By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
JOHNSON CITY — Sinking Creek or Buffalo Ridge? Which one is truly the first and oldest Baptist church in Tennessee?
Historians are still unsure. Claims have been made for both Sinking Creek Baptist Church in Johnson City and Buffalo Ridge Baptist Church near Jonesborough.
But, Sinking Creek can definitely lay claim to having the oldest Baptist church building still on its property. What’s more, the church is not resting on its legacy. Sinking Creek is moving forward.
Over the past four years the church has baptized 52 people, said Pastor Jayson Hoagland.
“As long as we can keep the waters of baptism stirred, we can be reminded God is doing something in our midst,” he said. But the church doesn’t stop once the members join, the pastor stressed.
“We’re making a conscious, intentional effort to get our people involved in Sunday School classes and discipleship. That’s where real church growth is,” Hoagland stressed. “God wants us to grow in Spirit and close to Him in truth.”
Hoagland is grateful for the congregation he has led since becoming pastor four years ago, following a pastor (Reece Harris) who served the church for 51 years. “We have an active, core membership that want to see lives changed in all areas of ministry,” he observed.
The pastor said church members are very aware of its rich history and legacy, but they try to keep it in perspective. “If we look too much in the past, we can get so caught up in traditions that we forget the present and a rich future that God has in store for us.”
Over the church’s 200-plus years of existence, “there is no doubt that the gospel has been preached and lives have been transformed,” Hoagland observed. “That is still our goal.”
Sinking Creek is unique in that its original log structure has survived. Church members have worked diligently to keep the building open over the years ever since the church stopped using it for services in the early 1960s.
Countless people have traveled from all over the country to visit Sinking Creek, Hoagland said. The church still has a guest register dating back from the ‘60s which show names of people who have visited the church.
Unfortunately, the church can no longer allow people to tour the building due to deterioration and structural issues, much of which was caused decades ago when a truck veered off the road and ran into the church, said Hoagland, who also serves as chairman of the Tennessee Baptist Historical Committee.
“For over 40 years we have made a practice to open the old church doors to visitors. We have certainly taken great pride in making it the best it can be over the years. Right now, however, we are at a crossroads as to what avenue to seek out in its preservation and restoration,” Hoagland said.
The pastor said church leaders currently are looking at ways to restore the church’s structural foundation. The church is in the process of securing funds and possibly labor from Baptist building teams to help preserve the state’s oldest Baptist landmark.
“We would welcome help,” the pastor said.
“The beauty of the old church is still one of a kind, and we would like others to be able to say a hundred years from now that we kept it in great shape and did all we could do to make it known,” Hoagland said.
For more information about Sinking Creek Baptist Church and efforts to preserve the historic building, contact Hoagland at 423-928-3222.