Hebron congregation celebrates 150th birthday
Come to the church by the wildwood
Oh, come to the church in the vale
No spot is so dear to my childhood
As the little brown church in the vale.
--Chorus to "The Church in the Wildwood," composed in 1857 by Dr. William S. Pitts
Wilson County is blessed with an abundance of churches "in the wildwood," a few of which are more than 200 years old.
Many other rural churches blossomed in the years after the Civil War, such as the Hebron Church of Christ, which began Sept. 23, 1867. The congregation will celebrate its 150th anniversary with a homecoming at 10 a.m. Sunday with preaching, singing and sharing a meal.
The heritage and memories connected to this small church of some two dozen or so believers would resonate with many who grew up in or continue to worship with a country congregation.
Hebron's senior member, Lura "Lou" Alsup Hibdon, 89, has been attending here almost all her life. Among one of the unique reflections she has about the church building was that for years the only entrance was via a front door.
"If anybody come in late, everybody would sit there and look at them, and they'd get stared at," recalled Hibdon.
"That old church was pretty airy. The plank floor had cracks in it until they put new floors in. We had a big old pot-bellied stove, and it sat down in front of the pulpit. We'd burn wood and later on brought coal. We'd sit close to the stove on a cold day. In the summer, we had paper fans and electric fans overhead. Later on we got air conditioning and then finally got central heat and air."
Hibdon said her family walked about one mile from their house to the church building, and that
Wilford School stood next to the church.
"We would have a gospel meeting two weeks long every year. I was baptized down in the creek when I was 15 where the road crosses the creek [Baldy Ford]."
Callie Christian Herchenbach also was raised in this congregation as she attended with parents Rebecca and Frank Christian and siblings Bill, Gary, Jean, June and Donna. Her brothers are deceased, but she and her sisters, ranging in age from 77 to 86, have reunited back in the church of their childhood.
She remembers Sunday night services when the church was illuminated by carbide lights, saying, "They were so dim but light, nevertheless. My Aunt Lee Christian took them down when electricity came in 1947-48.
"My great-great-grandfather, Samuel Preston Christian, who fought in the Civil War, attended church there. My dad led the singing there. We were hard pressed all the time for a song leader, said Herchenbach.
Among her early memories of going to church, she said, "Miss Rosie Lane taught our Sunday school class. She'd give you a little card with a picture of Jesus and a story on it, and she'd read it and then ask a question or two about it.
"When I was a kid, they passed around one communion cup, and I cringed when I saw that one cup going around to everybody because there was one old man who always had a big old moustache that he raised up as he drank from that cup. They finally got it so everybody had their own cup."
She also tells of an uncle who stood outside the church building one night and kept a man engaged in conversation as her two aunts helped the man's daughter slip out a window so she could elope with her boyfriend who was waiting with his buggy.
"They used to have gospel meetings with crowds so large that some of them had to stand outside and listen through the open windows," she said. "Folks were baptized folks in Fall Creek about a mile from the building. We had different baptizing holes: the Rucker Hole, the Round Hole, the Deep Hole, the Mason Hole.
"During one of our gospel meetings with preacher O.C. Thompson from Fort Pierce, Fla., about 12 to 14 teenagers came forward one night to be baptized. The next afternoon everyone gathered at the creek. They all held hands as they walked out into the water, and one by one were baptized. It was a thrilling moment for us all."
Hebron Church of Christ sits at its third location, the intersection of Alsup Mill Road and Comer Road, about two miles east of Highway 231 South.
The church was planted Sept. 23, 1867, through the efforts of Dr. Gideon Alsup, Alfred Clemmons and Isaac C. Sewell, and in its early years met in homes and in the Silver Hill School building.
On July 14, 1872, William F. Potts sold an acre of land in Rutherford County for $5 to church trustees Thomas Hall, Drury Hall, Robert Piercy, William Burke and G.M. Alsup. The members then erected a log cabin in a remote and isolated wooded area beside a buggy road as their house of worship.
On Oct. 18, 1909, J.M. Horn signed a donation deed for two acres of land in Wilson County to Thomas Hall, J.E. Mount and Eaton Hackney, trustees of the Christian Church. Soon afterward, the log church was dismantled and moved by wagon to the new location and reassembled. Two widely separated doors on the front led into the meetinghouse. The floor, which was built of wide planks that had big cracks between them, sloped from front to the back, and members set on slot benches.
Over the decades the building was improved and expanded so today the floors are carpeted and new pews have cushions, and a baptistery has added along with a fellowship hall for meals.
Herchenbach's cousin, Jackson Christian, 69, has been a member of the Hebron church all his life, and his father Tom, like Callie's, once led singing for the congregation.
"I was born and raised less than quarter of mile from the church. It's the only place I ever went to church," said Christian. "The biggest differences between now and then are the conveniences. There was just one room then. It was heated with a pot-bellied stove, and, of course, it had an outhouse.
"Back then, Brother Luther George would come and preach two Sundays a month, and the women of the congregation took turns taking him home to Sunday dinner. I remember the revivals and we'd have a big crowd.
"One of my earliest memories is of an old bachelor who lived across the creek on Simmons Bluff, and I remember him coming over there on his John Deere: You could hear him coming about the time he got to the creek. That old John Deere made a lot of noise."
Lebanon's Eddie Testamand, 65, spent about the first 10 years of his life worshiping with his family at Hebron.
"We didn't go every Sunday. We kinda crossed between Salem [Church of Christ] and Hebron," he recollected. "They had a preacher we all fell in love with, Luther George. He drove from Nashville up there every Sunday. At the time, in the 1950s, we probably had 30 members.
"It was a one-room building. What was always odd, you walked in the front door, and the crowd was looking at you walking in and you had to walk right by the podium. And when you walked in, it was like walking up a little grade. On the right-hand side of the church was the little peoples' class for little kids, two sets of seats, and the left-hand corner was for teens.
"I knew all the people. All the Alsups went there. I have a wonderful memory of two people I loved all my life, Clarence and Lela Hudson. Clarence was the Juicy Fruit chewing gum man," said Testamand of the gent who would hand all the children a slice of gum each Sunday.
Preaching for the Hebron congregation for the past 11 years has been Mike Lamb of Lascassas.
He described the personality of the church, saying, "I think it is very loving and caring, and there's a family atmosphere. Everybody feels a part of the group. Nobody falls through the cracks. It's just a very harmonious church."
Lamb puts in a pitch for Sunday's homecoming, adding, "We'd love to have people who may have attended here when they were younger or when they were adults and then moved away."
Blessed be the tie that binds, indeed. For those who grew up in the countryside, few memories are stronger than those of going with mother, father, brother and sister to the church in the wildwood.
Hebron Church of Christ homecoming
Hebron Church of Christ will recognize its 150th anniversary Sunday, July 23, with a worship assembly at 10 a.m., dinner to follow and then an hour of singing. The church is located at the intersection of Alsup Mill Road and Comer Road. From Lebanon, take Highway 231 South. After passing the Rutherford County line sign, turn on the first road to the left, Alsup Mill Road, and go two miles.