The History of Ephesus Baptist Church
Clark County, Kentucky
By S. J. Conkwright, 1923
Ephesus Church, Clark County, Kentucky, was constituted in 1848, and at that time there were no Baptist churches in this vicinity, the nearest being Goshen (Primitive or Old Baptist) Church, four miles north, and the two congregations that worshipped in the Baptist meeting house on Dry Fork of Upper Howard’s Creek, at Ruckerville, the Primitive Baptist and the Missionary Baptist, the latter affiliating with Boone’s Creek Association, and it was from this congregation that came most of the members who constituted the Ephesus Church, and after its organization, the Upper Howard’s Creek Missionary Baptist Church was never heard of again.
Among those instrumental in the organization were the Gordon, Hunt, Wills and Ecton families. Messengers from four churches were present to assist in the constitution, viz: Upper Howard’s Creek, Providence, Mt. Olive and Lulbegrud. Elder Edward H. Darnaby was moderator and James H. G. Bush and James French clerks of the presbytery. There were twenty-seven white and six colored members who constituted the new organization. They met at a house on the farm of Brother Richard R. Gordon, about one and one-half miles from the present location of the church, which is on a pretty knoll on Stoner Creek, half a mile below where the Red River Iron Works pike crosses Stoner Creek. [p. 112]
It was in this church, under the preaching of that grand old man, Rev. Ambrose D. Rash, who was then pastor, that the writer of these sketches, when a youth, in 1875, gave his heart to God, and whenever Ephesus is mentioned, or the people who worshiped there at that time, or those who worship there now, it always brings memories of the happy past, because, as Brother French used to say, “I love dear old Ephesus.”
The following account of the organization of Ephesus Church is taken from the church record book:
“We, the undersigned, met according to previous arrangements, near Brother Richard R. Gordon’s, on Wednesday, May 24, 1848, for the purpose of constituting a church, and after singing and prayer by Brother Ambrose Bush, Moderator of Boone’s Creek Association, proceeded to business as follows: By first giving ourselves to the Lord and then to one another, and agreeing to sustain the cause of God as a church as far as God in His Providence has prospered us, and further agreeing to constitute on the following, the fundamental truths of the Gospel, viz: [p. 113]
“1st, That the. Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the infallible Word of God, and the only rule of faith and practice.
“2nd. That there is only one true God, and in the Godhead or Divine Essence, one Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
“3rd. That by nature we are fallen and depraved creatures.
“4th. That salvation, regeneration, santification and justification are by the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.
“5th. That the Saints will finally persevere through grace to glory.
“6th. That believers baptism by immersion is necessary to receiving the Lord’s Supper.
“7th. That salvation of the righteous and the punishment of the wicked will be eternal.
“8th. That it is our duty to be tender and affectionate to each other, and to study the happiness of the children of Gcd in general, to be engaged signally to promote’the honor of God.
“9th. And the preaching, Christ tasted death for every man shall be no bar to communion.
“10th. And when constituted to be known as the United Baptist Church of Jesus Christ at Ephesus.”
Article No. 10, of the Rules of Decorum, reads as follows: “A majority shall rule in all cases, except in choosing a preacher, or deacons, and the reception of members, which shall be done by a unanimous vote.”
On the same day that it was constituted, the church called Elders Thornton I. Wills and Smith V. Potts to serve her as pastors, and elected Jesse E. Gordon clerk. Horatio Ecton, Richard R. Gordon and John Tipton were ordained the first deacons of the church.
At the second meeting of the church, a building committee was appointed, whose labors were consummated by the erection of a good frame meeting house on the location already mentioned, being a lot given the church by one of her members, Brother James Hunt. The church building has been kept in a good state of repair during these three quarters of a century.
At the July meeting, 1848, the church elected messengers to the Boone’s Creek Association, and instructsd them to petition the Association for admission into that body, and we learn from the records of that Association that Ephesus Church was received into that body in 1848, when convened with Cow Creek Church, in Estill County, and she has been a member of said Association in good standing and fellowship for three quarters of a century.
In July, 1848, the church voted that the second Saturday and Sunday following of each month should be the regular days for business and worship, which days are still adhered to, although during the last few years she has not met on every second Saturday, but if there is any business it is attended to on that day. During the last few years she has also had preaching on every fourth Sunday. Ephesus is one of the few churches in Boone’s Creek Association that maintains that honored and old time custom of Saturday business meetings. [p. 114]
In November, 1849, the church ordained one of her members, Brother John C. Hunton, to the Gospel Ministry. Like most of the Baptist churches years ago, she was very strict in discipline. In the year 1849, the church voted to commune quarterly.
In April, 1851, Elder Smith V. Potts relinquished the pastoral care of the church, but in the following September Elders Wills and Potts were again called to serve the church as pastors, and they ministered to the church until March, 1853, when Brother Wills resigned, but Brother Potts continued to serve them until 1855, when the church again called Brother Thornton I. Wills, who remained their pastor until 1861.
At the October meeting, 1851, Brother James Hunt was appointed to take charge of the Sabbath School books until next meeting, and each member was requested to make an effort to obtain the services of a superintendent to teach a Sabbath School. This is the earliest date at which any of the churches in the Boone’s Creek Association had endeavored to establish a Sunday School.
At the meeting in May, 1852, the church appointed a standing committee, whose business it was to invite ministering brethren to come and hold annual meetings with the church, beginning on Friday before the second Sunday in June each year. No doubt this was the origin of what is known as the Big June Meeting, at Ephesus, and to some extent the custom is still observed at the present day, though the crowds are not nearly so large as in former years.
Four years after the constitution of the church, her membership was one hundred and twenty-nine, and in the same year, 1852, the church contributed $62.50 for missionary work within the bounds of Boone’s Creek Association. This is the first mention in the records of any missionary work.
In 1853, the church held weekly prayer meetings, and this is the first mention in the records of weekly prayer meeting having been held.
At the April meeting, 1854, a committee was appointed to select a Sunday School superintendent and teachers, but we infer from the minutes of the following August, that they failed to organize a Sunday School, as the committee was discharged, and it was ordered that the Sabbath School books be disposed of.
In December, 1858, the church ordained another one of her members, Brother Nathan Edmonson, to the Gospel Ministry. Brother Edmonson was for seven years clerk of the Boone’s Creek Association.
The records state that the church membership in 1862 was one hundred and seventy.
After Elder Wills’ time had expired in 1861, and Elder George W. Broaddus having declined the call as pastor, Brother Thornton I. Wills again became their under-shepherd and served the church with the same love and zeal that he had always shown, until May, 1864, when Elder Nathan Edmonson accepted the call extended to him and remained their pastor until July, 1865, when Elder Thornton I. Wills again accepted the pastorate and remained with them until October, 1866. In October, 1865, another effort was made to organize, a Sunday School, and Cyrus W. Boone was requested to act as superintendent. During the same year, Jesse E. Gordon, who had served the church as clerk so faithfully since her [p. 115] organization, resigned and W. D. Strode was chosen clerk, which office he filled with efficiency and satisfaction to the entire membership for half a century. Brother Strode is still living at the ripe old age of eighty-five, and his membership is still with this church. He was also clerk of Boone’s Creek Association for twenty-one years, and was one of the most valuable officers the Association ever had.
In December, 1866, that eminent man of God, Dr. Ryland T. Dillard, became the under-shepherd of this congregation, having charge over them until August, 1868. The Baptists of Kentucky have had few ministers of more value to the denomination and the cause of Christ than Dr. Ryland T. Dillard.
In October, 1867, the church appointed a committee to meet with the other churches in Boone’s Creek Association, at Winchester, for the purpose of placing a missionary within the bounds of said Association.
In December, 1868, Elder W. B. Arvin accepted the call as pastor, serving them until March, 1871, when he resigned. In June, of the same year, Brother Thornton I. Wills again became their pastor, and served until August, 1872, when he was compelled to resign on account of ill health. It may be said here that Brother Wills was a preacher who filled the measure of his days in the active service of his Master; he was instrumental in gathering Ephesus Church, and at different times served her as pastor for an aggregate of sixteen years. In addition to his pastoral work here and at other churches, he labored much among the destitute in the mountain sections, for which work few men were better qualified.
In September, 1869, twenty-three members were received by baptism. In May, 1870, a committee was appointed to assist in the organization of a church at Kiddville, and in December, 1871 another committee was appointed to assist in the organization of a church on the waters of Upper Howard’s Creek, the church called Corinth.
Dr. Thomas J. Stevenson accepted the care of the church in October, 1872, remaining pastor until June, 1874. It is told of the author of these sketches, then a lad of nine years, living in the Ephesus neighborhood, that after becoming acquainted with Brother Stevenson, he remarked to his father, “that from the looks of Brother Stevenson, he must be an awful good man.”
Elder George Hunt served this church as pastor for a short time, from July 1874 until April 1875. The following August Brother Ambrose D. Rash accepted the ministerial charge and remained until August, 1879, a period of four years of loving, faithful and efficient service, the church prospering under his tender, but fearless ministry.
In December, 1875, the church appointed a committee to solicit contributions for the Kentucky Baptist Centennial Fund. Brother Rash having declined to serve the church for another year, Elder J. Pike Powers became their pastor, in August, 1879, remaining their loving and affectionate servant until March, 1881. The following June, Rev. J. Dallas Simmons became their under-shepherd, and continued as such until October, 1887, serving the church for six years as a true preacher of righteousness, a loyal leader, as well as a safe adviser. The pastor and the people worked together and the church prospered under the ministry of [p. 116] Brother Simmons. The church records show that up to September, 1880, a period of thirty-two years from the date of her constitution, there had been two hundred and seventy received into the church by experience and baptism. In March, 1885, the church unanimously passed a rule that none of her members shall be allowed to engage in dancing. In February, 1884, the church adopted a motion that aged and sick members be allowed to vote for a pastor by proxy.
Brother J. Pike Powers again became pastor in February, 1888, and served them until January, 1890, at which time he presented his resignation, on account o the ill health of his family, his physician having advised that they move to a more equable climate. The church accepted his resignation with reluctance, and in doing so passed resolutions of love and esteem, in part as follows: “Be it resolved, that in the resignation of Brother Powers the church has lost an efficient pastor, a good preacher, who was beloved by the membership and community generally, and whose labors will be fondly missed by us. Should his services be desired and obtained by another church, we feel that our loss will be their gain, &c.”
We now come to speak of a pastor of this church, whose pastorate extended over a period of a quarter of a century, during all of which time there existed the most endearing, tender affection between pastor and people that it has ever been the good fortune for the writer to know. We speak of the pastorate of Rev. Richard French, of Ephesus Church.
Brother French was licensed to preach the Gospel in March, 1890, by the First Baptist Church of Winchester, Kentucky, of which he was a member. The following April, he accepted a call from Ephesus Church to become their pastor. Upon the request of Ephesus Church, in August following, made to the First Winchester Church, asking for the ordination of Brother French as a minister of the Gospel, said request was granted. Brother French served this congregation with love and faithfulness as a preacher of righteousness, practicing what he preached, until November 3, 1913, at which time he offered his resignation, on account of failing health, in an affectionate communication to the church, in part as follows:
“On account of my health, I feel it my duty to present to you my resignation. I would have you know that this does not in any wise dissolve our relations fraternally, for my twenty-five years pastorate has endeared that church to me to such an extent that whatever you may do in reference to this matter will not lessen the attachment I entertain for you. The sweetest memories of past experience cluster around that old church with me, for it has been my privilege to go with you to the tomb with your loved ones, and mingle my tears with yours, from the little babe that nestled in the cradle, to the gray haired father and the devoted mother. In all these afflictions have my tears blended with yours in sympathy of the deepest and most profound. And nothing on earth could cut me loose from my devotion to you as a people, &c.”
There is also recorded a letter to Ephesus Church from Mrs. Richard French and children, dated May 6, 1914. This letter is so tender and affectionate in speaking of the bond of love existing between Brother French and the church, that after reading it, I pause to brush away a tear in memory of that good man, Brother Richard French. Hard, indeed, would be the heart that could not be [p. 117] moved by reading that letter. We give only a few lines, as space will not permit more.
“The death of a Christian should be looked upon as a triumph over life’s rugged pathway. … In reviewing the life of our honored husband and father it seems to us that the hand of God has been with you. . . you called a man that had never been ordained; he prayed for guidance; you well know the results
REV. RICHARD FRENCH,
Born March 22, 1842; died April 24, 1914.
You were his first people, his last people; his first love, and how tenderly and loyally he loved you until the end. . . . And as the end drew near, oh. the prayers he made in your behalf. There was that bond of sympathy and love that were never severed; that, was devotion in the highest sense of the word. When he thought of you it was with the tenderest love, that love that would make any sacrifice; that love, that would remain steadfast and true under all circumstances; that love, though death does part, yet we firmly believe only [p. 118] becomes stronger. We shall ever cherish the fondest affection for you and deep gratitude to you for the respect, kindness and love you manifested for our beloved husband and father.”
On May 9, the church passed resolutions in expression of the love and high esteem in which Brother French was held by the congregation, which in part are as follows:
“Brother French became our pastor when God first called him into the active service as a preacher of righteousness. We called for his ordination as a minister of the Gospel, and we mourn for him at the close of a fourth of a century’s continuous service in our midst. He has ministered unto our spiritual needs; he has united in bonds of wedlock many of our members; he has led to the knowledge of Jesus Christ under Divine grace our children and our children’s children; he has buried our dead. Many are the precious memories of past association and now when in the end of his earthly race, when with the good fight, the finished course, and the kept jfaith, like a full sheath of ripened ears, he has entered into the harvest home of God’s granary, be it resolved, &c.”
In December, 1890, the church records the death of Brother Richard R. Gordon, the oldest member, and one of the constitutional members. In February, 1897, the church voted to repair the church house. In September, 1903, entertained the Boone’s Creek Association.
Elder W. S. Taylor became the under-shepherd of this church in January, 1914, and remained with them five years, when Rev. F. B. Pierson became their pastor in January, 1919, serving them with fidelity until January, 1923. The church prospered under the ministry of Brother Pierson, and in 1921, he held a series of meetings, assisted by Rev. W. W. Adams, the church being greatly revived and the membership increased by forty-one additions by experience and baptism and thirteen by letter. This was the greatest revival the church had experienced in years.
Brother Person’s resignation was brought about by the fact that the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention had appointed Brother and Sister Pierson; together with another young married couple as missionaries to the Foreign Field at Jerusalem. According to Dr. J. F. Love, Secretary of the Foreign Mission Board, this is the first experiment of the Southern Baptist Convention in missionary work in a Mohammedan country, and it will be watched with much interest. Ephesus Church and the Association with which she has always affiliated should feel proud of the fact that in the Centennial year of Boone’s Creek Association one of their pastors and his wife were chosen by the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention as two of the first four missionaries to a Mohammedan land, and that land Palestine and the City of Jerusalem. No doubt the arrival of these young missionaries caused a stir to those in civil authority in the earthly Jerusalem, but joy to those in the Heavenly City.
“O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that stonest those that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not.” [p. 119]
In February, 1920, the church subscribed $5,601.50 to the Seventy-five Million Campaign. In February, 1921, Jesse Bruen was elected clerk. The present membership is one hundred and forty-one. They have a good Sunday School.
Ephesus Church has entertained eight annual sessions of the Boone’s Creek Association, in the following years: 1849, 1857, 1866, 1875, 1884, 1893, 1903, 1915.
During her seventy-five years existence as a church, Ephesus has been served by only fourteen pastors, as follows: Thornton I. Wills, Smith V. Potts, Nathan Edmonson, Ryland T. Dillard, W. B. Arvin, Thomas J. Stevenson, George Hunt, Ambrose D. Rash, J. Pike Powers, J. Dallas Simmons, Richard French, W. S. Taylor, F. B. Pierson and Linden Jones.
Deacons (Year indicates ordination)
Horatio Ecton, 1848; Richard R. Gordon, 1848; John Tipton, 1848; John E. Gordon, 1853; Dudley Flynn, 1853; Austin B. Wills, 1853; James Edmonson, 1860; Thomas Duckworth, 1860; Nelson Strode, 1866; Thomas Ecton, 1866; W. Thomas Gordon, 1894; Simeon M. Boone, 1894; Allen Rupard, 1906; E. Roy Scott, 1913; Ellis Brandenburg, 1913.
There have been three clerks, the first being Jesse E. Gordon, who served seventeen years, 1848-1865; second, W. D. Strode, who served fifty-five years, 1865-1920, and the present clerk, Jesse Bruen, elected in 1920.
[From S. J. Conkwright, History of the Boone’s Creek Baptist Association Churches, 1923. jrd]
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