The role, importance of the church in the community

Published 12:27 pm Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Recently, the Claiborne Progress published a four-page supplement that focused on religion. It served to remind the reader of the role and importance of the church in Claiborne County.

The feature also evoked thoughts of how historically these and similar churches across America have served as a center for community and social events.

A book by Jill Caravan contains introductory remarks that proclaim “Country churches … have long been an integral part of the American landscape.” Like the churches in Claiborne County and throughout the Tri-State area, her book notes that churches “…filled vital roles as centers for religious worship, community service, and civic discourse since the time of the first European settlers.”

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Caravan’s book, American Country Churches (a pictorial history), is one of several publications that focuses both on the majestic beauty of the church buildings and on their historic importance.

At least one Claiborne County church, Big Spring Union which was organized in the 1790s, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. That church was organized about the same time that Tennessee achieved statehood and shortly before Claiborne became a county. Two Middlesboro churches are listed on the National Register. They are Mount Moriah Baptist Church and Saint Mary’s Episcopal Church.

Since the Hensley Settlement is enclosed within the borders of the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, its school might be considered in the same category. A picture of the “rough-hewn, one-room building” is included in Caravan’s book. She notes that the building figured prominently in the lives of the Hensley Settlement families. It was there they gathered for school functions, church services, funerals, and many other community activities.

The role and importance of the church in the community is frequently illustrated in books, sermons, family records, photography, art and oral history. The artist’s rendering of the Shawanee Methodist Church is an example.

A New York pastor, Gilford T. Monrose, commented in an essay a few years ago: “The church keeps people grounded, flushing out the burden of life by providing a bedrock of faith and answers to humanity’s deepest needs.”

Monrose also makes the point that “Making a difference in people’s everyday lives will benefit the believer as well as the community.”