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200 years of worship at Post Oak Springs

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By Cindy Simpson

Post Oak Springs Christian Church has a rich history as a mother church for the denomination.

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The Rockwood church celebrated its 200th anniversary during homecoming services earlier this month. Spencer Garner, who was pastor 31 years from 1968-99 and is now a missionary, was guest speaker.

The church’s history spans through conflict, new styles of worship, new church buildings and changing congregations.

“Not many churches have been through the Civil War,” said Doug Cloud, a church elder. He and others recounted hearing the church had members and families divided by the War Between the States.

Histories of both the area and the church are vivid of how people flocked to the area and evangelized.

Among the early settlers was a group from Hawkins County. The leader, Isaac Rice, and others settled in the area of King’s Creek, and Rice began to preach the gospel.

Major John Smith bought land near Post Oak Springs around 1811 and held singing and prayer under some large oak trees.

He “started the local congregation which is now Post Oak,” said David Gary, a church deacon.

Notes about the church history said Smith started working on creating the Christian Church with help from others including Rice, who was preaching at a Christian Church in the Hopewell community.

The church house was burned a few years later, and Rice moved to McMinn County to a place now called Riceville.

A frame structure was built in 1842 to house the worship. Later, the third building, which was built in 1876, was built not far from there.

The Civil War suspended services, but after the war, minister John H. Acuff, who had sons on both sides, held a Communion service.

Garner said one family got its sons together one last time for Sunday worship after the war before they went their separate ways, the differences over the war too much to keep their family ties together.

There is also a rich history of the community connected to the church, including two Kentucky Civil War spies who Confederates hanged and buried at Post Oak Springs Cemetery.

The church also saw some members leave to live in a sort of Christian commune nearby in Roane County. W.J. Owings thought the experience described in Acts 2:44 should be reproduced, with everyone living and sharing as one community. The endeavor, which Garner said was common in the 1850s-60s, died after a few years.

Post Oak Springs Christian Church is believed to be the oldest Christian church in the state.

It is known as a mother church, because others sprang from it. Those other churches include Harriman First Christian Church.

Many of Post Oak Springs’ members have been there some time, and they agree the feeling of family and welcoming drew them in.

“It is a great place to come and worship,” Cloud said.

“This is really like a country church,” added Harold Ishman.

Church members dress however they please, whether it be casual or in the more formal church attire.

The church is also known for helping out the community, with both members and non-members benefiting.

Members are the first to show up when someone has a problem, Ishman said, recalling times when 20-30 church members have shown up at the hospital for sick relatives.

Cloud remembers a family who lost a young child. The family didn’t attend the church, but that didn’t stop the congregation from gathering a meal.

“All you have to do is get on the phone and holler, and it comes together,” he said. “The Lord just puts it together, and it is there.”

The church has always had a special mission of reaching the youth, with Garner saying he’d even read church notes that said a man specializing in youth was brought in during the 1830s.

“It has always had a place in its heart for young people here,” Garner said. “If you don’t minister to young people, [the church] dies because people get old and then close the door. Jesus said let the little children come to me and don’t forbid them.”

The church has had a nursery since 1989. It’s called Little Fisherman because of the hope the tots would learn about Jesus and share it with family. Garner said families sometimes begin to attend church after their children are enrolled.

The youth at one time had a successful choir known as Straight Ahead that toured and also made a CD. Garner said parents would go to church to watch their children perform.

“God really used it,” Garner said.

Youth is something the church is passionate about to this day. One of the former youth, Brandon Ishman, and Andy Peters are now youth directors.

The youth have been active in the community and worldwide.

“Some of our kids have been on mission trips to Mexico ...China,” Garner said. His daughter Hope taught English in China and did missionary work.

The church had its early roots outside and in homes, but for a very long time it was in the 1876 structure.

Members soon realized, however, the church was out of room. Church members with carpentry knowledge said it was a bad idea to try to expand the old church house.

“It took us about five years to get people in the notion to move,” Garner said. “People go along if you convince them it is for the kingdom. We weren’t trying to impress anybody; we just ran out of room.”

Cloud said church members recently discussed what to do with the old church. He said  paint will not even stay on the wood, which
he described as almost petrified in consistency.