Celebrating 150 years

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By Todd Martin

On June 26, the famed Pony Express marked a century and a half with a re-ride over its original, 1,966-mile route, and on July 15 the British Open golf tournament celebrated its 150th anniversary by playing its 150th tournament in Scotland.



But in Shelbyville in 1860, when golf was finding its place and horses and buggies ruled the roads as the first shots of the Civil War were about to be heard, Clay Street Baptist Church was getting under way with an $800 purchase that would stand just as stalwart as those other historical milestones.


For those 150 years it never has stopped serving the Lord’s mission in Shelbyville.


Many Shelby Countians might link Clay Street with 1984, when members marched from the old location on Henry Clay Street down Main Street and Midland Trail to the church's current location.


But the church's history stretches back much, much further than that, to a time when a group of African-Americans purchased a lot at 8th and Henry Clay streets and built their church where the Bethel AME church now is located.


This past Sunday more than 300 current and former members gathered at the church to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Clay Street Baptist, showing that the church has no intentions of slowing down during the next 150 years.


Janice and Kenny Harris organized the event, combining two annual celebrations into the special occasion.


"We usually have a church anniversary party in July and a homecoming event in October, when we invite everyone that's left Shelbyville back," Janice Harris said. "But this year we put them both together, and God has blessed us."


Harris said former members from Chicago, St. Louis and Atlanta returned to help the church celebrate, but none traveled further than Bruce Moore.


Moore, who lives in Miami, planned his summer vacation around the anniversary.


"It's been very nice to see everybody and see how Shelbyville progressed," he said. "But one thing hasn't changed, and that's the people. Everybody in Shelby County is so nice."


Moore, who attended Shelby County High School and was on the 1978 state football runner-up team, left Shelby County in 1980, but he still has a lot of family and friends in the area.


"I kind of planned it around the church and seeing all my family that's still here," he said of the visit.


Janice Harris said the event ended up being much larger than she expected.


"Everybody in the church has gotten involved," she said. "And when we got the information out, the response was amazing. We have just been so excited for everything."


The church now plans to plant a reminder for congregation in 2060.


A time capsule is being prepared with letters from pastor Ronald Holder and Janice Harris, photos from the celebration and church services this year, prayer slips and a choir sash.


"We want them to know in 50 years that we were a close church and that we were a praying church," Janice Harris said.