EDITOR’S NOTE: As part of a celebration of the Times-Enterprise’s 125th year, this is the 20th in a year-long series of Sunday stories about important people, places and things in the area. The next one will be published Oct. 19.
OCHLOCKNEE — Settled between two rivers in the Ellabelle community, Little Ochlocknee Baptist Church began serving the community in 1880, and continues to do so today.
Since its inception, Little Ochlocknee Baptist Church has undergone various social and economic changes. However, the impact of its people and commitment to the community never faltered.
With the growth of the Ochlocknee community, the church’s growth also can be seen. Churches served not only as places of worship, but for social activity.
According to Little Ochlocknee Baptist Church history, on June 20, 1880, “a delegation consisting of R. S. Clifton, J. W. Daniel, M.P. Lofton and Shadric Carter, attended a union meeting at Barnetts Creek Baptist Church, and while at this meeting the idea was born to constitute and build a church in the Ellabelle Community. They decided at that time the church would be named Little Ochlocknee Baptist Church.”
The church structure was not decided until four months after the meeting. Many issues were brought up, such as location of the church, structure and paying for the structure.
Two acres were donated by Shadric Carter for the church building and cemetery. Construction of the church began in July or August of 1881, with the Collier Brothers renting out their saw mill for male members of the church to cut lumber for construction.
There were delays in building the church. Groups of believers met in homes. Despite hardships in the beginning, church members were successful in organizing a one-room church with wooden slated benches.
Little Ochlocknee Baptist Church was officially established on Feb. 16, 1884, with A. G. Stephenson serving as the first pastor.
In July 1882, C.C. Roberson wanted to be baptized and join the church. The baptism was at a bridge on Little Ochlockonee River.
The history of the church documented that a vote was taken to have the church painted in 1882, at a cost of $17. Documents also show the first person to be buried in the church cemetery was a Fleetwood child in 1883. Lots were sold for $3.50 each by Mark Collier. Today, there are more than 500 graves.
“There are many graves that cannot be counted due to the fact that in the early days, very few people used head stones and slabs as we use today,” according the church history.
Preachers who served churches during this time did not serve only one church. They visited several churches and filled the pulpit at a specific church on certain weekends. “A pastor would receive minimal salary, or a love offering was given to him,” the history said.
Later in 1921, the church developed a salary for the pastor. His salary was $24.80, with food benefits.
Minutes were taken of each church service and meeting, which is how the church history was preserved.
From the minutes, it has been documented that men and women were listed separately in attendance.
C.C. Collier Jr., 89, a member of Little Ochlocknee Baptist Church, remembers growing up in the old church.
He said, “Men sat on one side, and the women sat on the other, but this went by the wayside when the new church was built.”
During those days, church was considered serious business, and members could be reprimanded for inappropriate behavior and even dancing.
Collier joined the church when he was 15 years old.
“I remember the day I went forward to the altar,” said Collier. “The baptism was held at the county line bridge. That water was so cold. It’s all grown up down there now, but back then it was sandy and beach-like.”
Don Ellis became a member in 1944. He was one of six baptized that day.
He said, “I was born and raised on the river, and I thought it was fun to get baptized.”
A baptistry was added to the church in 1971— but members could still be baptized in the river.
During the years of World War II and post-war, more progressive times began for the church.
An outhouse for the men was designed in 1948, giving the church two outhouses.
Also in 1948, the community was devastated by a spring flood. Even with washed-out roads and closing of schools and farmland underwater, the church pressed on with plans to construct a new building.
Collier was chairman of the building committee.
“One Saturday, we had 23 men come out to work. It would be hard to get that many today. We were able to use some of the old lumber from the old church. It’s in the attic of this new building. It’s heart-pine lumber,” he said.
Ellis recalled that his grandfather, Tom Ellis, was the last funeral to be conducted in the old church in 1947.
A homecoming was organized in July 1949. Since that day, a homecoming has been held annually. It must be noted that C.C. Collier and his wife, Elousie, are the only two members to have attended all homecomings.
In 1980, the church celebrated its centennial year with a program of sermons and music. At that time, records show the church had 272 members.
Carol and Nadine Collins grew up in the church and have known each other since they were four years old. They never thought they would some day be married.
“We saw each other at church, but we had our own groups. We were out of high school before we started dating,” said Nadine.
Carol told the story of his Sunday School teacher at the time taking his son to an Indian reservation when he was a little boy. When they returned the next Sunday, the little boy had his mind on Indians during the service.
He said, “He jumped up from the pew and yelled out like an Indian, spun around three times and sat back down. All in the middle of the sermon. People just laughed and went back to the sermon.”
Another story was told about weeklong church revival services in the old church building. There was no screen on the door. One boy’s dad’s bird dog apparently followed them to church for a service and walked down the aisle of the church.
The family did not live far from the church, and the dog was taken back home.
Children had to make up games to play while at church. One popular activity was hide and seek.
In the beginning of the church in 1880, the church had 19 original charter members. As of 2011, the church had 187 members.
Little Ochlocknee Baptist Church has a big history and a bright future because of many members, pastors and supporters during the last 134 years.