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September 19, 2014

Shoal Creek church to host singing

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Posted: Thursday, August 28, 2014 9:46 am | Updated: 9:53 am, Thu Aug 28, 2014.

On May 17, Linda Miller and Terry Lowmaster of Heflin exchanged wedding vows at Shoal Creek Baptist Church, which has been closed for nearly a century.

Linda, 53, said she remembered the church from when she was a little girl. She would go to picnics on the grounds and attend Sacred Harp singings there with her family. The old log church held a romantic appeal for her.

“I wanted an older looking, romantic wedding,” she said. “It was very simple, very small.”

Linda wore a Gunne Sax wedding dress reminiscent of the Victorian era. The groomsmen wore suspenders. The church, which is not wired for electricity, was decorated with flowers and candles in Mason jars.

The church was built in 1895 by settlers in Shoal Creek, which is now part of the Talladega National Forest. It is “miles removed from civilization,” said Joseph Jones, secretary-treasurer of the Shoal Creek Church Preservation Society. The nonprofit organization was formed to maintain the facility and the 2.83 acres of land on which it sits.

The church was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. It’s easy to imagine stepping back in time on the site, Joseph said

The church hosted its last service 100 years ago, but that doesn’t mean it sits quiet.The church averages eight to 10 events each year, said Houston Jones, president of the society and Joseph’s brother.

There’s another wedding scheduled at the church today, Houston said. Every Labor Day, there is a Sacred Harp singing that is open to the public.  

Volunteers have maintained the church over the past 100 years, according to Joseph. The roof has been replaced at least twice, along with rotted logs. In the 1940s, the floor was replaced after it was badly burned by campers.

The church was originally maintained informally by descendants of the church members. The preservation society was formed in 1986 by William Lee Jones, brother to Houston and Joseph, now deceased.

The church is part of the family’s heritage, Houston said. “Our people came out of those mountains,” Houston said.

Their grandfather, George O. Jones, helped build the church. Their father, Leo Jones, was the “waterboy” for the workers while the church was being constructed.

The church also served as the area school for a time, Joseph said. In the 1890s, their grandfather taught first grade there, and their father went to school there.

The residents of Shoal Creek began moving out of the community around the turn of the 20th century, and the church held its last service on Sept. 6, 1914.

In 1922, the members organized a homecoming Sacred Harp singing, which in recent years has been held on Labor Day. This year’s singing will be the 93rd.

Sacred Harp is also called shape-note singing. The hymns are sung a cappella, using songbooks in which the musical notes are shaped like squares, circles, triangles and diamonds.

Joseph plans to attend. “I was born into it,” he said. Their parents and grandparents brought the brothers to singings over the years, then Joseph took his three boys as they were growing up. Joseph said his sons are accomplished musicians now, and Sacred Harp singing is part of their repertoire.

“That type of singing was very prevalent 100 years ago throughout the country,” Joseph said. It may be less common now, but it isn’t rare, he said. He attends one or two singings a year, but there are singings scheduled nearly every weekend all over the country.

The singing is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. Monday with a lunch break at noon. Music will continue from about 1 p.m. until about 2:30 p.m.

To find the church, from Heflin, take Highway 78 north. Turn left onto County Road 61, and watch for a sign on the right directing the way to Shoal Creek Church.

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