By Jessica Tate
BLAINE — Mouth of Richland Baptist Church in Blaine celebrated its 230th anniversary with a homecoming celebration on Oct. 28.
The church opened in 1788, eight years before the establishment of the state of Tennessee and Grainger County in 1796. It was the first Baptist church in Grainger County and possibly the 18th oldest church in the state. It is now one of few churches in the area with two full-time pastors.
Throughout the years, the church grew from a log structure and served as a beginning for several foreign missionaries.
Mouth of Richland Baptist Church has also been recognized multiple times by the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board for donating money and supplies to missions.
“I just want to let people know that we’re here to help them, we’re here for them,” said Nick Wright, senior pastor. “They’ve got somebody to turn to.”
Wright joined the church as a leader earlier in the summer, along with executive pastor Brad Bales. The two grew up together, enjoyed close family ties and attended the same church in Corryton.
After Wright was called to preach at age 16, he attended Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in religion and philosophy of religion. He’s pursuing a master’s degree in christian studies at Luther Rice College & Seminary.
Bales was called to preach at age 18 and earned a bachelor’s degree in preaching from Johnson University. The two had worked together for three years before Mouth of Richland Baptist needed a pastor.
“When it came time, two were available,” said Bill Ramsey, a deacon. “They work as a team. They’re full-time; they can reach a lot more people.”
The pastors have added Sunday School classes for adults, along with middle and high school students. Also new is a Wednesday evening service for middle and high school students. The group recently voted to add Sunday evening services.
After many of the church members who attended all of their lives passed away or moved, regular attendance was down to 17 churchgoers when Wright and Bales got to work. Since then, visitors and past members have started to show up, and attendance has jumped to around 70.
“When we’re talking about 17, in this community all of our families left,” said David Mitchell, a deacon. “My family had 11 kids, and I’m the only grandson. When I grew up, you went in your community because it was too far to go anywhere. Today, you get in your car and drive 40 miles and don’t pay attention to it. That’s a big difference. Travel is so much easier.”
The church has a long history in disaster relief work. When Hurricane Florence struck the east coast the church gathered donations of food, gloves, batteries and various supplies for Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief. After selling a parsonage and placing the funds in an account created to help others, the church was also able to pledge $15,000 in disaster relief donations.