So, do you know the word “demisemiseptcentennial”? It’s derived from Latin, of course, and literally means “half of a half of a 700 year period” (the word “quartoseptcentennial” serves the same purpose). Most of us would probably prefer to say “175th anniversary.” Twice this month I was honored to be the speaker for a church’s demisemiseptcentennial service. Both are rural churches facing the challenges of changing population patterns.

Mount Olive Baptist Church, about halfway between Pittsboro and Burlington, N.C. (one of 18 Mount Olive Baptist Churches affiliated with the Baptist State Convention), celebrated its 175th on August 9. The folks who started Mount Olive were initially sponsored by the Haw River Mountain Church and met for several years before organizing, in 1834, as Lick Creek Baptist Church. When the congregation left a old log building near the creek and built a larger frame building near the top of a nearby hill, it changed its name to Mount Olive Baptist. A modern brick building was constructed in 1960 and renovated in 1995. In the early 20th century, when schools were scare in the area, Mt. Olive supported a “subscription” school called the Manndale Institute. The school taught all 12 grades before being consolidated with a public school in the nearby community of Eli Whitney.

Bear Swamp Baptist, near Littleton in northeastern N.C. (not to be confused with Bear Swamp Baptist churches in Lake View and Pembroke), was founded by missionary-minded Baptists who were left out of fellowship when the old Kehukee Association adopted a hypercalvinist, anti-missionary stance. Members of the Bear Swamp Church affiliated with the pro-missionary Tar River Association in 1834 (the church later helped start the Cullom Association and is now a member of the North Roanoke Association). The congregation held services in the community-built Bear Swamp Meeting House for about 40 years before moving up the hill and constructing a frame building in the 1870s. In 1926, the church hired an architect to assist with remodeling and expansion, and the result was a red brick Gothic-inspired structure that’s not your typical country church building.

Both churches inspired me with their longstanding commitment to Christ and their appreciation for historic Baptist principles. Both face challenges from demographic shifts that have drained and changed the rural population, but both persevere. Here’s wishing Mount Olive and Bear Swamp another 175 years of meaningful ministry, when they can drop the “demi” and celebrate their semiseptcentennial days.

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