March of 1835 the charter members
included 9 men and 11 women. Like Baptist churches of that era they
adopted the Articles of Faith of their association, Buttehatchie, as
their own. They elected two deacons. And they called a pastor, Elder
John H. Taylor.
Also, like rural Baptist churches of that era they met one week-end a
month. On Saturday they had a business meeting to deal with church
business and to seek “the peace of the church.” By this phrase it was
meant that Forest provided a process by which issues among members
could be resolved without resorting to conflict, physical abuse, or law
Somewhat uniquely among old church minutes that I have studied, in 1836
the minutes note that a member was “privately excluded”. I took this
to mean that rather than having a public trial as was common at the
time, the expulsion of this member was done with minimal embarrassment
and stirring within the congregation and the community.
In the fall of 1835 the Buttehatchie association was divided with the
churches south of Cold Fire Creek being formed into the Union
association. Two years later when the Union association met at Big
Creek Church, a split occurred over to issue of supporting and relating
to missionary societies. Those who opposed this practice withdrew and
went on to form the Pilgrim Rest Primitive Baptist Association. Union
association was only about half its former size after this division.
Forest had sent three of its male members as delegates to the Union
association meeting. At the next church business meeting one of them
introduced the controversy into the church by calling for it to vote to
“protest against all missionary and benevolent institutions”. Here,
too, the vote was very close, 12 for and 14 against. Those who opposed
support of mission boards asked for letters of dismissal from the
congregation. This was refused.
For the next several months those who continued to be active in Forest
actively sought to achieve reconciliation with those who withdrew. And,
apparently the dissident members sought to get others to join with
them. Unlike other places a Primitive Baptist Church was not organized
in Benevola. Perhaps some of the dissidents did move over to the
Serepta church which had joined the Primitive Baptists. After about a
year, 17 persons, approximately half of the congregation, were
excluded. However, across the next 29 years several of these came back
until in 1864 the one who called for the vote back in 1837 returned.
(His wife had been accepted back three years earlier.) Almost
immediately, he was elected as the church clerk. From the
associational minutes it is evident that he and his family were
important lay leaders in the church for decades after that.
I wondered if one does not have here an example of the principle of on
the one hand, standing firm for what one believes; but, on the other,
not demeaning those who have a different belief. Sometimes, this
results in the ultimate rapprochement of the two sides. Give the
shrillness of current public debate in our nation, this is a lesson, if
relearned, would be of great benefit.
Forest met in the Eddins school in its early years, but with a
significant revival and growth in 1839, land was purchased and a
building soon constructed.
Like most of the missionary Baptist churches in Pickens County, Forest
began to reach African Americans at this time. Dolly was the first.
She became a member in 1841. Many of the slave members were listed as
belonging to N. A. Crawford. Apparently, he was a major planter in the
community. By 1857 the minutes note that the African American
membership of the church was large enough that an addition to the rear
of the meetinghouse was called for. In 1861 Forest counted 56 African
Two other types of items related to the slaves caught my attention.
One was the fact that charges were brought against one of the female
white members for cruel treatment of a slave. The other was that when
charges of theft by one of the slaves was brought to the church
business meeting the congregation asked another slave to meet with the
one who had been charged. This happened. The evidence brought be the
one commissioned to meet with the one charged resulted in the charges
being dropped and the accused being restored to the fellowship of the
For those who are not familiar with the “church discipline” practices
of Baptist churches in the 19th century, a brief explanation is
warranted. When a person united with a Baptist church, they covenanted
with the others to live a righteous, just, and holy life. If a person
was reported to have acted otherwise charges might be brought against
them at the monthly meeting of the church. Common charges had to do
with violation of one or more of the Ten Commandments, drunkenness,
gambling, and non-attendance. When charges were brought, the church
would elect a committee of three persons, typically, to “work” with the
person. The goal was to determine if the charges where correct and, if
so, to get the person to ask the church for forgiveness. Sometimes, a
person would refuse. Often, another committee would be sent. If,
after a time, the person was still recalcitrant, then there would be a
vote to exclude them from the membership. As one reads the minutes of
these meetings, one notes that sometimes, after a period of years, the
person would return, ask for forgiveness and be reinstated.
The goals of this process included the restoration of the offended
person to holiness, the “peace of the church,” the purity of the
church, and the positive public witness of the church. Seldom was this
process perfect. Particularly, as time, passed it seemed that sometimes
one group or family in a church might use it to punish persons that
they were out of sort with. Power games were played. The real goals
were lost sight of. But when it worked properly, it did much good.
One interesting example of the process which illustrated both the good
and the bad occurred in 1840 a young woman was accused of immoral
conduct. The first committee composed of men did not seem able to deal
with the problem for some reason. They asked for help, and Forest
church did something very unusual for that era, they appointed a
committee of women. They had better success. The young women was
excluded. Her parents asked for their letters of dismissal. The
pastor also resigned at this time. Four years later she asked to be
resorted, but the church refused.
Across these 30 years Forest was served by pastors who were
well-regarded in the old Union Association–John H. Taylor, M. P. Smith
(20 years), J. C. Foster, and Wm. Ashcraft.
Finally, in 1856 note is made in the minutes of a letter that had come
from A. C. Dayton requesting that the church contribute to the support
of home and foreign missionaries. Dayton was a gifted writer, ally of
J.R. Graves, and head of the a Baptist publication board. Later Graves
and Dayton would do much mischief among Baptist is the South.
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