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Bill Wood, 87, has been worshiping the Lord at Union Baptist Church in this rural enclave since he was an infant. This month, the Baptist church organized in 1838 is marking 175 years of worship with special speakers and a March 24 homecoming service. The church is one of the oldest Baptist churches in York County.
Bill Wood, 87, has been worshiping the Lord at Union Baptist Church in this rural enclave since he was an infant. He was baptized in the church, and he and his late wife, Ruth, raised three sons there.
“Every Sunday — I hardly ever missed,” said Wood, one of the church’s oldest members. Over the years, he has taught Sunday school to children and adults and served as both a deacon and a trustee.
This month, the Baptist church organized in 1838 is marking 175 years of worship with special speakers and a March 24 homecoming service. Church members opened the observance on March 3 by attending Sunday services in period attire, on foot or horseback, as their ancestors would have done.
The Rev. Ray Long said Union Baptist, on Union Baptist Road between York and Clover, is among the oldest churches in York County. It was a founding member of the York Baptist Association, which now represents more than 70 Baptist churches in York County.
On March 24, 1838, three ministers met with 16 men and women to organize the church, according to a history published for the church’s 150th anniversary. Most of the members came from Flint Hill Baptist Church in Fort Mill.
“I’m always amazed at the commitment of people 175 years ago,” Long said of the early members. “And this was what we were trying to say to our people — look at the commitment of people to get together, form a church.”
After naming a treasurer, the new church resolved to create a church fund; each man agreed to pay 25 cents and each woman 12.5 cents. Three acres of land for the church were donated by John McArthur, according to the history, and one acre was purchased for $3 from James Wood. James Brian, another member, later donated a fifth acre.
During the early period, the history says, services were held irregularly, often once a month, and usually on Saturday. The church was served by a succession of pastors; each usually served for a year.
“Often, there would be more than one sermon in one day,” according to the published history. “Sometimes, one or two ministers would come and preach for three days in succession.”
Discipline in 19th-century religious circles was strict, and Union Baptist was no different. “Loose gossip, profanity, drunkenness and unexplained absences from church meetings were not tolerated,” the history says, and sometimes members were suspended and excluded from worship, though restored to good standing “after satisfactory repentance before the church.”
Long noted that during the church’s first 30 years, about 60 slaves were counted among its members. The first church building was constructed of logs and built to accommodate the slaves. The second church structure was built in 1879, and the third in 1904.
The present church building was dedicated in 1927, and this structure includes portions of the 1904 building. An educational building was built in 1958, and more finishing work was done in 1963.
York resident Greg Norton, 56, has been a member of Union Baptist since his preschool days. His parents were invited to attend when his family moved to York from the North Carolina mountains.
Norton was baptized at Union Baptist and grew up there with his parents and a brother. In December 1982, he and wife Mary Lynn said their wedding vows in the church. The couple remain members today.
“The landscape has changed so much since I was a child,” said Norton, principal of Fort Mill Middle School. “When I was growing up, the church was surrounded by peach orchards and grape vineyards and corn fields. And now it’s all subdivisions. There are houses everywhere.”
Norton remembers Sunday school, summer Bible school and covered dish meals where members gathered outside to fellowship. “It just seemed like the food went on for miles with these tables lined up,” he said.
At Christmas, Norton said, one of the church members would dress up like Santa and hand out bags of fruit and candy to the children. “That’s what you got and you were glad to get it,” he said.
Norton said the church has been an essential part of his spiritual life. “My faith is based on everything I’ve witnessed and been a part of there. For good or ill, that’s what has shaped from a faith-based standpoint.”
Long said the church recently raised money for and completed a major beautification and renovation project that involved cosmetic improvements such as painting and new carpet, tile and furniture. The refurbished facilities will be dedicated March 24, he said.
He said the church, which usually runs about 85 to 100 people at Sunday services, has a lot of longtime members such as Norton and Wood, whose families attended for a couple generations or more.
“Many older churches, particularly rural churches, have gone through some decline, and Union has some of that,” Long said. “But the attendance at church is beginning to increase. There’s new life in the church. There’s excitement.”
York county Sheriff Bruce Bryant, went there 38 years. his mother and father made sure we were in church. attended for 38 years. served on board of deacons and taught Sunday school.
All the fond memorie swe had there....attend royal ambassadord, male youth group, camping trips. all the wonderfl peple that were there as I grew up.
That’s where I had to be every Sunday to be filled with the sprit to be able to go nthe following week. Church...it was a wonderul place to grow up. There peple there cared for each other. the love that was inthat church. no longer a member.
The support, the love of thsoe people that made up the church, it awa little contry church, asmall congreation. covered dish dinners, revival services. revial was atime we’d go to chruch all week long at night. gospel singing. I have so many great memories.