I came here from Rhode Island 27 years ago and drove the road outside this very church on my first trip to Ohio as I started the courtship of my wife, one of Uncle Doy's nieces Samantha. I walked into a new relationship, a new family, very different people, and a very new culture to me...And a whole new life that over the years has continued to broaden my understanding of people, family relationships, and love. Sam and I married 25 years ago this July 28th in this very church and I married not only the love of my life but into a family, history and culture that I now treasure as my very own. (Obituary of Doy Riffel-Author Unknown--Minutes of the Fifty-Third Session of the Northern New Salem Association of Old Regular Baptist of Jesus Christ--2010)
|Photo of Highway Signs Pointed North Out of Appalachia|
In the area of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and Illinois, the Northern New Salem Association has more than 20 churches and about 550 members. They also have one church each in northern Kentucky and Florida. Additionally, a few of the churches in the New Salem Association also are in northern states. As with any other area in which the Old Regular Baptists practice, the circle of cultural and religious influence is much wider than the reported membership numbers. Most members do not join the church until they are at least middle aged and in most Old Regular Baptist families one person might be a baptized member of the church while several more attend services on at least an irregular basis without ever being baptized or joining the church. This leads to a significant expansion of the area of cultural and religious influence. It is also worthy of note that it was communion weekend at the Little Flossie Church of the Old Regular Baptists that weekend. This was the reason my niece had driven from Sturgis to Kendallville. I did not attend church services that weekend and was unaware that it was communion at the church which was actually co-founded by and named for another of my half-sisters, Flossie Hicks Wicker, who passed away about forty years ago. The experience of attending communion services in an Old Regular Baptist Church is well worth the time for anyone who is interested in Appalachian culture and religion. The Old Regular Baptists practice closed communion, meaning the actual communion event is open only to baptized members of the church. But anyone is always welcome at an Old Regular Baptist service. I would recommend that attendees who have never been in an Old Regular Baptist church dress conservatively with women wearing dresses and men in shirts with sleeves although they don't have to be long sleeves. The communion service will include the distribution of the bread and non-alcoholic grape juice since Old Regular Baptists never consume alcohol. It will also include foot washing which rarely occurs in churches today. Male members wash the feet of other male members and female members wash the feet of other female members. Everyone whom I have heard talk of participating in foot washing describes it as a humbling experience. Its purpose is generally conceded to be an attempt to teach humility and to bring the believers closer to understanding the state of mind of Jesus and the apostles just prior to the betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Even for an observer, the practice of foot washing is a moving experience.
The last time I actually attended an Old Regular Baptist service was at Little Bethlehem Church on Carr Creek in Knott County about three years ago. I was doing research for a staff training I was scheduled to provide for a human services organization in Marietta, Ohio, and Rev. Bob Amburgey was the moderator of that church at the time. He graciously invited me to come to church on the evening they were baking the bread for their communion service the next day and also loaned me a large collection of Minutes from several different Regular Baptist Associations. The service was brief but very moving and included the blessing of the ingredients to make the bread. That kind of welcoming kindness is what I expect when I go to an Old Regular Baptist Church. I wish I had known in advance it was communion at the Little Flossie while I was in Kendallville. For those of you who know nothing about the Old Regular Baptists, Howard Dorgan wrote a very good book about them called "The Old Regular Baptists of Central Appalachia: Brothers And Sisters In Hope". He also wrote about them in another book called "Giving Glory To God In Appalachia: Worship Practices Of Six Baptist Subdenominations". Any of his books on Appalachian Religion are well worth reading.
There are also churches in several other primarily Appalachian denominations such as the United Baptists, Primitive Baptists, and other less prominent denominations in the industrial north. I know of at least three serpent handling congregations in the Fort Wayne, Indiana, area which were founded and are now primarily attended by members of the displaced Appalachian community. At least one of the founders of the largest of those churches was also a significant political force in the Fort Wayne area for many years. He owned several businesses in the city and often acted as a negotiator or go between in interactions between Appalachians and city hall. This type of influence in the community as a whole is exercised on a regular basis throughout the industrial north. Very rarely today, do displaced Appalachians take the quiet, shadowed existence characterized by Gertie Nevels in "The Dollmaker".
|Photo of Old Regular Baptist Church Sign In Sturgis, Michigan|
Ollie Shepherd, his daughter Tiffany, two of her friends, and me all went on Saturday morning to the Wolf Swap Meet just north of Albion, Indiana. I saw people from all over Appalachia mixed in with the local Amish population. They were trading knives, hunting dogs, produce, and livestock in a manner very similar to that at the Paintsville Livestock Market or the Bull Creek Flea Market. I was wearing a University of Kentucky basketball shirt and a vendor commented that if "he is a Kentucky fan he must be all right." It turned out he was from Morehead, Kentucky. I noticed that for many of the vendors and customers it was a time to socialize and catch up on recent events. People interacted to a degree that is generally uncommon in the north. I felt at home and, I am sure, so did most of them. These kinds of events happen on nearly a daily basis in towns all over the Midwest and industrial north wherever Appalachians have congregated. It was also common in the early days of the Great Migration for natives of a particular area to induce their relatives and friends to move to the same town and, often, to work in the same factory. Many small towns in the industrial north have Appalachian populations which are primarily rooted in one county or small geographic area in Appalachia.