Union Baptist celebrates 175 years

Shannon CareyFeature, Northeast Knox

In December 1842, 14 people came together near what we know today as Old Rutledge Pike and Shipe Road to found Union United Baptist Church, which would meet in a log cabin until after the Civil War.

The congregation, linked by generations of the faithful, still meets today, 175 years later, and today’s members of Union Baptist Church on Washington Pike have been celebrating all year long.

The history is rich. The first known pastor was J.S. Corum, and 32 men have pastored the congregation over the years. Current pastor the Rev. Craig Cummings said the church’s name had nothing to do with the Civil War, as it was organized before the war. But, Union troops did take over the original log cabin church for sleeping quarters, burning the pews for firewood. The church didn’t meet during the war, but came together and relocated after the war ended, to the current location on Washington Pike.

The original Washington Pike church building for Union Baptist Church had separate entrances for men and women.

That first church on Washington Pike was one room with separate entrances for men and women.

The church also predates the Southern Baptist Convention and Tennessee Baptist Convention, which it later joined. According to records dating to 1926, over the years the church has contributed more than $1 million to the SBC’s Cooperative Program.

Union Baptist’s celebrations started on New Year’s Eve, and have continued with youth programs, special singings, and a visit from Dr. Randy Davis, director of the Southern Baptist Convention. And they’ll finish with day-long festivities Sunday, Aug. 5, starting with a morning worship with preaching by former pastor the Rev. John Thomerson. Music will be by the RE-Union Choir, made up of the current choir and 50 returning choir members, directed by retired music minister Ron Tilley.

Memorabilia from years gone by, including the key to the original Washington Pike church, the original church minutes, and a 100-year-old New Testament, will be on display in the church gym. There will be a catered meal on the grounds, plus a grand opening ceremony and open house at the church’s new Child Enrichment Center.

The key to the first Washington Pike Union Baptist Church sanctuary

The center, which has been five years in the making, is a reflection of the church’s mission to “Love, Grow, Serve,” said Cummings. With a successful Parents’ Day Out program, director Kathy Stoutt approached Cummings with the idea of taking the childcare program full time.

“We did our research and found out there’s a huge need for it,” Cummings said. “There’s not really a Christian daycare around us anywhere. We thought people would have a desire for it, and we found out that’s absolutely true.”

The new building is 6,000 square feet with space for 50 children age six weeks to Pre-K, and room to add on to accommodate 50 more children. There are also plans in the works for summer camps and after-school programs.

The church is already active in service for nearby Ritta Elementary School, providing school supplies and teacher meals. With a solid foundation in faith, they’re working to continue growing and serving their community. The church property is 26 acres, and Cummings said future plans include recreation spaces and sports fields.

“One hundred seventy-five years is a long time. (The community) sees that there’s been no major crises or splits of the church. It’s just a good, solid church,” Cummings said. “We want to love God and love people and reach as many people as possible.”

For more information, visit the church’s website, www.discoverunion.org.

A 100-year-old New Testament, awarded to Eugene Shipe for perfect Sunday School attendance

A record book from the 1800s for Union Baptist Church

An aerial view of the new Child Enrichment Center at Union Baptist Church

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