Shelby County’s little church that does

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Buffalo Lick Baptist, 23 strong, continues to worship.

By Lisa King

At a time of year when churches invest so much time and effort into holiday celebrations and draw their biggest attendance, the few members of one of Shelby County’s oldest are their church’s doors are still open.

Buffalo Lick Baptist, 208 years old this month, is holding on with just 23 members, its pastor said, and it isn’t going anywhere.

“I’ve been here for five years,” Jeff Peed said. “We went from twenty-five when I came here to almost fifty. Now we’re at twenty-three right now. But that’s typical for a rural church.

“For now, we’re OK, because we don’t have any debts, and there’s enough offerings coming in to cover expenses. Our members are all very loyal. They have such generous hearts.”

Still, some church members say they are concerned that if numbers go any lower, that situation could change for the worse.

“As long as everybody’s still living, we’ll be OK, but I’m one of the youngest members, and I’m seventy-four,” Jimmy Stivers said. “We just have to have faith and keep on ticking.”

Buffalo Lick was founded in 1805 and got its name from, well, a salt lick.

“There was a salt lick on the property behind the church where buffalo would come to lick the salt, so the area became known as Buffalo Lick,” Peed said. 

The church is so old it spun off the larger and nearby Bagdad Baptist Church, and since then members have left for reasons other than death, said former church member Myra Phillips, who said she left to attend another church because her mother had to go to a nursing home in town, and it was easier to transport her to a church nearby.

Dave Charlton, pastor of First Christian Church, who heads up the Shelby County Ministerial Alliance, said he estimates there could be churches in Shelby County with even smaller numbers than Buffalo Baptist.

“I’d say that probably out of the eighty or so churches in Shelby County, about half of them are Baptist, and I’d say there could be a couple of churches with no more than a handful of members.”

Church member Ryburn Weakley, who admits to reaching his “four-score” birthday – 80 years old – said he and his wife, Betty, will stay at Buffalo Lick Baptist “until we die.”

“My folks moved to Shelby County in 1789, and my family has gone to that church since it was built,” he said.
“My grandfather and my father were church clerks. They kept the minutes, and I have too, for years. We’re the smallest group now that’s ever been at the church.”

Weakley chuckled as he talked about hearing stories passed around among older family members when he was a boy.

“I remember hearing the story about the time when there was a group of about twenty people that split off and established the Bagdad Baptist Church,” he said. “There was a big ruckus about that at the meeting when they announced it. The Thompsons were into it. My mother was a Thompson.

“They’d been talking about doing it for a while. So they had this big church meeting, and the preacher they had then, he granted them a permit and wished them well, then he said, ‘I have one other item. I want to move that we all go to Bagdad.’ That didn’t go over well at all, and it got pretty rough, so he resigned from the church and went with that group.”

That was in June 1889, and the church lost 27 members, more than it has today.


The formative years

In 1805, two brothers-in-law, Tarlon Lee and Martin Baskett, donated 1 acre of land each to build a Baptist church, and a church of logs was completed around Christmas of that year.

According to the New History of Shelby County, several churches were established around that time, including Burks Branch Baptist Church in 1801, Mulberry Methodist in 1804, Salem Baptist Church in 1811 and Dover Baptist in 1812.

Abraham Cook was the first pastor of Buffalo Baptist until 1851 and also established churches at Indian Fork, Christiansburg, Beech Creek, North Benson and others. In 1826, a 30-foot extension was added. In 1837, a brick church was built, using logs from the old church. After the split to form Bagdad, in 1892 13 members left to start a church at Waddy.

Buffalo Lick was remodeled in 1945, but a new church had to built in 1956, after major storm damage, and that’s the facility that remains in use. A steeple was erected in 1975.


How it was

In 1980, at the church’s 175th anniversary, Edna Mae Beavers, who is 102 and currently a resident at the Masonic Home in Shelbyville, gave a speech, supplied by Weakley, who has kept a copy of it down through the years.

Beavers told the assembly at that celebrations, how church members used to behave in those early days.

“You were compelled to go to church,” she said, adding that, if you missed, “You better have a good reason.

“You could not talk in a low tone, or even whisper…other things that brought you before the church body were unseemly conduct, bad language, carrying bad tales about people, not paying your debts, adultery, drunkenness and dancing. Wonder how those dear old souls would deal with the modern-day disco?”

Peed said that although the congregation is small, members have most of the same functions and that larger churches have, including a Sunday morning worship service and a Bible study class on Wednesday nights, not to mention special holiday services and events – they even have a yearly picnic and yard sale.

There’s no Web site, of course, although there is a Facebook page, minus photos, because it just was launched.

Peed said he doesn’t mind not having a high-tech, large, modern church.

“I like it because we can feel the spirit of God so much in a small rural congregation,” he said. “God has important stuff for us to do on this little stretch of highway.”