A History of
Mill Creek Christian Church
by Barbara G. Shaw / Church Secretary & Historian
Mill Creek Church began in a small log structure in 1793 in the southeast corner of Johnston County near Bentonville, North Carolina, at a never failing spring, near Mill Creek, and is thought to be the oldest church of any faith in the county. Although it is unknown who the original founders were, in all probability John Harper III, Abraham Gamalion, William Roberts, Nathaniel Thornton, and William Farmer as well as others, played a major role in the formation of Mill Creek Church.
In 1794 Mill Creek Church joined the Neuse Association which was affiliated with the Regular Baptists, and reported having eighty-three members. William Farmer and Benjamin Rhodes attended the Neuse Association in 1796 as delegates from Mill Creek Church but Rhodes was denied a seat due to his membership at New River Church, Onslow, which was a Separate Baptist Church. It is thought that he helped spread Separate Baptist non-creedal sentiments at Mill Creek which was preparatory to the coming of the Disciples. In 1797 the membership began a steady upward climb and in 1806 Mill Creek reported having 202 members. Between 1794 and 1806, the Neuse Association Minutes reported Mill Creek Church as having baptized 133 new members, received 39 by letter, dismissed 24 by letter, lost 21 by death, and excommunicated twenty.
The Baptist churches since their beginning in the 18th Century until early in the 20th Century, exercised direct control over the personal conduct of its members. This was done by excommunicating those judged guilty of violating the rules of decorum recognized by the congregation. Many crimes against society and against individuals were settled by the church with the pastor and board of deacons acting in an advisory position. Members were often expelled for drunkenness, misbehavior, lying, being jealous of husband, quarreling, living an ungodly and sinful life, dancing, stealing, profanity, and marital problems. The member could appear before the congregation and if he could prove that God had led him back and shown him his wrong ways, he was usually accepted back into the fold.
Mill Creek Church left the Neuse Association in 1807 to join the Raleigh Association, also a Baptist affiliate, joining with 202 members and remaining in this Association until 1826. The minutes from this Association have not been preserved but it is thought that the non-creedal ideas of the Disciples had begun to enter the area, thus resulting in the frequent changing of Associations.
In 1826 Mill Creek Church joined the Bethel Conference which was Reformed Free Will Baptist. Records of the early years of the Bethel Conference are not available, but in 1841 Mill Creek reported 108 members and gave $2.00 to the conference. Joel Joyner, Jr., a charter member of Mill Creek Church, and a staunch supporter of Dr. J. T. Walsh and the Bible Revision cause, was elected Assistant Clerk of the Bethel Conference.
Mill Creek Church, as a part of the Bethel Conference, met with the Union Meeting of the Disciples of Christ at the Piney Grove Meeting House in Sampson County in October, 1845. Minutes from this meeting stated that delegates from the Union Meeting and the Bethel Conference had met in Hookerton, Greene County, NC on May 2nd, 1845 and taking into consideration the importance of the Christian Union in order to the Conversion of the world to pure and undefiled religion, after a fine exchange of views on both sides, agreed, that the Bethel Conference and Union Meeting of the Disciples of Christ should unite and form one body.... and they shall take the Bible alone as their only Rule of Faith and Practice, and discard as entirely useless, all human creeds, traditions, or commandments of uninspired men Therefore, Resolved, that we take the Bible to be our only rule and guide of faith and practice; and that hereafter we bear the appellation of Christians, or Disciples of Christ; and our churches, the Churches of Christ Since this meeting in 1845, Mill Creek Church has been a part of the Disciples of Christ denomination.
Between 1841 and 1852, Joel Joyner, Jr., Uriah Langston, Aaron Lee, Thomas Ward, W. G. Bizzell, John Harper, R. Taylor, and John Williams served as delegates to the Bethel Conference and Union Meeting. During these years Mill Creek reported receiving 10 members, baptizing 73, dismissing 7, excommunicating 20, loss by death 13, and total contributions to the conference was $17.25.
In 1846 John Harper, IV, a prominent landowner near Mill Creek, gave one and one-half acres of land and a log church house to the Trustees of Mill Creek Church, James Lee, Sr. Thomas Ward, and Joel Joyner, Jr. The deed for this land states this was done for and in consideration of the advancement of religious instruction, and for the sole use and benefit of the Church of Christ at Mill Creek. Harper was considered a public-spirited man, always interested in anything involving his state and country. Although he was not fond of public office, he was a Captain of Militia, justice of the peace, and a member of the old court of pleas and quarter sessions of Johnston County. John Harper, IV married Amy Ann Woodard in 1838 and they spent almost 55 years together. Their daughter, Martha, married N. B. Hood who served as pastor at Mill Creek Church in 1882-83. Another daughter, Mary F., became Superintendent of the first Sunday School at Mill Creek with fifty pupils and Jasper V. Harper, a son, served as the Sunday School Superintendent in 1874, and was also made secretary of the Mill Creek Union.
After the gift of land to Mill Creek Church, a new two-story building was erected to replace the log structure used for almost fifty years. In 1848, the Disciples Annual State meeting was held at the new Mill Creek Church. The second floor was used by the Masonic Order and the Woodmen of the World for their meetings.
The Disciples of Christ denomination, since its beginning, has had a strong interest in education. John Harpers interest and generosity was also felt in this area as he with two other men were instrumental in organizing and putting into operation the first public school system in Johnston County. In 1845 Harper deeded one and one-half acres of land to the school district No. 34. During these years the schools, mostly one teacher type, were in every neighborhood; ran on a five-month schedule, November through March, and closed with a big commencement. Mill Creek School sat on land diagonal to the two-story church building. Mr. R. A. Whitfield, formerly of Glenwood High School ran the school in 1886.
The years between 1850 and 1900 are sketchy, probably due to the lack of news media and the rising unrest preceding and through the Civil War. In August, 1852, Josephus Latham held a revival at Mill Creek Church and baptized forty-nine new members. Latham wrote that the people in the neighborhood had been taught to go to the mourners bench, and our manner being so different, there seemed to come a coldness over the meeting, but we were determined to have them come according to the Apostolic custom, or not at all; but after a few days, there seemed to be a perfect satisfaction and the meeting became very interesting.
In 1882-83 Mill Creek Church was Districted with Pleasant Union, Eureka, and Six Runs. The church property was valued at $800, and in 1883 Mill Creek raised $400 for local church work. The first Bible School recorded at Mill Creek was in 1888 with H. C. Williams as Superintendent. The first recorded church clerk was Jeremiah M. Beasley in 1889. Mill Creek boasted of 250 members in 1892 with the church property valued at $300.
A severe hurricane struck Johnston County in 1893, blowing down trees, leveling fences, and unroofing houses. Luckily no lives were lost in the county but the following years were economically distressing. A roll call of churches in this district resulted in Pleasant Union, Eureka, Mill Creek, and Concord contributing a combined total of only $2.97 to the Union.
The membership at Mill Creek Church in 1904 was reported to be 171. The recorded church clerk from 1904 through 1911 was J. P. Rose. In 1911, John H. Langston served as superintendent of the Mill Creek Bible School with a membership of sixty-five; he continued in this position for many years.
In 1916 Johnston County had a population of 41,401. Of this number 472 were Disciples of Christ. There were no resident Disciple ministers and no Disciple church in Smithfield, the county seat. By 1930 the Disciple Convention had grown so large that the statistics for individual churches were no longer printed, instead, this was done by Unions. Claude C. Beasley served as correspondent to the State Convention from Mill Creek Church from 1940-46. After his death Millard Langston filled the position for many years.
The year 1935 brought many changes to Mill Creek Church. In January of that year E. F. Weaver took the contract to build a new church building. Rev. J. A. Taylor of Reidsville came to the community to assist in planning and construction. The new church was to be built diagonally across the road on the old school site, leaving the present location for a cemetery. Work began in January and on Sunday, March 24, 1935, Rev. A. B. Crocker preached the first sermon in the new Mill Creek Church. A revival meeting was held in August that added four members to the church. During these depression years, many varied methods were used to raise money, such as collecting chickens to sell if people had no money. The Ladies Aid Society collected eggs and chickens to sell for funds for the church, and were often affectionately called The Ladies Egg Society. In November the church sponsored a pie supper with the proceeds going to the building fund. They reported a successful supper with $30 being raised.
The new Mill Creek Church was formally dedicated in August, 1940. The Rev. J. A. Taylor, who had just completed his third revival at Mill Creek and who was instrumental in starting the building program, preached the dedicatory sermon at 11:00 a.m. The building was filled when Rev. Z.N. Deshields presented the visiting minister and the services concluded in the afternoon following a picnic lunch. Rev. Taylor gave a financial report which showed that the cost of the new building totaled $2,121.48, exclusive of labor which men of the congregation and community donated. Carpet down the aisle was provided by the Christian Endeavor and Elbert Barfield donated the light plant. After individual reports by the Finance Committee a final debt of $43.94 was quickly dispensed with, allowing for formal dedication. H. V. Rose, Clerk of Court for Johnston County, and Rev. J. J. Langston, both products of Mill Creek Church, spoke on the importance of the church to the community.
The women of Mill Creek Church have always played a very important role in the life of the church. Organized womens work did not come into being until 1911, with the membership composed of eight ladies, though they sometimes had thirty visitors. The Ladies Aid Society worked many hours to raise funds for the new church building. In April, 1940 they gave the children an Easter Egg Hunt and presented an pageant on Easter Sunday night. They also entertained the Ladies Societies of Pleasant Union, Selah, and Eureka at Vesper Services that same month.
The Mill Creek Church structure remained unchanged until the 1950s when enlargement was needed to meet educational needs. At this time a fellowship hall was added, connected to the church house by an open breezeway. The hall served as classroom for the young adult Sunday School Class, and provided kitchen and restroom facilities. In 1957 the structure of the sanctuary pulpit was changed and the breezeway enclosed, thus providing a nursery and library/classroom. In 1960 another remodeling project was begun, partially due to Hurricane Donna throwing a large tree on the corner of the sanctuary, including adding a baptistry and water heating unit. The baptizing had previously taken place in Mill Creek or Shaws Pond. New pews, baptistry drapes, and a large lighted bulletin board on the lawn were added at this time. All remodeling work was completed in time for the church to host the Mill Creek District Fifth Sunday Meeting in April, 1966.
Mill Creek Church made a major purchase in December of 1966 when they purchased a home for a parsonage. Previous ministers had lived in a home in Newton Grove owned jointly by Mill Creek and Pleasant Union. The first minister to live in this parsonage and the first full time minister was Robert McIndoo who served Mill Creek from 1966-1970.
Over the years the faithful members of Mill Creek have readily supplied the needs of the church, such as an extensive library, stained glass windows, an organ, pianos, choir robes, pulpit furniture, cross and candlesticks, a steeple, and many more items. Major contributions were made in the Fall due to the rural agricultural community and farming congregation. A Harvest Sale and bar-b-que dinner held on the grounds raised most of the years budget on that one day. The Harvest Sale consisted of homemade, home preserved, and homegrown items being auctioned. Good-natured bidding of friends and neighbors for these jams, jellies, dolls, quilts and other things made a good day of fellowship for all who participated. During the late 1960s interest in the Harvest Sale began to lag so the church changed to a Commitment Night Service which continues today.
Numerous ministers have served Mill Creek. In the earliest days of her existence the ministers were traveling evangelists shared by many churches over a vast area. Lewis Caudle served as the first minister of Mill Creek Church from 1794 until 1811. In 1848 Mill Creek became the first recorded church among the Carolina Disciples to pay a preacher. This man was John Dupree whose salary was $12 per year for preaching the fourth Sundays in September, December, March, and June. In 1882-83 Mill Creek was Districted with Pleasant Union, Eureka, and Six Runs. N. B. Hood served as pastor of this district and the combined salary for his services was $200 per year. In all the years of Mill Creek Churchs existence, she has been assisted by the state missions in paying her pastor only two times, in 1893 and 1909.
Out of this historic background, ten ministers have hailed from Mill Creek Church:
H. D. Harper
N. B. Hood
Whitley Langston, and
Since the beginning of Mill Creek Church in 1793 her members and friends have given their devotion, their money, their own hard labor, and other loving gifts to their God. When times have been troubled and hard, they have tried to do their part to support the church, and the church has always been there to support their beliefs in and love of God. Mill Creek Church has traveled a long, hard road at times, but with Gods presence and guidance in this historic place, and the continued commitment of her members, she will continue to pave the way for future generations of Christians.
Taken from A History of Mill Creek Church, 1977, by Barbara G. Shaw