Berea Church of Christ
Fayette County, Alabama
BEREA CHURCH OF CHRIST:
The First 150 Years
About three miles south of Glen Allen, and just off of Alabama Highway 129, in the Hubbertville community, stands the meetinghouse of the Berea Church of Christ. The original meetinghouse, which was built in 1842, was located on the banks of Stud Horse Creek, a few hundred yards from the location of the present building. The building site was moved to its current location, about a half mile from the banks of the Sipsey River in northern Fayette County, after fire destroyed the original meetinghouse. The land where the building now stands was given to the church by William Franklin McCaleb, who was an ancestor to several of the present members of the Berea congregation. Some adjoining land was later given to the church by Felix Hallmark, who was a deacon of the Berea church until his death in 1966.
The church at Berea had its beginning in 1830 when Hugh White McCaleb moved from North Carolina with his family. They settled in Fayette County and lived on the land presently occupied by the Berea meetinghouse. Hugh was the father of William Franklin McCaleb, who donated the land for the meetinghouse. According to Avis Haney Lawrence, a great granddaughter of Willie Franklin McCaleb, in her History of the Berea Church of Christ, the meetinghouse now being used is the third one to stand on the present site, and the fourth one since the beginning of the Berea church. As stated, the original meetinghouse, which was located on the banks of Srud Horse Creek, was destroyed by fire. The first meetinghouse on the present site was demolished by a storm, and the second was torn down to make way for the present building.
In 1959 the church borrowed $8,000 in order to have enough money to build the original phase of the present building. It was able to build the building at a substantial savings by virtue of the fact that most of the labor was donated by members and friends of the congregation. Others made donations of money, though such donations were not solicited. Felix Hollingswonh, an excellent carpenter, was hired to oversee and work on the project. R. G. Bryan did the masonry work. The debt on the building was repaid in about six years. Then four years later, in 1969, it became necessary to add an additional four classrooms. It was not necessary for the congregation to go in debt again for this addition. It had the money in its treasury to do the job, and hired U. L. Long as builder. This completed building, constructed with masonry walls and floors, and veneered with brick, has served the church well up to the present. It has a total floor space of about 6,500 square feet, with an auditorium that seats approximately two hundred. It is believed that the Hugh McCalebs, who started the church at Berea, were Presbyterians when they lived in North Carolina. Just when and how they learned the truth and obeyed the gospel we cannot be sure. It is likely that the first gospel preacher to preach at Berea was John McCaleb, one of the older sons (if not the oldest) of Hugh White McCaleb and his wife, Elizabeth Halbrooke McCaleb. John evidently was already doing some preaching when the family arrived in Alabama from North Carolina. According to one source, it was about nine years from the time the McCalebs left Stokes County, North Carolina unril they finally sertled in Fayette Counry, Alabama. Records indicate, however, that one of their children was born in Morgan County, Alabama, some five years before they sertled in Fayette County. They obviously became Christians after the New Testament order some time during their sojourn on the way to what is now Berea.
If the information available is correct, the Berea church is probably the third oldest church of Christ in the state of Alabama. The Rocky Springs church near Bridgeport predates it by about two decades, and the church at Moulton seems to have come into existence about four years before Hugh McCaleb brought his family to Fayette County. It was thought by some that the church in Mooresville. Alabama predated the church at Berea by a few years, but according to a very reliable source. the Mooresville church was not started until 1851. (Editor's Note: The church at Stoney Point in Lauderdale County was established as early as 1824, making Berea perhaps the fourth oldest church.)
We have been able to find Out very little about Berea from the time when the church was started in 1830 until the late 1870's. We do know that two of Hugh McCaleb's granddaughters, the daughters of his son Andrew. married men who were preachers at the time of their marriage. or later became preachers. They were Jim Wade and Virgil Randolph. Some can still remember that in the early days of this cenrury brother Wade would go in a buggy from his home near Berea to preach at Bear Creek, a distance of more than thitty miles. Andrew McCaleb, son of Hugh McCaleb, died on the morning of July 2. 1899. James S. Wood. gospel preacher of Glen Allen, wrote a tribute to him which was published in the Gospel Advocate. The tribute said in pan, "Of the many meetings which it has been my privilege to attend at Berea church house. I do not remember to have ever attended one (and I have missed but few during the last thirty years) when Uncle Andrew was not there; and he contributed liberally to the support of the gospel."
There is a record kept of the names of those who have become members of the church at Berea, and this record dates back to 1876. The name of Andrew McCaleb, who was baptized in 1876, is the first one on the list. This is probably Andrew Jackson McCaleb, the grandson of Hugh McCaleb, and the father of Kate McCaleb. who became the wife of Houston Haney. A great deal of the history of the church at Berea centers around brother Houston Davis (Huse) Haney. He was named for Sam Houston and Jefferson Davis. Brother Haney was not a member of the church when he married Andrew Jackson McCaleb's daughter, Kate. Neither was Kate. According to the Berea membership record, Mrs. Houston Haney was baptized in 1898. Her husband was not baptized until eight years later, in 1906. He began preaching at Berea some time during the 1920's and continued until 1967, just a few years before his death.
Brother Haney was a man who knew the Book, and it is said that he had a memory like an elephant. Some say he remembered the birth dates of practically all those who were born after he began preaching at Berea. He was a lovable character, but also very outspoken. Brother V. P. Black, who has preached in numerous meetings at Berea, tells of one meeting in which he preached. and he says there were a large number of people who responded to the invitation on the closing night of the meeting. Brother Haney arose. and said something like this: "Brother Black. I believe if the Lord were to come tonight we'd all go to heaven. But wait six months. and I don't know. I've seen this bunch warmed over before."
Brother Wiley Hollingsworth also served as evangelist with the Berea church for a number of years. Both he and brother Haney served as elders in the Berea church, and both are buried in the cemetery at Berea.
Another man who served the Berea church in the capacity of both evangelist and elder was brother W. S. (Vester) Thompson. Brother Thompson was probably best known as author of the book, Tories of the Hills. He was also the author of a commentary of the Book of Revelation.
Other preachers who have preached at Berea on a regular basis include Lyndell Fikes, Alton Hayes. Dale Hubbert, Scott McCaleb, Gary White, and Tony Demonbreun. The present evangelist is brother Lonnie Gant.
Many well-known preachers have preached in meetings at Berea. The list includes C. A. Wheeler, Gus Nichols, V. P. Black, Curtis Posey, Chester Estes, G. A. Dunn, John O'Dowd, Jack Wilhelm, Marshall Wyers, James Wyers, Carl Russell, Charles McDonald, Wayne Jackson, Don McWhorter, and W.A. Black. Brother W.A. Black preached in no fewer than sixteen meetings at Berea, and during the period from 1942 to 1946 he preached in a meeting every year at Berea. Some rural churches never get around to developing men who can be appointed as elders. As far as we are able to determine, the Berea church has had elders all the time from the time the church was started, with John McCaleb's being one of the first. You will remember that he was the preacher son of Hugh McCaleb. There is no record of who served with him. The present elders are Wyman Jones, Clarence McCaleb, John Moore, and Phillip Webster. Others who have served as elders since 1927 include John Hollingsworth, Andrew McCaleb, and Columbus Stough, in addition to Houston Haney, Wiley Hollingsworth, and W. S. Thompson, who were also preachers.
Those who have served as deacons during the period from 1900 to the present include Vaughn McCaleb, Felix Hallmark, Clarence McCaleb, Fred Morris, John Moore, Ronnie Sprinkle, and David Chaffin. The Berea church is a mission minded congregation, having supported mission activities in India, Africa, Poland, Russia, and other pans of the Ukraine. It has also made many special contributions to other mission works, as well as to building funds for numerous churches. For many years the church has contributed to assist Wayne Jackson of Stockton, California in the publication of the Christian Courier. It has also assisted men attending schools of preaching, and has contributed to assist the Bible departments in several Christian colleges. Childhaven in Cullman has been supported by Berea on a regular basis for many years. In addition to all this, the Berea church has a history for responding in a very positive way to natural disasters such as the floods in Missouri, and the hurricanes and tornadoes in Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama. Many local families with major health problems or loss of property by fire or storm have been helped by the Berea church.
In the late seventies and eighties the Berea church sponsored 42 Vietnamese refugees, providing housing, furniture, appliances, clothing, and household goods. These refugees were assisted by the members of the church in obtaining jobs. The church also obtained a local teacher to teach the English language to them in their homes and to tutor their children in their school work. On one occasion the services of a Chinese evangelist was secured to teach them the gospel of Christ.
All of these refugees have now moved to other pans of the country, and are gainfully employed, supporting their families well. Four of the families even have businesses of their own, such as service stations, restaurants, and fish markets. Most of the families now own their own homes.
The Berea church is a very close-knit family. In 1976 a group photograph of the entire congregation was made at the meetinghouse, and each family received an eight by ten, or eleven by fourteen enlargement of the photograph. This was done again in 1995, with every family receiving a ten by twelve copy of the photograph. Recently an effort was made to compile a list of all those who are now deceased and who were at one time members of the church at Berea. So far the list includes about three hundred names. This list is available to those who wish to have it.
The earliest financial records available are from the early 1930's. During that period the weekly contribution usually ran from one to two dollars. Occasionally it would rise above two dollars; with about the same degree of regularity it would fall below one dollar. Presently the contribution is averaging around $450.00 per week, with an average attendance of around sixty. No church that has existed for any length of time has existed without some problems. But according to those furnishing the information for this brief history, Berea has never had a problem that ended in a major division.
Berea's past has been fruitful. The congregation has maintained its fidelity to God and His Word for 150 years. Its leaders have always seen to it that no error is allowed to creep in and lead people away from the faith. The prayer of all is that the same kind of faithfulness will continue to characterize the Berea church. Only eternity will be able to measure the great amount of good done by the Berea Church of Christ during the past century and a half.
-Written by Bobby Duncan December 1995
(The writer wishes to thank two very delightful ladies who spent an afternoon answering questions and furnishing information for this brief history: sisters Avis Lawrence and Carrie McCaleb. He wishes also to thank brother Clarence McCaleb for his phone calls and correspondence. Without the help of these three people the job could not have been done.)
The meetinghouse of the Berea church of Christ in Fayette County, Alabama, has a plaque on the front of the building that states the church began in 1845. I believe this is in error and that the church actually began meeting some fifteen years earlier in 1830.
Recently we have been able to find several letters and reports to some of the brotherhood papers of an earlier time, written in the 1870's and 80's by Jeremiah and Lorenzo Randolph and later by their brother Simeon as well as the McCalebs, that verify some points that have been assumed but never confirmed about the conversion of the McCalebs and their relationship with the Randolph family as well as the beginnings of the Berea Church .. One of Jeremiah's letters confirms that his father Elisha Randolph, John Mulkey and other preachers were in Morgan County, Alabama as early as 1825 (This is some ten years earlier than most researchers believed the Gospel was preached in Morgan County) .. They held several camp meetings and established two or three small congregations. One of these congregations was in the mountain community, South of Falkville and just across the line in what was Blount County and is today, Lacon, Cullman County, Alabama. This congregation was known as the Old Log Church. McCaleb family lore has it that Hugh's son in law, Robert Logan, was converted, likely at one of these camp meetings and consequently led the McCalebs and Lauderdales to the truth, probably under the preaching of Elisha Randolph. This would fit with the family stories about their conversion. These families would likely have been members of the Old Log Church, as it was near their settlement..
In late 1829 or early 1830, Hugh White McCaleb led his family to what is today, Northern Fayette County and they all entered land in what came to be called the Berea Community. This move included the Logans, McCalebs and the Lauderdales, Thomas and his Brother Robert. Their father, James Lauderdale and the rest of his family would follow the next year.
It must be assumed that they began meeting for worship services, either in Robert Logan's home or Hugh White McCaleb's home or possibly Thomas Lauderdale's, as soon as they were settled. John A. McCaleb, Hugh's oldest son soon began preaching and the Randolphs. Elisha and his son, Jeremiah, moving a short time later from Blount County and being settled nearby, would also preach for the group. There is also strong evidence that John Taylor, who had been preaching for the Baptist and had recently studied himself into the New Testament Gospel, was living in the general area and associated himself with these families as they met. Taylor may very well have been a member of the Old New River Primitive Baptist church. The early rolls of the Baptists list a family of Taylors as early members. L.D. Randolph, in an article in the Gospel Advocate, 1891, states that his father, Elisha Randolph was working with a small congregation in Fayette County and that "the beloved John Taylor, recently from the Baptists" was with them." Randolph was off on his dates (he stated around 1841 and it is believed that Taylor moved to Franklin County by 1840.) This would have been Berea, as it was the only church of Christ in Fayette County.
Taylor, who would become one of the most important preachers in Northwest Alabama, continued his close association with the Berea church for the rest of his life, some fifty years. Taylor also is the subject of some controversy as to when the Berea church started. In a report to the Gospel Advocate in 1860, he stated that "Berea was organized in 1859." I don't know how to correlate this statement with the other articles and reports that are included in this article. Taylor often reported that he had gone into a community and " re-organized" the church. Maybe the church had stopped meeting regularly or only met, as was the custom among many, when a preacher would come into the area to preach for them. He may have been referring to the new building that replaced the one from Stud Horse creek, or it could have simply been a misprint. Whatever the reason, the evidence is clear that the Berea church had been in existence long before Taylor's report in 1860. Brother Kimbrough will explore Taylor's involvement in a later issue.
Elisha Randolph moved his family to the area around 1832 and they settled near what is today the Fayette/Walker County line. His sons, Jeremiah, Lorenzo Dow and Simeon as well as his grandson, Virgil, would also play an important role for the next sixty years or so in the Berea Church.
The following statement signed by John McCaleb, Andrew McCaleb, A.C. McCaleb, Margaret McCaleb and J. Pinkney Whitehead, appeared in the Millennial Harbinger of December 11, 1870. "This is the oldest congregation of disciples in this region of country, has numbered over 100 members, some of us whose names are annexed have been Christians almost half a century, some have lived here (emphasis theirs) more than forty years, one an elder and preacher for more than a quarter of a century. "This statement leaves very little doubt that the Berea Church had been in existence for forty years at the time this was written in 1870. This would make its beginnings in 1830. Avis Haney Lawrence, great granddaughter of Andrew McCaleb, in her short history of the Berea church, concurs that the Berea church was founded about 1830. In an interview with Avis several years before her death, she told this writer that she believed the original building was built in the late 1830's or early 1840's and that it was located about one mile west of the current building Andrew McCaleb on Stud Horse Creek. That building burned and the congregation built near the present building. That building too was destroyed and a third structure was built and stood until the current building was built in 1959. She believed, as does this writer, that the members met in private homes until a building could be built, probably about 1840.
All of this leads one to conclude that indeed, the Berea church was the first congregation to be established between Moulton and Tuscaloosa. It was located near the Old Byler road which ran from the Tennessee Valley to Tuscaloosa. The road literally opened this section of Alabama for those migrating South from Tennessee and Kentucky. In addition, a later road was built that ran from Russellville thru the Berea community and New River directly to Tuscaloosa. The above statement from the Millennial Harbinger, makes it even more clear that Berea was the only congregation in that part of the country and also reinforces the belief that the older McCalebs obeyed the gospel about 1825, in Morgan County.
Thomas Thornton, who married one of Elisha Randolph's daughters, Orpha, was appointed an Elder and likely John A. McCaleb also. (the congregation met for a time in Thornton's home .. lew) John 's younger brother, Andrew, would also serve in that capacity as would Simeon Randolph, Newman McCollum and John Tyler McCaleb among others. Early members would include the leading families of Northern Fayette County. In addition to the Hugh McCaleb family, the Robert Logan family, Lauderdales, Thomas and his brother Robert, the Thomas Thornton family and a few years later the William Pickens Anthony's, the Isaac Perry family, the Joseph Whitehead family, Hollingsworths and others.
The church experienced steady growth over the next years. The following report was submitted to the Gospel Advocate 10/1867: Elder J. Fanning, On last evening, I reached here from attending a meeting at Berea, some 35 miles east of this point in Fayette County. The meeting began on Friday night and continued until Thursday night, the result of which was 46 accessions; 36 by confession and baptism, 10 otherwise. It was indeed a triumph of Truth over ignorance and sectarianism; Bro. J. Randolph came to our aid and was the chief speaker. To the Lord be the praise for ever and ever and ever. Amen. Just three months later this report was submitted to the Gospel Advocate. If there is a devoted brother in Tenn. seeking a field for ministerial labor, he can find it here. Should there be a preaching brother traveling the Byler Road, they will respectively be received at the church, Berea, five miles off the road west. The Brethren have well nigh completed a comfortable house for worship, at the place, Framed 30 by forty feet. (This would have been the second building..lew)
In this report to the Advocate the writer further stated that "the brethren at this place meet regularly for worship, Bible classes and vocal music Worshippers now 110." .. This would have been only two years removed from the Civil War during which the membership would have surely dropped and was during the time when the people of the community were destitute. To have this many members is amazing.
The Berea Church, at its peak, may very well have had over 200 members. In 1868 another meeting was held by Jeremiah Randolph, with twelve additions reported.
The Berea church's reputation and influence spread throughout the region. In 1859 a large cooperation meeting was held at Berea. Delegates from churches all over northwest Alabama attended, some from as far away as the Stoney Point church in Lauderdale County, the Russellville church, the church at Moulton and several others. The purpose of the meeting was to raise funds to put evangelists in the field to preach in hard pressed areas. This was accomplished and the next. meeting (1861) was to be held in Columbus, Mississippi. The war must have interfered with this one and a similar meeting was held at Berea in 1868. Details of these meetings were published in the Gospel Advocate. Questions regarding the scripturalness of these meetings was evidently raised and they ceased after 1870. The battle over the establishment of the American Christian Missionary Society had begun and it must have become apparent to the participants that they were doing the same thing on a much smaller scale. (I strongly suspect that Tolbert Fanning, who was a bitter foe of the Society, and J.M Pickens, also a foe, reminded them of this on some of their tours through the region..lew) Never the less, it points up the importance of the Berea church in the northern section of Alabama as well as the Northeastern region of Mississippi and the strong influence it wielded. Matt Hackworth, son of the lamented Nichodemus Hackworth of Lawrence and Morgan Counties preached for the Berea church often in the 1850's. Matt had two sisters that were members at Berea, Mary Ann Hackworth McCaleb, wife of John McCaleb and Sallie Ann Hackworth Morris, wife of Philemon Morris. Both these families were leading families at Berea for many years. Jim Wade, son-in-law of Andrew McCaleb, preached for the church for a number of years. He was one of the most respected and beloved preachers. Chester Estes would recall preaching in a meeting at Berea in the mid 1920's. with "Old Brother Wade" in attendance and sitting in a chair on the old bridge that crosses over New River witnessing the baptisms.
In 1874, J. M. Pickens preached in gospel meetings at Buttahatchee and at Berea. In reporting the meetings, he said: "Berea is an old church, planted many years ago, and chiefly by the labors of John Taylor, John McCaleb, Jeremiah Randolph and others. The congregation now numbers about one hundred and fifty members. We made many pleasant acquaintances. Among others, that of John McCaleb, a veteran and a pioneer in Alabama, whom we met here for the first title. Old Bro. Taylor was with us in both Virgil Randolph of the meetings and gave much valuable assistance." (Southern Christian Weekly, Aug. 20, 1874.)
James S. Wood filled the pulpit from the 1880's until 1900. He was raised at Berea, being the stepson of Joseph Pinkney Whitehead and a son in law of William Pickens Anthony. Virgil Randolph would preach for the church often, although he lived a few miles south in New River and would later preach regularly for the New River church after its establishment. In later years, Houston Haney preached regularly as did Wiley Hollingsworth and Wesley Thompson. Gus and Cary Nichols and their several brothers grew up in the community. Both men would hold meetings for the church in later years. The Berea church attracted some of the leading preachers in the brotherhood. A list of preachers who preached for this church over the years, reads like a "who's who" of the Restoration Movement. These names include the following: Elisha, Lorenzo D. and Jeremiah Randolph, Tolbert Fanning, Justus M. Barnes, John McCaleb, John Taylor, J.M. Pickens, F.B Srygley, Jimmy Wood, Jim Wade, Jesse Turner Wood, Gus A. Dunn, Virgil Randolph, Green Haley, James B. Nelson, Flavil Hall, Hal P. McDonald, E C. Fuqua, A. D. Dias, Chester Estes, Gus Nichols and the Blacks, V.P. and Willet. There were many others, of course.
The success of the Gospel meetings of that day are short of amazing. Some of the records of these meetings are available today and we quote some as follows: Sept. 1867- Jeremiah Randolph 7 day meeting- 36 baptisms Oct. 1896 Jimmy Wood & Jim Wade 27 baptisms Oct. 1914 -- James B. Nelson 7 day meeting 13 baptisms Oct. 1920 - Chester Estes 7 day meeting 11 baptisms 9 restored Oct. 1926 - Hal P. McDonald 5 day meeting 9 baptisms August 1934 - W.A. Black 7 day meeting 16 baptisms July 1942 W.A. Black 7 day meeting 21 baptisms July 1947 Gus Nichols 7 day meeting 21 baptisms.
The success of these meetings is a testament not only of the quality of the Berea membership but also to the quality of the preaching. Many of the twenty five or so congregations in Marion and Fayette Counties owe their beginnings to members from Berea who moved into the various communities and began churches or contributed to the local cause by their membership and work in the cause.
A few miles North of Berea in a quiet cemetery between Brilliant and Guin, Alabama lies the earthly remains of Robert and Jennie McCaleb Logan. Without Robert's desire to know the truth, Berea may never have been born. A few yards from the present building, on a hilltop overlooking the Sipsey River, lies Hugh White and Elizabeth Holbrook McCaleb keeping watch on their beloved Berea. A couple of miles south, in the cemetery at Hubbertville, Andrew and Leah McCaleb await the Saviour's call. Southeast two or three miles in the beautiful cemetery at New River, Jeremiah and Virgil Randolph and their devoted wives rest. All knowing that they gave their full measure for the Lord's cause in Fayette County. We can say to these gallant soldiers of the cross as the Navy bellman's call after 175 years ... " 175 bells and all is well.
-Larry Whitehead, Alabama Restoration Journal, 2006, Vol. 1, No. 2, p.12-14
Location Of Berea Church of Christ
Berea Church of Christ is located in Fayette County, Alabama. Located on County Road 50, it is situated in the northern part of the county. From Fayette head north on Hwy. 43. Turn right on Hwy. 102, then left on Hwy. 129. Follow 129 throught the town of Hubbertville. Carry on north until you come to Co. Rd. 50. Turn right and the church and cemetery will be on the left. Actual GPS location: 33°50'57.8"N 87°43'41.3"W / or D.d. 33.849388, -87.728131
Special Thanks to Jane McWhorter for seeing that I get a copy of the history made available on this site. In May, 2011 she showed me where her late husband and gospel preacher, Don McWhorter is buried. He is in this cemetery.