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The pews were overflowing, the voices were overwhelming and the spirit was overpowering on Sunday when perhaps 150 gathered in the little white church to celebrate 200 years of Dover Baptist Church.
Dover has served the rolling and winding roads outside Chestnut Grove in northwest Shelby County since farmers gathered periodically starting in 1812 to hear an itinerant minister share the good book.
Families who rooted themselves in that farmland about seven miles from Shelbyville have remained, for generations, part of the church, and several of those descendants – from families, such as the Rutledges, the Parkers, the Caseys, the Pulliams, the Collingses, the Chappells and the Wilborns – were represented at Sunday’s festivities.
Many arrived at 10 a.m. for a special musical program by Georgians Stacy and Lee Culpepper, friends of pastor Matt Smith, and even more were there to hear former pastor Doug Mulkey’s message on faithfulness and to join in the singing of traditional old Baptist hymns, such as “Old Rugged Cross,” “When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder” and “How Great Thou Art.”
So filled were the pews that folding chair were added to line the aisle in the sanctuary, and many an old-fashioned fan was used to help the air conditioners and ceiling fans try to cool the jammed-in families.
Former member Brenda Black played organ, and Darlene Wilborn Russman was on the piano, an instrument her parents, Gilbert and Margaret, had played for thousands of congregations.
Doris Riddle returned to that role in the afternoon, and she spoke lovingly of growing up in the church.
The crowd seemed to grow for the sumptuous lunch buffet, and new faces joined an afternoon celebration to hear more special music from the Culpeppers and Jessie Poe, who grew up right next door.
Former pastors Mulkey and Lee Bean and numerous longtime and former members told stories about the church’s lore – everything from mice in the sanctuary to snakes in the furnace room to “beer mugs” at Bible school – and the tears and laughter often were commingled in the voices and eyes of everyone.
Perhaps Mulkey, now a resident of Georgia, said it best: “This church made an investment in me, and I never will forget this church. It holds a very special place in my heart.”