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The History of St. Clair

Two Springville churches traced to 1817

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First baptist church in Springville sign

1817—and beyond

In God’s providence, Sion Blythe, a North Carolina Baptist minister of the gospel, became so discouraged in his ministry that in late 1816 or early 1817 he moved his family to Alabama and settled on land near what is today Springville.

Sion Blythe, who has been called “the reluctant preacher,” was born in East Tennessee in 1781. Baptized at the age of 21 and ordained to preach at 23, he helped to organize several churches in Buncombe County, N.C. He pastored churches there, and in 1807 he was one of the organizers of the French Broad Baptist Association.

The specific cause of his discouragement is not recorded; however, God’s sovereignty watched over him as he made the long trek from North Carolina here.

In "The History of the Rise and Progress of Baptist in Alabama," Holcomb records Blythe’s story on pages 52 and 53.

“Elder Sion Blythe … was an humble minister of Jesus Christ and who took up his abode on the waters of Canoe Creek, said to his wife, ‘I am not known here as a preacher; and if you will keep it secret, I will endeavor to conceal myself, and not let the people know that I ever attempted to preach; and perhaps this will be well; as I still have my doubts on the subject.’”

However, not long after settling here, Blyth met “a good old sister who had just reached this wilderness country,” and she began telling him her sorrow that there was “no house of God” where believers could meet to hear God’s word preached. She said she felt as though “no other soul [was] so distressed and desolate as herself.” Then she looked him steadily in the eyes and said, “My dear sir, are you not a professor of religion?”

Thus confronted, Blythe answered, “Ah! I am sort of a one.”

And perhaps moved by the Holy Spirit she followed up that answer with another question, “My dear brother, are you not a minister of the Gospel?” 

He was a discouraged minister, but not a lying minister, and he answered, “I have been called a preacher where I came from.”

“The old lady leaped, and shouted, and praised God that she had found a preacher in the wilderness,” Holcomb wrote. “She urged Mr. B. to make an appointment for preaching immediately, which he did.” 

God’s providence in Sion Blythe’s life is evident in the fact that God did not allow the man to remain silent when He had called to preach the Gospel. After Mt. Zion Baptist, today’s First Baptist Church Springville, was organized March 19, 1817, Elder Blythe helped establish other churches in St. Clair, Blount, Shelby, and Jefferson Counties.

Our church’s aim is for our membership to Know, Grow and Go—know the Word, grow in the Word, and go share the Word with a lost world. This is being accomplished in the following ways under the leadership of Lead Pastor Chip Thornton and Elders James Hill and David DuPre. (1) Pastor Chip’s sermons are designed for his hearers to Know God’s work in context as Scripture presents it. (2) Our Sunday school small groups are centered on members growing in God’s Word. Most of the groups have met on internet Zoom during the Covid 19 pandemic. (3) We are going locally by taking Vacation Bible School to the city park rather than having it on the church campus. These park events give opportunities for church members to interact with whoever happens to be in the park that day.  The pandemic cancelled this event in 2020. (4) Our international going has involved teams traveling to Gonzol, Ecuador, about 15 times to work with our sister church in the Andes. Pastors Chip Thornton and Pastor David DuPre have been to Africa and Europe ministering to and teaching pastors in those places. The pandemic has precluded international trips for a while.

Mt. Zion still exists in Springville.

We must not forget that Mt. Zion Baptist still thrives in Springville. This church was organized by freed slaves who had worshiped together with white members beginning in 1817 at the original Mt. Zion. After slaves were freed, they continued worshiping with white members until 1868. By that time, the Black community desired to meet together as believers in Christ Jesus. Oral history doesn’t record just when the freed slaves began calling their group Mt. Zion; however, in their "History of Springville, Alabama," Donna Cole and Virginia Taylor wrote, “After the war the Black congregation left to form their own church and they kept the original Mt. Zion name.”

It’s possible that two Mt. Zion Baptist Churches existed for a while in Springville.

The name became official in 1883. The Tenth Annual Session of the Wills Creek Baptist Association, met at the Ashville Mt. Zion Church in August, 1883, and the minutes record: “Received Mt. Zion Baptist church of Springville, on the AGSRR [Alabama Great Southern Rail Road], as a newly constituted church — delegates, Elder L. C. Thornton, R. Pruet. Sent for missions, 50cents; minutes, $1.00”.

The first church building was constructed on the same property where the Mt. Zion church stands today. We don’t know the date of that construction; however, the minutes of 1896 report the value of Mt. Zion’s church property as $1,000.00. That value in 1896 must certainly have included a building.

In an interview, Deacon Mitchell Hammonds recalled the church building, for he attended there as he grew up. “The church, when I was born, was a wooden building. It had two bell towers. It had a bell in one.  It had two front doors and had three rows of pews. That old building had, of course, the big pot-belly heater.” That church was taken down and replaced with the present structure around 1976. 

Pastor Larry Adams is God’s faithful minister at Mt. Zion today. Pastor Adams joined First Baptist’s Pastors Chip Thornton and David DuPre on a recent European ministry to Paris, France, where together they taught local pastors of small congregations.

As we face the future, we pray that 203 years from now, if the Lord tarries, both First Baptist and Mt. Zion will be faithfully preaching the whole Gospel of Jesus Christ in truth and unity, through which lost souls in a perverse world will be made alive to faith in our Lord and Savior.