Great Fork has great time at anniversary

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 25, 2003

Special to the News-Herald

Inside the church every flower was strategically placed in gratitude for the &uot;gift of family&uot; God has given this steadfast congregation; it started out with so few and now counts 244 on the membership roll. The addition of built-in display cases, holding mementos of church history added an interesting backdrop for animated conversations in the one hallway before the service started. Conversations were put on hold as everyone made their way to the pews, settling in next to friends and relatives from all over the area who had come to celebrate the 170th anniversary of Great Fork Baptist Church.

The church decided to have a two-part service; the first, a church meeting, where former minister, Steve Siegrist, eloquently read Psalms 139 that set the stage for the rest of the meeting.

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The sermon, by the Rev. Thomas Mishoe Sr., who was pastor from 1970 to 1976, was an inspiration to the congregation. With expressiveness and skillful words, this former pastor reminded them of the wonderful past of the church and exhorted them to build their future by &uot;being about their Father’s business.&uot;

With final prayers and a congregational singing of &uot;Where He leads I’ll go&uot; the morning service was over, but the event was not finished. In the spirit of fellowship the church catered luncheon, where over 200 meals were served.

Laughter and the hum of conversation were not deterred by the steady rain, but everyone was glad to get back inside the church for the afternoon program.

Pews, filled with those whose love of God and church family drew them together in the first place, sat together enjoying the afternoon portion of the service. The Greater Great Fork Choir, Melinda Underwood, Great Fork Men’s Ensemble, the Kick Choir, Copeland Family Ensemble, Clarke Wiseman and an a cappella group called &uot;Heavenly Inspired&uot; sang at intervals throughout the service. However, it was children, lead by Anne Forehand, and singing in sweet voices that filled the building, reminded everyone the future of the church is its youth.

As one of the afternoon speakers, Estelle Hobbs addressed the congregation about church history. Hobbs, together with husband Charles, and Helen Lowe – all dedicated, long time members themselves – spent much time and effort researching the history of the church. Their research shows 32 members of Middle Swamp Baptist Church in Gates County, N.C. commissioned to begin a new church. Going through the countryside must have been a real journey of faith and probably prompted that decision for the history recounts the decision was made &uot;by mutual consent and for convenience.&uot;

These pioneers decided to build where the colonial trail split away and lead to Elizabeth City and Edenton, N.C. They knew they would be on a gateway for the area and more than just a community meeting place, the people of Great Fork planned on being a spiritual light in the area. That light officially began on May 3, 1833, when the church was prayed over, and constituted by John Harrell and Simon Murfee. The vision of those men was surely worth the effort, for their dedication back then made the present celebration possible.

As members in the Blackwater Baptist Association, the church has worked hard over the years to accommodate the needs of the congregation.

According to the history of the early years, classes met in the sanctuary, using curtains to sections off areas for various age groups. However, when there were too many, the members set about adding to the building to make room for everyone.

Approximately 69 years later, classrooms in this same church host lessons for yet another generation still anxious to be taught the word of God. There are even teachers now whose grandmothers’ taught Bible lessons long ago. One, Kathie Stanley, who teaches little ones, has a grandmother who taught back in the early 1940s.

&uot;I think the Bible teaches us that we are to teach our children about our faith and the Lord has led us to be here now,&uot; she said.

The Stanley family is raising all four of its boys to know Jesus at Great Fork Baptist Church.

As the service progressed, recognition for being the oldest active member was given to Herman Warren for his faithfulness through the years. Warren helped build the fellowship hall long ago and raised all of his family in the church. Asked about the present preacher, Warren smiled, saying, &uot;The man we’ve got there now is doing the best he can. He’s a nice man, I like him.&uot;

Dean and Kristina Russell, who plan to stay in Whaleyville forever, were also recognized by the church family for their dedication. Church and community mean a great deal to this family whose son; Alexander is the youngest member at age 6. The Russell family has had multiple generations in the pews at Great Fork and Russell plans to keep it that way.

The youngest deacon of the church, Russell has a vision for the congregation that keeps him working and praying for his son and future children.

&uot;The future of the church is positive, based on the willingness of the church to assist the community and the community to assist the church.&uot; said Russell.

At a point in the service, Pastor Judy invited anyone to speak to the group. Several different ones retold funny stories. There were also those who took the opportunity to thank the church family for the faithfulness the church has shown over the years. It was obvious throughout the remainder of the service that these church members consider themselves family, for there was a definable feeling of camaraderie all the way to the final dismissal prayer.

For Pastor Judy and his wife Traci, who have been leading the church since December 1999, working with various committees on this project, since November 2002, has been a great inspiration. Expressing his gratitude that this event happened while he was pastor, Judy was glad when the whole idea came up.

&uot;I felt it was time to celebrate our church and it helps rediscover ourselves. And in rediscovering ourselves we will gain a clearer vision of our future.&uot;

The church has weekly services on Sunday morning with a 9:45 Bible study and worship service at 11. Youth Challenge for teens and a program for children called KICK (Kids in Christ Kingdom) take place Friday evenings. &uot;Keenagers,&uot; a program for active seniors, meet monthly and all are welcome to join.

For information on any of the services the church provides contact the church office at 986-4185.