Church of God in Christ
According to the Church of God in Christ Official Manual, this church of the Lord Jesus Christ is where the word of God is preached; ordinances are administered; and the doctrine of sanctification or holiness is the essential to the salvation of mankind. The word HOLINESS is used to highlight the Gospel of Jesus Christ as well as the life style that one must live. “Without holiness no man can see the Lord” (Hebrew 12:14). In the early 1900’s preachers and missionaries spoke and proclaimed this message of holiness and sanctification to people of Abbeville. Individuals such as Elder Cue, Elder McMillian, Elder Floyd, and Missionary Floyd to name a few preached this message to the citizens of this rural, agrarian community. This community began to hungry and thirst for the truth about the Gospel and power that is necessary to live such a holy life. These early believers possess extra ordinary gifts in which they created spiritual songs and praises to glorify the Father in the name of Jesus Christ. One example is as follows:
“Little boy, how old are you?
I’m only twelve years old,
Born on the 25th of December,
Doctors and Lawyers stood amazed,
Just give that little boy Praise.”
This small band of believers began worshipping in quick make-shift structures known as bush harbors. The men will construct a bush harbor by erecting four stable branches (approximately four inches in diameter) in each corner and then using limbs as connectors to stabilize the four branches creating an unwavering roof top. Then they will cover the roof top with bushes, twigs, shrubs, card boards, and other light items to keep the sun from shining into the area. Once the outer frame of the structure was finished, the men will place saw dust on the ground for the floor and wooden planks or slabs on stack of blocks for benches to seat the women and children. A wooden stomp would be placed in the front as a podium for the man of God to speak. Under the bush harbor people will gather to sing praises and worship their Savior Jesus Christ. Many services were held in these bush harbors and a longing for the peace of God was instilled in the people of this community.
In 1922, the Church of God in Christ was established in Abbeville, Alabama under the directions of the renowned Bishop Riley F. Williams. Bishop Charles Mason, the founder and organizer of the Church of God in Christ sent this anointed servant of God to Alabama with the commission as noted in Matthew 28:19: Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Bishop Williams resided in Ohio, but he would spend months in Abbeville teaching the saints the way of holiness and the doctrine about sanctification as being essential to the salvation of mankind. He is credited to building over 19 churches throughout Alabama, Georgia, and Ohio. Because of Bishop Williams, the doctrinal foundation among the membership of Abbeville Memorial COGIC became solid and firm in the Word of God. Under his leadership the church membership expanded from a bush harbor, to a tent and later to a building. Later, he was appointed by Bishop Mason as Overseer of Alabama, Georgia, and Ohio. The saints recalled many memories of Bishop R. Williams during his tenure in lower Alabama.
In 1924, the building burned and it was rumored that a white gentleman who lived near the church burned it because the saints were making too much noise during these nightly services. However, within a year the brethren constructed a new building under the leadership of Elder James Mainor where it stands today. This temporary set back only reminded the saints that prosecution is certainly when one decides to follow Jesus Christ. So this alleged arsenic only strengthened their faith in holiness and many souls were added to the church. At this time, when the brethren rebuilt the size of the building increased and it became the largest church in the area for African Americans. Because of this excitement of shouting and rejoicing in the Holy Ghost, people from around the area would come and stand on outside peering into the windows just to glimpse as the saints rejoiced and glorified their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the Holy Ghost. Many stories are told among the Saints about men and women rejoicing in the Lord. One brother named, Deacon George Smith would balance himself like an acrobat on the back of the pews while walking and rejoicing in the Lord. The preachers’ messages were so excited that the Church became so crowded during these services that the men will eagerly give their seats for the ladies to sit. This rural church in Abbeville really resemble the early church as Luke described in Acts 2:1-4 when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place…And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
One of Bishop Williams’ goals was to establish a church school to educate the young people of this community. This school was organized in the church during the early years. Again, the right persons with an anointing from God came to this rural community to serve; they were Sister Eufaula Franklin and Sister Sally Baldwin. These two blood sisters were educators who left Birmingham, Alabama, with a serving spirit and longing to teach the Saints children in this rural community far away from the city life. During this time many African Americans did not have access to public education especially in the rural parts of Alabama. The students in this school were grouped according to age and grade level. The enrollment consisted of 25 to 35 children. During the 1940’s a school building was constructed out of concrete blocks by Deacon Charles Vaughn, Brother Dot Peterman, and other carpenters in the church. This building consisted of five classrooms and an auditorium.
Later the Henry County Board of Education opened segregated public schools for African Americans throughout the various communities in Henry County. Since there were no governmental funds to subsidize the cost to attend the church (private) school, the doors were closed. However, the Saints had pleasurable and rich memories of this school and the two sisters who instilled “Christian Education” for a nominal fee for many years before access to free education in the form of public schools for grades K to 12 materialize. Truly, Sister Franklin and Sister Baldwin exemplified the true meaning of servant hood as demonstrated by Jesus in Mark 9: 36-37, “And he took a child, and set him in the midst of them: and when he had taken him in his arms, he said unto them, Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me.”
Abbeville Memorial Church of God in Christ continued to prosper under the many ordained elders: Elder D. W. McMillian, Elder M.W. Davis, Elder J.T. Rowe, Elder H. Ming, and Elder J.C. McLeod. All worked faithfully to move the church forward by the feeding the Saints the true Word of God as pastors. Currently, Elder Vincent Brown serves as pastor to this faithful membership.
Many undaunted deacons have assisted these pastors down through the history of the church. Deacon Charles Vaughn, Deacon Johnny Lee, Deacon George Smith, Deacon Lawson Hill, Deacon Coleman Smith, and Deacon Andrew Grimsley have assisted in establishing a firm foundation in the community for Holiness. (Deacon Andrew Grimsley later became Elder.) Presently, deacon hood consist of Deacon Mickey Baker, Deacon Jimmy L. Farmer, and Deacon Robert Corbit.
Prosperity would be impossible without the great missionaries who have played a vital role in the survival and establishment of the church. Many souls were added to the congregation because of Missionary Rosie Lee, Missionary Minnie Lee Jones, Missionary Rilla Mathis, and Missionary Fannie Hooks.
The work of the Church Mothers in the church has enhanced the service of the Saints and their responsibility to the fellowship. The first Church Mother was Mother Turner, followed by Mother Mamie Smith, Mother Lula Culver, Mother Lena Clark, Mother Josephine Baker, Mother Teresa Farmers, and Mother Ethel Corbitt.