The Church at Sandy Creek – HIS Story
God has performed a miraculous work at Sandy Creek and HE ALONE deserves all the praise, glory and honor!! An attempt to recount all that God has produced in and through the ministry of this Church would indeed be futile. The workings of God are beyond man’s comprehension and, at times, shamefully unnoticed. In no form or fashion is the following an exhaustive account of HIS Story at Sandy Creek.
This account is written to give the modern-day reader a basic understanding of the origins of Sandy Creek and Baptist life, and to inspire and encourage that same reader to follow Christ in such a way that those who come after us will find us faithful. Consider this material as another “stack of rocks,” a memorial to those saints who have gone before us and a tribute to the God who created all that is and is sovereign over all that He created.
The 250-year history of Sandy Creek, one small branch, is a testimony to the One Faithful Vine who orchestrated it all. The branch has been divided and multiplied and God has produced world-wide fruit as a result of both division and unity. Consisting of ten or twelve generations of man, countless inventions and advances in the world in which we live, 250 years is but a vapor on God’s timeline. Our time or His time, for all that He has done to bring us to this time, Sandy Creek gives HIM all the praise, glory and honor!!
HIS Prelude – The Great Awakening
The Great Awakening was a God-sized revival in the hearts of people that God’s people long to see the likes of today. The people had fallen asleep spiritually to the Word of God, to the truth of the gospel, and to the opportunity offered every person to receive through faith, by grace, the gift that only Jesus Christ can provide. Although these descriptive phrases may seem to relate to and are well-fitting for people and trends of today, the phrases actually describe the early to mid-18th century.
God realized the ignorance of the people to the truth and sent men of faith to awaken them to an eternal reality; that is, that without knowingly entering a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, according to Scripture, one is on his way to an eternal Hell. In response to the ignorance of the people, God sent transformed men of faith such as Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield who used their God-given ability to preach His Word for His glory, resulting in a spiritual revival that made an eternal impact on countless souls. God used the Awakening to set the stage for the birth of a new land, a land that would be known for the Christian principles on which it was founded, a land whose Founding Fathers had a deep respect and fear for the God of the universe, a land that would be, in fact, “one nation under God,” a land that would become known as America.
Sadly, America has lost her fear for the God she was designed to serve. Regardless of the immorality and waywardness of some of the people who now reside in this land, God is still sovereign and He has not changed, nor will He ever. The people, however like those of the 18th century have fallen asleep to the things of God and now His people, who are called by His name need now more than ever to take up their cross and share the gospel with a lost and dying world. It is a day of opportunity and God’s people must seize the moment and pray for God to send revival to this dry and thirsty land.
The Awakening opened the eyes of the people to Scripture and brought into question some of the practices of the Congregational Church, which was established by law in the New England colonies. The New-Englanders who decided to leave the established church and follow the teachings of George Whitefield became known as “New-Lights” or “Separates.” New-Lights reflected their revelation to the fact that the Holy Spirit can enlighten and inspire individual believers, and Separates spoke to their desire to separate themselves from the Congregational Church.
The Separate influence so infiltrated the Baptist churches that soon there was a new group that referred to themselves as “Separate Baptists.” In its very beginning Sandy Creek was just that, a “Separate Baptist” church and the “father of the Separates” in God’s providence was her pastor, Shubal Stearns.
HIS Servant – The Molding of A Man
The potter’s house in the book of Jeremiah eloquently portrays the working of God in our life as He shapes us for His purposes. George Whitefield was perhaps the greatest single instrument used by the Potter used in shaping the life of Shubal Stearns.
Following a discouraging preaching expedition to North Carolina, Whitefield prayed that God would send a John the Baptist to preach and baptize in the wilderness. That was in 1739; six years later in 1745 Whitefield’s preaching would be the tool God would use to convert the man He was preparing to answer Whitefield’s prayer. That man was Shubal Stearns
The son of Shubal and Rebecca Larriford Stearns, Shubal Stearns was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on January 28, 1706. The Stearns family moved to Tolland, Connecticut, while Stearns was a youth and he later married Sarah Johnston on March 6, 1727.
Now, almost three hundred years after his birth, the fruit produced through the faithfulness of our eternal God and the obedience of this man named Stearns is innumerable and increasing daily. According to Church records entitled, “History Sandy Creek: 1858-1958,” much of what we know about Stearns as a person is attributed to Morgan Edwards, who noted that Stearns was small in stature, personable, and sound in judgment. Edwards also noted:
“Of learning he had but a small share, yet was pretty well acquainted with books. His voice was musical and strong, which he managed in such a manner as . . . to make soft impressions on the heart, and fetch tears from the eyes . . . All the Separate ministers copy after him in tones of voice and actions of body . . . His character was indisputably good, both as a man, a Christian, and a preacher. In his eyes was something very penetrating, which seemed to have a meaning in every glance, of which I will give one example; and the rather because it was given me by a man of good sense, I mean Tidence Lane.
“When the fame of Mr. Stearns’ preaching (said Mr. Lane) had reached the Yadkin, where I lived, I felt a curiosity to go and hear him. Upon my arrival, I saw a venerable old man sitting under a peach tree with a book in his hand, and the people gathering about him. He fixed his eyes upon me immediately, which made me feel in such a manner as I had never felt before. I turned to quit the place, but could not proceed far. I walked about, sometimes catching his eyes as I walked. My uneasiness increased and became intolerable. I went up to him, thinking that a salutation and shaking hands would relieve me; but it happened otherwise . . . When he began to preach, my perturbations increased, so that nature could no longer support them, and I sunk to the ground.”
The penetrating eyes noted by Mr. Lane were a trademark of Stearns. There is a stained glass in the current sanctuary that is referred to as a representation of the “eye of Shubal.” At the time of original construction, the design of the building allowed for natural light to flow through the stained glass, but additions to the building closed in the space directly behind the glass and now it no longer “lights up” as it did originally.
Shubal Stearns was pastor at Sandy Creek for 16 years until his death on November 20, 1771. The Church records summarize the ministry of Stearns as follows:
These years had been devoted to preaching, sending forth his fellow ministers to preach, organizing churches, ordaining their ministers, and with a proper discipline seeing that all those gathered into churches were taught in all things that the Lord had commanded. He understood both discipline and church government well. His greatest general contribution was the contagious enthusiasm with which he inspired his followers to carry the gospel into the wilderness near and far.
HIS Provision – The Land of Promise
Moses is noted in Scripture for his pursuit of a land flowing with milk and honey that God promised to the children of Israel. Scripture refers to it as “the promised land,” and the journey was not without difficulties, yet Moses was persistent and obedient to accomplish the task God had assigned him.
There was no “promised land” for Stearns, but the same God that led Moses led Stearns, and like Moses, Stearns was persistent and obedient. By faith he forsook the treasures of men for riches far greater and God led him to a land of promise.
The journey for Stearns was initiated by his conviction of the futility of infant baptism, a practice of the Congregational Church, which led him to receiving Christ under the preaching of George Whitefield as previously mentioned. Stearns was then baptized by Wait Palmer and later ordained. Following a short stay in Connecticut, Stearns led a group of Baptists to journey south. The group ventured to Virginia where they ministered for a brief period of time. Stearns soon received word that there was a great need for preachers in North Carolina and he felt an urgency to continue south.
Stearns, along with his wife Sarah, Peter and Hannah Stearns, Daniel and Martha Marshall, Ebeneezer and Anna Stearns, Shubal Stearns, Sr. and his wife Rebecca, Joseph and Priscilla Breed, Enos and Elizabeth Stinson, and Jonathan and Rebecca Polk traveled south until they reached the location of Sandy Creek, in what was then Guilford county. According to the 2000 doctoral dissertation of Larry S. McDonald, “Frontier Thunder: Principles of Evangelism and Church Growth from the Life of Shubal Stearns,” historian William W. Barnes, said that when Stearns arrived at Sandy Creek he heard a voice within saying, “Here I Stand,” which made it a land of promise . . . holy ground.
Stearns was convinced it was God speaking, and he and the others with him stopped and set up camp and God added His blessing to their act of faith. In the first two years, the membership grew from 16 to 606! Over the next 17 years 42 churches were established and 125 ministers were called by God. History proves Stearns’ conviction to be true, as God moved mightily at that time and has produced fruit world-wide from this branch called Sandy Creek.
HIS House – The Church at Sandy Creek
Stearns and the others with him did not take long to “have church” at Sandy Creek, as David Benedict is quoted in Church records:
“As soon as they arrived, they built them a little meeting house, and these 16 persons formed themselves into a church, and chose Shubael Stearns for their pastor, who had, for his assistants at that time, Daniel Marshall and Joseph Breed, neither of whom were ordained.”
The original “meeting house” that Benedict refers to was built where the Obelisk now stands in the Church‘s graveyard. This Obelisk was placed by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina in 1955 and the plaque on the North side reads:
Sandy Creek Church
On this site, in November-December 1755, Rev. Shubal Stearns, his wife, and those with him, seven other families, 16 souls in all, built their first meeting house, where they administered the Lord’s Supper.
“It is a mother church, nay a grandmother, and great grandmother. All the Separate Baptists sprang hence, not only eastward towards the sea, but westward towards the great river Mississippi, but northward to Virginia and southward to South Carolina and Georgia. The Word went forth from this sion, and great was the company of them who published it, in so much that her converts were as drops of morning dew.”
No pictures are available of the first or second meeting houses, but the third is pictured at left. This building was constructed in 1802 and is now the property of the Sandy Creek Primitive Baptist Church. Hal Younts, a member of the Primitive church, has worked faithfully and tirelessly restoring this building and he is to be commended for preserving a significant part of HIS Story at Sandy Creek. This third meeting house was where Sandy Creek was meeting when God split the branch, as Church records note:
In 1830, a protest arose by some of the members of Sandy Creek congregation concerning the support of missions and the new institutions being formed by the newly organized Baptist State Convention, causing a split in the church. The members who were opposed to the missionary movement of the Convention continued to hold services at the original site, and adopted the name of Sandy Creek Primitive Church . . .
The members who desired to support the missions program and the Sunday School ministry of the Baptist State Convention sought out a new location. They settled near a school known as Shady Grove and continued to be known as Sandy Creek Baptist Church. Then in 1905, some of the descendants of those who had left, under the leadership of W.H. Eller returned to the original location, and once again established worship services. The name of the group who had left in 1830 then became known as Shady Grove Baptist Church.
The next meeting house was constructed upon the return of those representing the “Missionary” side of Sandy Creek. Meeting House #7 established a location that would be home to not only to itself but also to numbers 8 and 9.
Due to significant decaying of #7, the eighth meeting house was in 1942, utilizing some of the timber from the seventh building. Two additions were added to the #8 which housed a library, two restrooms, a small office, a nursery, and five classrooms.
Meeting House #8 served the people of Sandy Creek well but time had come for this building to be replaced and on June 11, 2006, the people of Sandy Creek adopted the "Harvest Vision." The journey that followed was a blessed time, a marker and a teaching tool for generations to come, as long as the Lord tarries. God worked in countless ways in leading His people to accomplish the task He put before them and He was faithful in fulfilling His purpose. Following years of praying and planning it was time to begin construction on House #9. Sandy Creek held the last Worship service in Meeting House #8 on Homecoming, September 21, 2014. It was a bittersweet time as many gathered to be a part of that special day and Pastor Emeritus Dr. Carl K. Garner brought the message. Following the Worship service and lunch a groundbreaking ceremony was held to initiate the process for new construction. Meeting House #8 was then demolished in October.
The next portion of the journey would be a time of His people working and walking in unity, enjoying the blessing and privilege of being a part of the process. The membership and the community watched with much enthusiasm and excitement as the landscape underwent a dramatic change and His house was being prepared. Eleven months later a dedication service was held on Homecoming Sunday, September 20, 2015, to the Glory of God with over 250 people in attendance!
Sandy Creek now has a facility that contains ten classrooms, a choir room, a nursery and a sanctuary that is beautiful and honoring to the Lord.
In addition to the meeting houses at Sandy Creek, a parsonage was built directly across the road from the Church in 1971 and a fellowship hall was constructed in 1995.
The parsonage was built, in large part, due to the generosity of Ms. Ida Williams, as the plaque at the front door reads, “This parsonage is dedicated as a memorial to Miss Ida Williams, 1882-1967, who gave herself as well as her substance in loving devotion to Christ’s service to help make its construction possible.” Pastor Carl Garner, his wife, Ann, and their children Andy, Joy, James, and John were the first family to live in the parsonage and it has been well used since that time.
The fellowship hall replaced the parsonage basement for events such as fellowship meals, holiday dinners, wedding receptions, and all other church gatherings. It was constructed while Pastor Terry Hinson was serving at Sandy Creek and few, if any, would express any regret over the funds spent to construct this building. Space for large gatherings, a baptistery, a kitchen, two classrooms, and an office for the pastor are all provided in this building and it is indeed a true blessing to the body at Sandy Creek.
HIS Fruit – The Produce of His Hand
God obviously ordained the establishment of Sandy Creek Baptist Church and, as previously stated, an attempt to recount all that He has produced in and through this church would indeed be futile. Denominations of a wide variety under the umbrella of “Baptist” have sprung forth and churches have been planted in areas all around the globe that all can trace their roots back to Sandy Creek. As one of the memorial markers placed by the Baptist History Preservation Society on Sandy Creek’s property earlier this year reads, “There are thousands of Baptist churches as the result of the labours of Shubal Stearns and the Sandy Creek Baptist Church.“ Pastor Jeff Faggart of the Society summed it up this way, “I believe God has done more through the ministry of this church than any other church since Pentecost.” God has indeed blessed and sustained the ministry of Sandy Creek.
Three years after Sandy Creek was established, Stearns organized the Sandy Creek Association, making it the third Baptist Association in America. Sandy Creek is considered to be the seed God planted, nurtured and blessed as a fruit-bearing branch, with fruit such as that Association and the most notable fruit, the Southern Baptist Convention. Established in 1845, the SBC is one of the largest protestant denominations in the world today with more than 16 million members and more than 5,000 home missionaries, and more than 5,000 missionaries serving around the globe.
One may consider Sandy Creek today and wonder why she is not a large, thriving body of believers after 250 years of ministry. Large, she is not; thriving, she is.
Obviously demographics impact the size of any church and that is certainly a factor when considering Sandy Creek. No doubt, God still stands here today and He is still at work. Sandy Creek may not be a large church, but she is experiencing a healthy level of growth and the people are enjoying a genuine sense of unity. She has not, however, always been a thriving church.
Shortly after the Church began, the Battle of Alamance took place and people left to fight in the war. As a result, the Church dropped back to 6 members. A series of wars and economic struggles had a profound negative impact on the area and the Church struggled even to survive at times. It was not until the 1950s that the Church began to experience any sense of stability and was able to function effectively. Located in a rural area, Sandy Creek does not have the masses to draw from, yet a large portion of the masses in Christian circles, particularly Baptist life, are experiencing fruit that can trace its roots back to this small but thriving branch.
HIS Saints – The Legacy of Two
People of many backgrounds and varying levels of commitment in their Christian walk have found their way into the life of Sandy Creek over the course of its 250-year existence. Only God knows the contributions of each person and the heart with which those contributions were made. In that tapestry of faith, Hebrews Chapter 11, God listed the heroes of the faith, folks who had a walk that excelled, a walk that was worthy of note in a most prestigious list of honorable souls who served the Kingdom. The list of honorable souls who served the Kingdom through their involvement at Sandy Creek would indeed be lengthy if all were considered. However, two folks who have served at Sandy Creek and who now are in the presence of their Lord have left a legacy in recent history that stands above the norm. One was a layperson, the other a pastor, both of whom God used to keep His work going at Sandy Creek at times when Satan was about to choke the life out.
Miss Ida Williams was a layperson whom God blessed in a way that she was able to live a life of singleness, fully devoted to serving the Lord she loved so dearly. Born on April 22, 1882, God raised up Miss Williams for a purpose that was unique and the fruits of which are enjoyed even today, and will be for years to come.
The Church has experienced difficult times financially along the way and at one of those critical moments God used the resources of Miss Williams to meet the needs of His people. Miss Williams sold chicken eggs in the community and she would use that money to purchase Sunday School material for the Church so that the work could continue. She did not do this for self-recognition, rather to the glory of God and for the sake of building His Kingdom.
Beyond her selfless giving, Miss Williams served the Church faithfully as church clerk from 1914-1958, 44 years of record-keeping the old-fashioned way; that is, with a pen and a piece of paper. In a day when most folks scarcely take sermon notes, that says volumes concerning the servant attitude of such a lady as Miss Williams.
God called Miss Williams home on January 7, 1967, and upon her passing she left a portion of her estate to the Church she loved. Those funds were used to assist in the building of the parsonage previously mentioned and many pastors and their families have used this parsonage as their home while serving at Sandy Creek.
Sacrifices made by Miss Williams could never be fully counted this side of Glory, yet most, if not all, would understand the significance of at least one sacrifice made by this dear saint. That is, the sacrifice of living single and choosing to forego perhaps the deepest desire of practically every female born into this world; that is the opportunity to have children. What a cross to bear, yet she was born to share and that she did!
Thank you God for the life and legacy of Miss Ida Williams, a saint whose love for You inspired others and though she has passed her legacy continues.
Diffie Ollen Wright, affectionately known as Rev. D.O. Wright, is a name that is well known by the folks at Sandy Creek. Rev. Wright served Sandy Creek from 1947-1956, and from 1974-1977 as pastor and he loved the people dearly. God gave Rev. Wright an appreciation for the significance of God’s work at Sandy Creek and that allowed God to use him and his talent to bring life back to the Church during his first tenure as pastor.
Sandy Creek had 16 members when Rev. Wright began serving in 1947 and he worked fervently and relentlessly to resurrect the struggling church; not only in his preaching and pastoral duties, but in physical labor of untold hours and effort.
Times were hard in 1947 and it was common for a pastor to serve more than one church and such was the case for Rev. Wright. Serving four churches, according to his family, he was not discouraged but focused on the work God had called him to do. It is said of Rev. Wright that he would tend his garden and do other chores while dressed in his suit pants, a white dress shirt with sleeves rolled up and a tie on, all so that he could be ready to go if someone were to call and need his service. God had His hand on the life of Rev. Wright and no one could deny the impact this man had on countless souls.
The graveyard was in dire need of attention and Rev. Wright was there to give the attention it needed. Folks testify to his labor and how he worked so tirelessly in the graveyard to make it presentable. Lifeless and struggling trees of significant size were removed by the physical efforts of Rev. Wright and today the fruits of his labor are a ministry to families who lay their loved ones to rest at Sandy Creek.
Dependent upon His God to provide, Rev. Wright’s family shared memories of collections the Church would receive and give to him as a “salary.” Funds received may have been enough to pay for fuel, yet sometimes not enough was received to do even that. Folks would bring a variety of items to give the Wright family to help meet their basic needs. The family rode home from church, not only in the company of each other, but also in the company of live chickens!
The folks of Sandy Creek have the utmost respect for Rev. Wright and a prayer garden is being created by Sandy Creek’s Baptist Men. This garden will be located close to the spring along the bank of Sandy Creek which is behind the Church building. A prayer garden was the vision of Rev. Wright and his love for this land inspired the project that is now near completion.
Rev. Wright loved his Lord beyond measure and God blessed him with a wife he loved dearly and God blessed them with three children, Patricia, Peggy, and Janet. .
Affected by dementia late in life, Rev. Wright lost his memories of many things in life. Yet, when one would visit him if the name Sandy Creek was mentioned, Rev. Wright would light up with a smile as if it filled his entire body with a sense of joy. For those that knew Rev. Wright, when his name is mentioned their face lights up in similar fashion.
Rev. Wright was a man among men where pastors are concerned and he served his Lord with a passion that produced lasting fruit; Sandy Creek stands today, in part, due to the service of God’s “Wright-hand” man.
Thank you God for the life and legacy of Rev. D.O. Wright, a man among men, a saint among saints, and a servant among servants, his work continues in spirit and the legacy he left shall ever be a part of Sandy Creek.