by Rev. John H. Farmer
There’s a Country Church down the Road
In a time now spent or so ago Miss Hazel and I were off exploring the east Tennessee countryside relative to an upcoming summer mission trip. Along the way we took breakfast in Radford, with Messers Rob Pittman and Justin Burke. Tucked inside those two chaps are the little boys I met back in 1986, then university men.
For me it was an upcoming reunion weekend as our trainer, missionary Kelly Campbell, formerly of Chilhowie Baptist Association, was a lad who once paddled about our family Tennessee pool back in the early 1980s. Wow! He was a grandfather.
That July our Irvington youths partnered with the lads and lasses from Coan Church to offer vacation Bible school opportunities in the Tuckaleechee and Mountaineer Campgrounds, Townsend, Tenn. An exciting time indeed, to share ministry opportunities with my son, R. Lee Farmer, pastor of the Coan Church, Heathsville. Our prior 1980 mission together was to Michigan and Canada when he was a teen.
After the fellowship with other volunteers, who would serve the “quiet side of the Smokies” and our indoctrination completed, Miss Hazel and I headed out toward our Cades Cove honeymoon spot.
We paused for a spell at the market in Townsend to fetch victuals. With a box of broasted—spin-fried, pressure cooked, without breading—chicken, side orders, fried peanuts and a cooler of soft drinks and water—oh yeah, and some emergency chocolate—we broke from civilization into the Great Smokey Mountain National Park. Many call that remote area the “Y.” It is in a bend in the river looking for Townsend and the confluence of the stream heading down towards Gatlinburg from Cades Cove, as the Pigeon River. Redbuds, dogwoods, forsythia and bouquets of numerous wild flowers waved us on.
Hazel has a favorite picture postcard of the 1824 Methodist Church in the Cove taken from high up a mountain. There are views ranging from snow covered hills to fall foliage weekend, and most every mid-season in between, offered in shops galore. It was such a grand-weather day that I pulled out of the Cove onto the unpaved Rich Mountain Road beginning the one hour rough-road tour back over into Townsend. We “oo’d” and “ah’d” up the rock-studded path to that same vantage point from which all those fabulous pictures were photographed. My Miss Hazel was taken with the view. Earning myself tons of brownie points, I’d parked her on the same spot to view that little country church from above. I intended to spend those points slowly.
Once over the mountain and back into Townsend, we rushed ahead right back into the park nudging our Ford pick-up truck over hills and around curves seeking “our spot” at the midpoint of the Cove. Soon there, I turned the truck around and backed into a parking spot. We gathered up our picnic supplies and walked around to the cargo box. Our truck had a built-in step at the rear bumper. If that didn’t suffice, there was a short ladder upon which Miss Hazel tugged old, fat, preachers aloft. Well, we sat and ate the afternoon away, lulled by the sunshine, the captivating mountain valley views surrounding us. God fresh painted the area. We shared our thanks to him for allowing us such a privilege.
We motored home. It gave us time to reflect on how much we enjoy our local country churches.
Well it was late spring: Baptists from along the shores of the Potomac and both sides of the Rappahannock would convene in another special spot: the Coan Baptist Church, Coan Stage Road, Northumberland County. The name was changed from Wicomico to Coan in 1848. Baptist met for our annual spring assembly. Not just another assembly; we were going home to the little country church where our Baptist Association separated from the old Dover Association (formed in 1784). The Dover Association met there at the Middle Meetinghouse of the Morattico Church in 1786. In August 1843, Elder J.B. Jeter, of Richmond, supplied the pulpit in the absence of the appointed preacher Andrew Broaddus. That outdoors stage, on holy ground, was then known as the Coan Meetinghouse of the Wicomico Church; it was our largest country church.
The Rappahannock Baptist Association was organized, “to promote true religion throughout its bounds, by efforts to aid feeble churches; supply destitute places with preaching of the gospel; encourage missionary and education operations, the circulation of the Bible, the formation of Sabbath schools, and Temperance Associations.”
Coan’s 1845 pastor, the Elder Mr. Addison Hall, meeting with other Baptist leaders in Augusta, Ga., in fact named the Southern Baptist Convention. He was the grandad of our United Methodist Irvingtonian, the late Rev. (Uncle) Herbert Hall, who had pastored a bevy of small eastern Virginia country churches.
From the Coan Church and others, black members had withdrawn to form their own district association in 1867. It is fitting that the following Thursday the late Rev. Dr. T. Wright Morris, pastor of the Shiloh Church, gaveled us together for business and worship. The Shiloh Church rejoined our Rappahannock Association in the early 1990s. My son R. Lee Farmer, Coan’s present pastor, welcomed us as host. Mark it down as one proud night for Lee’s dad, pastor at Irvington.
Every Northern Neck lane, on all compass points, sit cherished holy sanctuaries. My, my, how I do love little country churches.