Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
Two Centuries of Services and Fellowship Celebrated at First Baptist Church By Deena C. Bouknight, Contributing Writer
Just two years after the town of Franklin officially organized in 1820, First Baptist Church was established. On Sunday, May 1, the church celebrates two centuries of service in the community.
“Two hundred years just shows the faithfulness of the Lord, and that His purpose of seeking to save the lost (all of us) is that great,” said Senior Pastor Robert Brown, who has been at First Baptist for 12 years.
The first pastor for the church in 1822 was Elder Humphrey Posey, with serving deacons Thomas Kimsey and James Bryson, clerk Benjamin Stiles, as well as first trustees Luke Barnet, Thomas Kimsey, and James Poteet.
The first official church building was constructed in February 1829 on three acres of land, purchased for $11.15, on the south side of White Oak Street in Franklin. By the end of the 19th century, First Baptist was established well enough in Western North Carolina to be considered the “mother” church of not only seven churches in and around Macon County, but also for one in Dillard, Ga.
In 1920, a new church building was completed and the first service was held April 4, 1920, with the current and final sanctuary at 69 Iotla Street finished in 1963.
Membership at the church over the last two centuries has included many recognized names throughout the region as well as generations of established families. Mildred Swafford, 97, has lived her entire life in Macon County and is one of the longest living members of the church.
She originally resided outside of town, but after she married, she moved into Franklin. She shared that the only factor keeping her from initially attending First Baptist was that she did not own a hat. “All the ladies wore hats on Sunday,” she explained. Once she purchased a hat, she began attending First Baptist and has been a member for 62 years. Her children attended First Baptist and were active in the church’s children, junior, and youth departments.
Swafford helped with Sunday School in the children’s department. “I was amazed at how many Bible verses the children knew,” she said, admitting that she was inspired by the children to memorize verses herself. After retiring from teaching school for 40 years, Swafford became the Sunday School director and continued to serve in the position for 25 years. She pointed out that a highlight during her time as director was the establishment of a Sunday School class, known as Special Friends Class, for mentally challenged individuals.
She remembered a time when the church did not have air conditioning and some summers were particularly hot, especially during vacation bible school, which many children attended.
“I also remember the church getting new stained glass windows, cushions for the pews, … many changes in 62 years,” said Swafford.
In 62 years, she has also seen many pastors come and go. One memory she shared was when a pastor choose to go on a mission trip to Japan. “I told him that the same Carolina moon that shines over us would be shinning over him in Japan.”
Another favorite memory of Swafford’s was when deacons were called on to pray and one deacon started his prayer with: “I was glad when He said unto me, ‘Let us go into the House of the Lord.’”
“Good memories of good people,” said Swafford. “First Baptist made me closer to the Lord in every way. I tried to be a blessing to others and was there every time the doors were opened. Picking up individuals to carry them to church was one thing I especially enjoyed doing for others.”
Attending Sunday’s anniversary recognition will also be Jim Conley, 90, who has been attending since 1945, “except when I was in the Navy for four years,” he said, adding “I grew up in Macon County and attended the church growing up. I’ve been a Sunday School teacher, a deacon, and a trustee. My one child, Jim Conley, Jr., grew up in the church as well.”