Elam Baptist Church - A Church Making a Difference

 Our History

An Extended Version 

Jones County, Georgia
Written by: Mary Gatliff

"Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."-- Matthew 16:18.

Historic Elam Baptist Church was constituted in 1808 largely through the interest and benevolence of ·Reverend Henry Hooten of the Church community. ELIM was the name given the first local Baptist meeting-house and was likewise recorded in this manner for more than a century. It was not until the 1920's that the spelling of the church name was listed as ELAM excepting for a brief period of time in 1887.

Rev. Henry Hooten early in life was a Methodist and a leader in that denomination. He later united with the Baptist and assisted in establishing several Baptist churches in present day Middle Georgia. Among the several churches he assisted in constituting was the Stone Creek Baptist Church in formerly Wilkinson County now Twiggs on September 3rd, 1808. This church in turn aided in the constitution of several other Baptist churches including the Macon First Baptist Church in 1826. Rev. Hooten was one of the founding fathers of the 0cmulgee Baptist Association in 1810, the fifth Baptist Association formed in Georgia, which years later went anti-missionary or primitive. Likewise, Rev. Hooten was present at the organizational meeting of the Ebenezer ·Baptist Association in 1814, the sixth Baptist Association formed in Georgia.

Working together with Rev. Hooten was a neighbor and fellow minister of the gospel, Reverend Edmund Talbot. Rev. Talbot, like Rev. Hooten, was decided in advance of the majority of the ministers of his day. He believed in missions, temperance, education and kindred benevolent institutions. Indeed, Rev. Talbot was what is known today as a Missionary Baptist. Rev. Talbot was one of twelve prominent Georgia Baptists selected to promote the establishment of a "Baptist College of Georgia' before the Georgia Legislature.

The original Elam (Elim) Baptist Church was of simple log construction located on land deeded the Church on July 8th, 1812 by Rev. Henry Hooten and recorded in Deed Book E, page 219, Clerk's Office, Superior Court, Jones County, Georgia. Upon this original tract of 3 3/4 acres is located the present sanctuary. A prior sanctuary of modest frame construction replaced the original log meeting-house and remained in continuous use until the present building was occupied in 1893.

Elam Church first associated itself with the Ocmulgee Baptist Association in 1810. It was host to this Associational body in 1817 and 1833. The messengers named from Elam Church to the 0cmulgee Association were as follows: Rev. Henry Hooten, Rev. Edmund Talbot, Rev. McLemore, Thomas Blount, Oliver Morton, Wiley Patterson, William Tooley, Austin Ellis, Thomas Jordan, T. G. Jordan, James Ballard, Hollinger Brown, Rev. T. C. Trice, W. Patterson and William Denning. It is to be noted that several of the above named messengers represented the church at more than one annual Associational meeting.

During the 1839 annual 0cmulgee Associational meeting at Fishing Creek Meeting-House (Baldwin County), Elam Church, together with Concord Church, Mount Olive Church, Fellowship Church and Harmony Church, left the host meeting house and organized themselves into the 0cmulgee "Minor" Association, preferably calling themselves the "True" 0cmulgee Association. The "Old" original Ocmulgee Association had gone Primitive.

In its infancy, the 'old" Ocmulgee Association supported missionary endeavors as itinerant preaching, Indian missions, et-cetera before finally moving into the Primitive Baptist column as the more progressive churches withdrew in favor of other Baptist unions. Elam Church sent its first missionary money of $18.75 to the 0cmulgee Association in 1822. The next year Elam increased its Associational missionary donation to $33.90. Decades later, in 1882, a Church Committee on Home and Foreign Missions was named -- Sisters Mary Moore, Allie Juhan, and Janie Emerson. In 1884, the Missionary Committee was composed of Sisters Mollie Moore, Allie Juhan, Janie Emerson and Vallie Spears. It is to be noted with interest that women were now being named to church committees, instead of the former all male leadership.

The early Ocmulgee Associational Minutes record many queries sent from the various churches to the annual Associational meetings. One interesting query in 1819 was on the subject of the treatment of slaves. Query: "How ought owners of slaves who are members of our churches to treat said slaves, so as to render themselves prior communicants?" Answer: "They should treat them with humanity and Justice (Eph. 6:9 and Col. 4:1); and we recommend to the members of all the churches which co-repose this Association, to watch over each other, and if any should treat their servants otherwise, that they be dealt with as transgressors."

Several years prior to the final severance of the common or undecided interest within the "old" Ocmulgee Association there appeared much anti-missionary sentiment. In 1830, the Association, by majority vote, withdrew from the Baptist Convention of Georgia because of the widespread anti-missionary spirit within the Ocmulgee. By 1840, the Ocmulgee Association had declared non-fellowship with all benevolent societies and declared the institutions of the day unscriptural. Meanwhile, several of the more forward churches had seceded from the Ocmulgee and formed the Central Association in 1834. Elam Church decided to remain in the =old" 0cmulgee Association until 1839 when the Ocmulgee "Minor" Association was organized for and by the several remaining missionary minded churches of the Ocmulgee.

Elam was the first host church to the infant and struggling 0cmulgee (Minor) Association of five churches in October, 1839, and was again host to this body in 1840, 1845, 1852 and 1856. Thomas Blount of Elam Church was the first Moderator; followed by Rev. T.D. Oxford of Concord Church, Jasper County, in l~40. The Association at its greatest height boasted ten churches with a total membership of 415 in 1849. By the year 1856, the Association reported fewer churches and a membership of only 178. Among the known ministers serving this small group of churches, other than the already mentioned Rev. Oxford of Forsyth, were John Tompkins of Forsyth; M. Leonard, Milledgeville; S. Meeks, Willey Rogers, M. D. Gear and G. Wright. Included among the messengers elected to represent Elam Church at the Ocmulgee (Minor) Associational meetings from its inception in 1839 until Elam united with the Central Baptist Association in the early 1860's were the following members; Thomas Blotmt, Hollinger Brown, Oliver Morton, Chapman Cox, Joseph Stalworth, Taylor Morris, Rev. G. Wright and J. Middlebrooks.

The first Baptists in Georgia were Missionary Baptist who engaged in missionary enterprises, cherished missionary ideals and prospered under a missionary and scriptural regime. Contrary to old folks tales and the unauthenticated published news stores, Elam Church was never anti-missionary. Rather than stay in the original 0cmulgee Association ridden with an anti-missionary spirit, Elam, with several sister churches, withdrew from the Ocmulgee and organized the Ocmulgee 'Minor' Association in 1839 which was more tolerant toward the missionary doctrine. In the early 1860's when the Ocmulgee (Minor) Association was dissolved, Elam Church petitioned for and received admission into the Central Baptist Association.

The membership at Elam Church was never great but the church has remained continually active for the Lord throughout its century and s half history. Following is a sampling of the total church membership about a century ago: 1840, 85 members; 1850, 69 members; 1854, 86 members; 1866, 26 members (13 white, 13 African-American)$ 1B72, 49 members(44 white, 5 African American)$ 1876, 67 members (60 white, 7 African American)$ and 1884,65 members. The present church membership, 1967, is approximately 200.

The business of the church went on as usual during the great civil strife of 1861-1865. Nothing of the excitement, heartache or hardships experienced by the community during this period is known since the church records for this and earlier periods were lost in a fire when the home of the clerk, 14. Bo Emerson, burned in the early 1870's. Certainly, it is believed that many men, together with their families, assembled here prior to departing for Confederate Military Service. During the Northern Army's trek through Georgia in 1864, the invading forces made camp in the vicinity of the church and used the pews for horse troughs.

An entry in the published Minutes of the Central Baptist Association of 1867 is this quote from the Elam Church -- "Although small in numbers, express their determination to press forward. No Sabbath School." The first Church sponsored Sunday School was in 1872 with N. R. Spears, Superintendent. The pioneer Sunday School was very weak and lasted for only a short period of time because no Sunday school report was made to the Association for the next several years. In May, 1883, Elam again begins a Sunday School -- quote, "Church agrees to organize a prayer-meeting and Sabbath School two Sabbaths in each month .... Bro. Edward, Superintendent."

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