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Constituted in 1839 and rebuilt after an 1859 fire, Lower Black Creek Primitive Baptist Church has been around a long time.
Benny Kangeter hopes its existence continues for many years to come.
To that end, Kangeter, whose 85-year-old mother Thelma is one of the church’s two remaining members, is spearheading an effort to have the church named a historic site.
"We want to preserve it in some manner so that when the last two members are gone the building and the cemetery will remain and still be taken care of."
As part of that effort, the land the church and cemetery – where graves date back to the mid 1800s – are on were recently surveyed onto one 10-plus acre plot.
Kangeter is concerned because as growth in Bryan County spreads northward, the land the approximately 148-year-old sanctuary sits on will become increasingly valuable to commercial interests. The sanctuary sits on Hwy. 280, across the highway from a part of Black Creek Golf Club. Not long ago, Kangeter got a call from someone interested in buying the church.
But a sale would take the agreement of a board of what Kangeter said was a recently updated board of seven trustees. His work to have the land resurveyed – the church and cemetery were once on separate plots – and ongoing effort to get Lower Black Creek Primitive Baptist Church listed as an historic site seems to show that they’re not interested in selling.
"We have the church with the cemetery and as long as we know that the church will be with it, even if we don’t have services here," Kangeter said.
Eugene Bryant, 66, has been attending Lower Black Creek Primitive Baptist Church since he was a child. He’s the church’s only deacon and along with Chip Killingsworth has been conducting services. The church’s elderly pastor, D.J. Sanders, lives in Irwinton but isn’t always able to make the trip.
Bryant, who once repaired a corner of the church after it was hit by a car, hopes the sanctuary will continue to exist as a place to hold funerals or family reunions when the current membership is gone.
"It’s a good old building," he said. "It’s well built and it’s been standing here a long time."
And at one point Lower Black Creek Primitive Baptist Church attracted so many worshippers they’d spill outside and sit on benches made from logs, while preachers would take turns delivering sermons. These days, the church holds services on the first and fourth Sunday of each month, attracting an average of 8-12 people.
Killingsworth, a professor at Brewton-Parker College in Mount Vernon, said churches in earlier days served as more than just a place to worship.
"In the days before ball games and movies were available, not only was it a religious activity and a dedication to God, but it was a social interaction," he said. "People loved to get together to talk."
Killingsworth said there is a concern that Lower Black Creek Primitive Baptist Church may someday run out of time, but he noted concern is a relative term.
"We hope and trust we’ve got some years left, if nothing else just measuring by our ages," he said.
Thelma Kangeter said she worries something will happen to the church.
"I just say to myself, ‘Lord, take care of old Black Creek,’" she said. "Because this is just another home to me."