When court is in session, there must be some folks walking about in Charlotte Courthouse, Va.; but otherwise there are not many reasons to produce a crowd. There’s a drug store, a convenience store, a large public school, a few houses — older and newer — and a collection of old county buildings. And that’s about all except for one large commodity: charm.
On the last Sunday in the dog days of August 2009, there suddenly was a crowd in Charlotte Courthouse. People came from far and wide to attend the 175th anniversary service for Mt. Tirzah Baptist Church. Several friendly old dogs draped themselves in front of the front doors, a reminder of the times when dogs used to wander down church aisles before the members recognized the need for closed doors. The old dogs would have found little room for man or beast on the inside. Every pew was packed. Many had returned for the special homecoming and anniversary celebration.
This columnist was invited to come in costume as one of his old-time characters and was given lodging on Saturday. Paul and Avon Masselin had just opened their home as a new bed and breakfast establishment called The Henry House after the county’s most celebrated former resident. The Henry House is directly across the road from the church and this columnist was its first overnight guest. Paul is a trained chef and the meals were delicious. The quiet of the country lulled me to sleep.
The next morning the laughter of happy reunions across the road at Mt. Tirzah could be heard all the way into an upstairs bedroom. It was the foretaste of the glad times which were to be had at the church service and the indoors dinner-on-the-grounds.
Rose Marie Howard and a team of fellow members had worked for months in preparation for the anniversary Sunday. The church building was in pristine condition. The vestibule was filled with the results of the team’s labors including two new publications — one on the history of the church and the other just on the biographies of the pastors who served across the years. Funeral home fans were provided for practical reasons as well as souvenirs. And the food tables were loaded with turkey, ham, corn pudding, potato salad, deviled eggs, green beans and boiled potatoes, and assorted pies and cakes. It was enough for a campmeeting!
Present at the anniversary service were several ministers with Mt. Tirzah connections, including Wiley P. Wallace, pastor from 1996-99, and at least two former interim pastors, Coan Agee and Alden Hicks. Matthew Rondeau has been pastor since June 2007. Also present to bring greetings were Dennis Meyers, director of missions for the Southside Association, and Samuel Trent, pastor of Morrison Grove Baptist Church, which is an African-American congregation that is a daughter of Mt. Tirzah.
In 1871 234 black members of Mt. Tirzah requested their letters to form Morrison Grove. The land was given by James Morrison, clerk of Mt. Tirzah for 29 years. The choir of Morrison Grove provided music for the anniversary service; and many members of Morrison Grove were in attendance. Glad times were had by the two congregations both in the service and in the dinner hour which followed.
Among the host of folks at the anniversary were “the Dunnavant girls.” Members of an old Mt. Tirzah clan, the “girls” enjoyed looking over scrapbooks and old photo albums. They pointed out a Kodak snapshot from ’45 with all of the girls except May in the picture. “She must have been the one taking the picture,” one offered as an explanation. For the anniversary of ’09, several folks were snapping pictures of the lovely women.
Maude Dunnavant wrote a history of the church in ’54. She concluded her account with the following: “My prayer is that the members of Mt. Tirzah with the ‘faith of our fathers’ rededicate ourselves to the service of God’s Kingdom, that the future of this church, and Christianity everywhere, may be secure.” It was a worthy prayer; and Miss Maude would be interested to know that in recent years the good Baptists in Charlotte have participated in missions trips in faraway places in “the service of God’s Kingdom.”
Fred Anderson is executive director of the Virginia Baptist Historical Society and the Center for Baptist Heritage and Studies. He may be contacted at [email protected] or at P.O. Box 34, University of Richmond, VA 23173.