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Oldest Tennessee church still holding services

Douglas Fritz • Apr 18, 2019 at 10:00 PM

Sinking Creek Baptist has provided many people a church home for almost 250 years.

The oldest church in Tennessee, it is located at 2313 Elizabethton Highway in Johnson City — on the same ground where it began in 1772. It is named for a tributary of the Watauga River, and was originally called Watauga River Church.

In 1778, evangelist brothers Charles and John Chastain held a revival at the site. It prompted a need for a bigger church, and the “Old Log Church” was built. It still stands today with many of its original logs intact.

According to “Upon the Shoulders of Giants: Deconstructing the Lost State of Franklin, 1784-2005” by Kevin T. Barksdale, the first extant records from the church date back to July 5, 1785, and include a plea to an unknown Virginia (Baptist) Association to “end the (unspecified) divisions between us.” The publication stated, “Remarkably, the church is still in existence and is now considered the oldest church in Tennessee occupying its original location and foundation.”

It also mentioned Tidence Lane, who founded Buffalo Ridge Baptist Church between 1778 and 1779. Barksdale wrote that Buffalo Ridge is “considered by most state historians to be Tennessee’s first church.”

It also said, “Reverend Lane migrated from Sandy Creek, North Carolina, to Watauga in 1776, and constructed his church atop Buffalo Ridge in Washington County. The founding of these two frontier churches initiated a dramatic proliferation of Baptist churches across the Tennessee Valley.”

Services have continued at Sinking Creek through the years with the exception of an Indian uprising in 1776 and the Civil War period (1861-65).

The site is now a historical landmark, sharing the same grounds with the new church that was built in 1962. That was the same year E. Reece Harris arrived, and he pastored the congregation for 50 years.

These days Jason Hoagland is the pastor, a position he has held since 2014. The church’s first pastor was Matthew Talbot (1772-73).

The church was reorganized, remodeled and enlarged from 1923-24. The Christian Family Life Center was built in 1985. Judgment House began in 1996. The pavilion was built in 2003, followed in 2005-06 by a makeover of the church sanctuary.

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