Shoal Creek Church hangs on, seeks outside help

Sacred Harp singing uncertain this year, says organizer

Church chat

Les Jones and Jane Borden Sanders with the Shoal Creek Missionary Baptist Church Historical Preservation Society are hoping for contributions to help preserve the church where they're shown seated Thursday. 

TALLADEGA NATIONAL FOREST — Thunder echoed through the tall pines and hardwoods that surround the 125-year-old Shoal Creek Baptist Church nestled deep in the Talladega National Forest on Thursday, while rain on the sagging metal roof filled the hewn-log house of worship with a dull roar.

Although the scene looked timeless, time is running short for physically preserving the old church. A fundraising effort by church supporters is trying to turn back those years. 

The picturesque church was placed on the Alabama Historical Commission’s list of “Places in Peril” two years ago due to a deteriorating floor and other structural issues. It had been nominated for the list by Alan Jones, secretary/treasurer of the Shoal Creek Missionary Baptist Church Historical Preservation Society, in 2018 to bring awareness to the church’s condition — and to gain credibility with possible donors.

Since that time folks have opened their wallets to fund the preservation effort but more is needed, according to Les Jones, president of the preservation society.

Jones, along with Jane Borden Sanders, a volunteer with the nonprofit, were at the church on Thursday to look at the sagging floor. He said the cost of the materials and labor to replace the floor and other preservation efforts will cost between $20,000 and $25,000. 

So far $16,000 has been raised and commitments from donors will bring that amount up to $20,000, Jones said, but  $10,000 is still needed because the preservation group wishes to have $5,000 in reserve for any emergencies. 

The church is the site for the annual Labor Day Sacred Harp singing, Jones said, but it’s also the setting for many couples’ weddings because of its history and rustic look.

Jones said he hopes that the Sacred Harp group will be able to sing this Labor Day at the church but due to uncertainty surrounding the spread of COVID-19, that decision has not been made yet. 

Jones said one of the improvements will include a ramp so the elderly and others can have a smooth entrance to the church.

“There’s so many members of the Sacred Harp singing group that come on Labor Day that are elderly, some of them are in their 90s, and they still hobble up these steps with help,” Jones said.

Jones and Sanders, who are first cousins, have a personal connection with the church as their grandfather, when he was 9 years old, helped carry water to the workers when the church was being built in 1895. Fire had claimed a previous church at the site, one erected in 1842 when it was not uncommon to encounter an occasional Creek Indian, according to Jones.

Jones said that the last regular church service to be held by the congregation was 100 years ago in 1920.

“It’s a miracle that the descendants have been able to keep it up,” said Jones.  

Jones and Sanders are reaching out to descendants of the founding members of the church for contributions, as well as to anyone else interested in preserving historic structures in Cleburne County.

“We’re doing what the Alabama Historical  Commission said it would take to preserve it and that’s what we’re going to do,” said Sanders.

Over the years the church has not been treated too kindly according to Jones, who said a fire damaged the floor, someone removed the pulpit and a possibly intoxicated person shot holes in the roof with a shotgun.

“We’re fortunate that the thing is surviving vandalism, I think it’s by God’s grace,” Jones said as he looked at the patched holes from buckshot in the roof.

Donations to help preserve the church can be sent to: Allen Jones, 7404 Cadillac Dr. S.E., Huntsville, AL 35806