The United States of America will turn 247 years old on Independence Day, July 4. Yellow Creek Baptist Church in Murrayville has been around nearly as long.
James Monroe was the nation’s fifth president when the church was founded in 1823; Ludwig van Beethoven was still composing music.
The church marks its bicentennial Wednesday, Jan. 18, and, similar to this country, it has had a long and historic journey to this point in time.
The church began like most churches do, with a group of people deciding to build a congregation, a faith family without a building to call home. That meeting took place Jan. 18, 1823, in “the woods of Hall County,” according to a detailed history of Yellow Creek Baptist Church that is being curated by longtime member, church clerk and de facto historian Briston Chester.
The 40-year-old husband and father of three told The Times the collection of data has become a part of his daily routine.
“I’ve spent the last 18 years talking to people, compiling the history of the church,” Chester said.
The celebrations began over the weekend with a revival service and singing on the church grounds. A dinner and fellowship anniversary night service is scheduled for 6 p.m. Jan. 18.
“It’s an opportunity for everybody to be thankful,” said Pastor Rickey Stone, who is serving his second term as pastor. “We are very excited about it.”
Born and raised in Dawsonville, Chester found God and Yellow Creek Baptist Church as a 16-year-old and has been attending church service there ever since.
“Yellow Creek Baptist Church has been where I’ve gone to church almost my whole life,” he said. “There was something that called me to the church and as soon as I got my drivers license, I started going. There’s something about (the church) that made me know I needed to be there.”
Two buildings, one church
An international sign of peace and refuge, a heavy wooden cross rests at the center of the parking lot separating the old from the new.
On the grounds of Yellow Creek Baptist Church are two places of worship. The first building off to the left is the original church home that was built in 1824, according to church records. Chester says the minutes from meetings dating as far back as 1823 have been maintained and subsequently converted to microfilm and more recently PDF form.
That documentation of history has been crucial to identifying the history of the church, says Chester.
“At first glance it’s pretty awe-inspiring to think that this church has been there through all of that,” he said.
The historic documents are held in a safe in the basement of the building to the right, the new church, which was built in 2006.
Chester, who took over as clerk following longtime clerk and church member Joe Connor’s retirement from the position in 2019, routinely went over facts and figures in anticipation of the bicentennial celebration. That basement was a library of sorts for him.
One of Chester’s more interesting findings is of an old newspaper clipping from the Dahlonega Nugget dated April 25, 1924, the day of the church’s 100th birthday.
‘The church means everything to me’
June Grizzle has been around for quite a few of the monumental moments in the history of Yellow Creek Baptist Church.
Grizzle has been a member of the church for 70-plus years by her recollection. When asked what the church means to her, she simply said, “The church means everything to me.”
Grizzle, 89, was born in Murrayville and still attends church regularly. She says she has been looking forward to the bicentennial.
“It’s something to be proud of,” she said.
During the past 200 years, Yellow Creek Baptist Church members have helped create and maintain a food pantry, clothes closet and Backpack Love, a mission to fill backpacks with food for students in need in Hall County.
There have also been mission trips to Harlan County, Kentucky, where the median household income is just over $30,000, according to data provided by the United States Census Bureau. In 2015, the church took a mission to Monterrey, Mexico. The mission was organized by former Pastor Jason Buffington and had members travel over the border to serve a small community in the country’s third largest city.