AUTHOR SUNDAY: Did you ever attend a small church like this? [photographs & video]

Small Churches I have loved


Joyce Ray Wheeler

Lowndesboro Baptist Church, Lowndesboro, Alabama ca. 1888 – with two doors for men and women

Lowndesboro Baptist Church, Lowndesboro, Alabama ca. 1888 - with two doors for men and women

There have been three of them. The first little church (in rural Kentucky) I attended with my parents from my birth in 1926 until I left home for college. The second one was in Tallahassee, Florida, where my young husband was employed as a mathematics and statistics professor at Florida State University. My third small church was in Vestavia, Alabama.

Vestavia Hills

Grace Episcopal Church Clayton, Barbour County, Alabama

Grace Episcopal Church Clayton, Barbour County, Alabama

The church in Kentucky, known simply as Rocky Hill Baptist Church, was aptly named since it sat on a small rocky hill. It’s building was typical of rural churches of that era —one room, white frame construction with two front doors (one for men, one for women like the two small “out-houses” in the back lot.)

Did you know that religious persecution occurred in early America? Read about it in this historical series by Alabama author Donna R. Causey

A small white steeple was proudly centered in the front of a sloping roof. Inside that one room, strong wires were stretched front to back and side to side. From these wires hung home-made curtains of green and rust striped fabric to be pulled across creating “rooms” for Sunday School classes. Children’s classes and adult classes were all being taught simultaneously! I could hear the voices of at least six teachers at one time! But the Word of God was faithfully taught by those teachers as well as from the pulpit. That teaching reached my young heart.

In Tallahassee, in 1952 we chose to join a small suburban church, University Heights Baptist because it was near the house we were renting. This church was also a one-room, white wooden frame with a steeple, but there were classrooms in the basement. No nursery was provided so the worship service sounds included the cooing and babbling of babies and small children. Our youngest sat in my lap, and our four-year-old sat by his dad.

A hymn often sung by the congregation was “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” As the chorus ended, our youngest without fail sat up straight in my lap and crooned his own interpretation. Slightly off-key he sang, “NEENING, NEENING.” (I suspected this might have been the reason the song leader chose this hymn so frequently.) The membership of this church was so few in number that the very young pastor built a large fishing boat on the church lot; this boat transported many of the men for an afternoon of fishing in the Gulf of Mexico!

And then in 1957, there was a third small church I have loved—Shades Mountain Baptist Church, not the imposing widespread church you see today on Columbiana Road, but the small white structure which in its later years has been known as Miller Chapel. Here our youngest son heard the plan of salvation and was baptized in the tiny baptistery. Here the church children wore little white robes with blue bows and sang about Jesus’ love. The message of “Go Ye Into All the World” was proclaimed from the small pulpit. The ladies of the Woman’s Missionary Union supported the mission emphasis. This became the very foundation for the strong mission ideals of the Big Church Today!

Old Country Church at Tannehill State Park, built 1905 was Kimbrell Methodist, Eastern Valley Road

Old Country Church at Tannehill State Park, built 1905 was Kimbrell Methodist, Eastern Valley Road

There have been interspersed among our small churches the larger ones which helped our family in its journey of faith: First Baptist, Bowling Green, Kentucky; Emmanuel Baptist Church, Lexington, Kentucky; Ruhama Baptist in Birmingham; and the present Shades Mountain Baptist —but it is my small ones I have loved!


I can still take you today to the small Rocky Hill church; I can still show you the University Heights Baptist Church—but I can no longer show you Miller Chapel. On a warm morning in September 2008, in the name of progress, its walls came tumbling down. The good memories of that little church remain.

Progress, sometimes, is painful!…. This was evidenced by the tears that fell on that September morning.


Faith and Courage: 2nd edition -A Novel of Colonial America In this action-packed novel, George Willson witnesses the execution of King Charles II and is forced to leave the woman he loves to witch hunters in 17th century England as he flees to his sister, Mary, and her husband Ambrose Dixon’s home in Colonial American. Ridden with guilt over difficult decisions he made to survive, George Willson and the Dixon’s embrace the Quaker faith which further creates problems for their existence in the New World.


Highly recommended! Mary Robinson




  1. Thank you for showing the Grace Episcopal Church in Clayton, Al.
    This wonderful old piece of architecture is only used once a year by the Camellia Garden Club of Clayton. A very beautiful candlelight Every Light of Prayer service to honor the veterans of all our wars is held then. As in the days of old, no electricity, just beautiful candlelight and and period decorations.

  2. I have been influenced by small country churches in Alabama. I got saved in one at the age of 9 up around Russellville and married in one that my father-in-law preaches at in Selfville. While I enjoy praise and worship music, there is nothing quite like singing an old fashioned hymn in a small country church.

  3. A group called the Coopers Cousins has formed to save the beautiful old Chestnut Creek Baptist Church building. This church is located on a hill between Clanton and Verbena just off Hwy 31.

    1. Send me more information about the church and how to join/contribute to the group and I’ll include the info on AP and in the newsletter. Good luck!

  4. No, but a school like this! 1st grade to 8th grade was taught . I only went to the 7th grade there. Learned a lot! At first I thought it was a joke! but when I left I missed it. God was working!

  5. Yes, I did go to a small church like this as a child. It was called Four Square Church. I think it only held about ten to fifteen people.

  6. What was the reason for the two separate doors (one for men one for women)? This was all part of the Yankee (Federal Government) Reconstruction Program after the War Between The States (aka-The Civil War). They thought that men were better than women. When prior to the war, most Southerners thought highly of women and placed them on a pedestal. Just a part of the indoctrination that was used.
    Sad to see that 15 years later what there ideas have lead too.

  7. I would like to know the name of the woman who sang LEANING ON THE EVERLASTING ARMS so beautifully, please.

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