Greenbrier Baptist Church

1781-1911: One Hundred and Thirtieth Anniversary, Old Greenbrier Baptist Church
285.175488 O58 Pam.

One Hundred and Thirtieth Anniversary Sermon
Preached by the Pastor, Rev. Robert B. McDanel,
Sunday Morning, November 26, 1911.

Genesis 47:9 "And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, the days of the years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty years."

On the nineteenth day of October, 1781, on the historic soil of old Virginia, with the surrender of Cornwallis to Washington, there came to an end the most remarkable war of modern history, and the new American Republic entered on its great career. Thirty-six days after the surrender at Yorktown, this church was organized by a company of twelve Baptists who had settled in this almost wilderness. It was in 1777, four years before, when Rev. John Alderson came into this country and took up a tract of 1750 acres of land on the south side of the Greenbrier River. At the same time William Morris, his brother-in-law, took up a tract of the same size on the north side of the river. The site of John Alderson's home was where now stands the cottage next to and west of the Alderson Hotel. There he lived for many years. After the death of his wife he went to live with. his son, Joseph, who occupied the old stone house now owned by Bro. Joseph Thurmond, and in that house he died March 5, 1821, on his 83rd birthday. It was a great country to which he came in 1777. He had journeyed over the mountains from Rockingham County on two missionary trips into this valley of the Greenbrier before he came finally to settle. Like Abraham of old, he was called into a new country, not to be founder of a new nation, but to be the pioneer and herald of all Christian work in this entire section, and when this church was organized on November 24, 1781, it was the first church of any denomination in what is now all of southern West Virginia. At the beginning of the Revolutionary War there were about 30,000 people living in what is now the State of West Virginia. The present churches, Simpson's Greek and Forks of Cheat, organized in 1774 and 1775. Here we stood alone, a brave little band with sturdy convictions. Twelve members, a significant number: eight men and four women, and their names are surely immortal: John Alderson, Mary Alderson, Thomas Alderson, John Kippers, John Sheppherd, John Skaggs, Katherine Skaggs, Joseph Skaggs, Lucy Skaggs, Bailey Wood, Ann Wood and James Wood. In those early years the membership was scattered over a wide extent of territory. It is recorded in the minutes, July 26, 1788, that those who lived nigh were required to attend the services once a month. Those who lived within fifteen miles must come once a quarter, and those at further distance once a year. There were some difficulties about attending church services in those days. Very early in the history is mention made of Elder Alderson's missionary journeys. Before the eighteenth century closed we find him preaching down on the Kanawha river. While I have not the facts of history at hand, I have always supposed that he had something to do with the organization of the Old Kanawha Church at Pratt in 1793. Mention is made of preaching on Gauley River, as well as all the points near at hand. It is no wonder then that this church has always been a missionary church, it was born in a distinctly missionary epoch and lived in a distinctly missionary environment. And it is to be noted with special pride that in all these years we have never faltered in our missionary allegiance. The decade from 1835 to 1845 was a trying time of defection, when the division came between the so called Primative [sic] or Hard Shell Baptists, and those who believed in evangelism and missionary benevolence. Right here in West Virginia churches were rent asunder, and for awhile the breach was serious. But truth won. and today the "Hardshells" number all together only a little over 100,000. Not a particle of that anti-missionary heresy ever struck Old Greenbrier Church, no more than the great oak is moved by the summer zephyrs. We are indeed a missionary Baptist Church.

Notice the phenomenal growth of American Baptists. At the beginning of the Revolutionary War they numbered less than ten thousand. It is improbable that they increased very much during the war, because of the troubled times. In 1792, when our church was eleven years old, the number of American Baptists was 35,100. In 1800, they were estimated at 100,000. In 1850, they numbered 815,200, and and the figures in our Year Book for 1911 are 5,283,000. Can we not with real pride and gratitude say, what hath God wrought? Surely no other denomination can show such remarkable growth! That period of expansion in which we were organized was the era that made this great advance possible, and I am so glad to know that this dear old church came to the kingdom for just such a time, and that it was one of the factors of that expansion. We led the way in this section, and in the territory where 130 years ago there was this one church of twelve members, there are now nearly 300 churches and more than 22,000 members. "There shall be a handful of corn in the earth upon the top of the mountain; the fruit thereof shall be like Lebanon."

This church was organized at a peculiarly favorable time. The war for independence was over, and the colonies had won. Over on this side of the mountains was out of the track of war, and everything was conducive to peace. Over in Virginia the battle for religious liberty waged by the Baptists had not yet been fully won, but the tide was then turning in our favor. Men like Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and James Madison had risen to champion the Baptist cause. Here on our side of the state there was no persecutions of Baptists. West Virginia's motto was even then true: "Montani Semper Liberi," "Mountaineers are always free." Before the eighteenth century was out the Virginia Legislature repealed all obnoxious laws of religious oppression, and all religious bodies were placed on an equality before the law. Organized as we were at the time of Cornwallis's surrender, and before religious liberty was fully established, we have really been contemporary with all the movements of American Baptists. We have seen it all. We came into being at a strategic hour in history. The clock had struck for a great movement forward and with the first sound of it the Baptists whee'ed into the very front line. It was a marvelous growth of our denomination that began immediately following the Revolution, and this church was in at the beginning. Dr. Riley says, "More rapid headway was gained by the Baptists of the South in the periods immediately succeeding the Revolution, by reason of the thorough accord of the policy of Baptist churches with the genius of the government and the republican spirit of the masses. If Baptists did much toward achieving American independence, the consumation of that event in turn did much for their denominational expansion."

In the matter of denominational education we have made gigantic strides. 130 years ago we had just one Baptist school, Brown University at Providence, R. I., called then Rhode Island College. This church was 34 years old before the next Baptist College was founded, Colby, at Waterville, Maine. Richmond College is the oldest Baptist College south of the Mason and Dixon line, and it was established in 1832, when this church was 51 years old, and in the the same year that Rev. James O. Alderson, third pastor of this church, died. The oldest Baptist Academy in the United States is the Hebron in Maine, organized in 1804. The oldest Baptist Academies in the South are the Hearne Academy at Cave Springs, Georgia, and Hollins Institute in Virginia, founded in 1839 and 1842. And now after 130 years, see what we have: 184 institutions, academies, colleges, universities; more than 50,000 students in these institutions, and listen, property including endowment, valued at almost $75,000,000! Again see what God hath wrought! We had not a single charitable institution 130 years ago. Today we have more than 40 orphan's homes, homes for the aged, and hospitals situated in various parts of the country. There were no Baptist papers or periodicals 130 years ago, and now they are everywhere. So far as is known the first Baptist paper published in America was one by Rev. Henry Holcomb, pastor of the Baptist Church in Savan[n]ah, Georgia, in 1802. It lived but a brief time. The oldest Baptist weekly is the "Watchman" of Boston, established in 1819. The Religious Herald of Richmond began in 1828.

This church has had the unique distinction of contributing to missions through the old Triennial Convention, the Boards of the Southern Baptist Convention, and now the missionary societies connected with the Northern Baptist Convention. The first foreign mission society of American Baptists was the Triennial Convention organized in 1814, just after Judson went to Burma as a Congregational missionary but become a Baptist on the voyage through his study of the New Testament. The Triennial Convention was followed by the organization of the Publication Society in 1824, and the Home Mission Society in 1832. The organization of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845 was a direct effect of the agitation of the slavery question. The story is too long to be told on this occasion. It was one of the advance guns of the Civil War. But let it be clearly and fully understood that the Baptists never split into two distinct and opposing branches as did some other denominations. There were made then, and still are, both Southern and Northern Conventions, but we are all one people. What was said in the first meeting of the Southern Convention in 1845, was true then and is true now: "Northern and Southern Baptists are still brethren. They differ in no article of faith. They are guided by the same principles of gospel order." The Southern Baptists believe they had a right to withdraw from the missionary organization, and now after all these years, who denies that right? So, for the years after the Southern Convention was organized until West Virginia was created a separate state, our church was affiliated with the Southern Boards. After the year 1865, West Virginia Baptists have been connected in all their missionary work with the Northern Baptist Convention, so that Greenbrier Church has lived through the three administrations, and seen all the changes.

Some members of this church have been honored with positions of political honor. Joseph Alderson, son of Elder John, and an honored deacon of the church; was a member of the Virginia Legislature, in the lower house, for six terms, between the years 1824 and 1833. Our brother, Senior Deacon George Alderson, was elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates for the session of 1885. John G. Lobban was a Senator from 1883 to 1887, and George Alderson, Jr.. was a member of the House of Delegates for the two sessions of 1903 and 1905.

So like the old patriarch, Jacob, we can speak of the one hundred and thirty years of our pilgrimage. We have seen great changes and great developments. Let us be sure that we give God all the glory, both for what He has done for our own church and our denomination. The twelve members of 130 years ago now number more than five hundred. Surely God has wrought greatly. We have great reason to be proud of our church. We have been singluarly [sic] blessed. In all these years there has been no breach or division in our body. There has never arisen any question that has marred the peace of the body. Harmony and good will have been characteristic of the one hundred and thirty years. No false doctrine has ever come in to make chism and strife, but on and on, steadily, unswervingly, as true as the needle to the pole, the church has moved on, sound in the faith once delivered to the saints. It is a position of honor to be the pastor of such a church. It is a sacred heritage that we enjoy. We stand on holy ground. In our churchyard sleeping are the bodies of the holy men and women who have labored here, and have entered upon their reward. A great part of the host have crossed the flood. Do they not call on us today for faithful service? Shall we not be worthy of our fathers? There are so many members in this church who are the children of the generations preceding, all of them in this church fellowship. Up to this morning I have baptized 143 into membership in this church since I became your pastor. 67 of them were the descendents of members of the church, members now living and others long since gone. Brethren, it is a great record. I rejoice in it. So do you. I'm proud of our church, and so are you. I consider it a great honor to be the pastor of such a church, made up of such a loyal people. But God make us more consecrated, more Christlike, as we stand here today, with our thoughts on the past and our faces toward the future.


A feeling prevails in the hearts of our people that every five years there should be a special celebration of the anniversary of our organization. Accordingly the arrangements for this 130th anniversary were entrusted, by vote of the church, to the pastor and the deacons.

The services of the anniversary began on Sunday, November 26. It was a beautiful day of bright sunshine, and for the time of year could not have been better. A great congregation gathered at the church for the morning service. It was pleasing to the eye as the people entered the door and saw the decorations that had been arranged by Miss Emma Alderson's skil[l]ful hands. On the wall behind the pulpit over the doors leading into the rear rooms were the figures in evergreens "1781" and "1911." Just below these dates were figures "12" and "506" in gilt, representing the membership in the beginning and at the present. Suspended over the baptistery were gilt figures "130," representing the one hundred and thirty golden years between the two dates. On the wall over the baptistery arch was the motto: "See what God hath wrought." The pulpit platform was still further beautified by ferns and pink carnations, the whole decoration showing exquisite beauty and taste. In connection with this morning service, the letters from former pastors were read.

The afternoon fellowship service was a great occasion. After reading the old covenant, which was adopted by the church the day it was organized, the pastor gave the hand of fellowship to forty new members, and nearly two hundred participated in the ordinance of the Lord's Supper.

At the night service the pastor began a series of evangelistic sermons on the "Prodigal Son," and the day was concluded with a baptismal service.

Monday night, November 27, was "interdenominational" night. A large and representative audience was present. Rev. J. M. Sloan and Mr. E. Chase Bare very happily expressed the greetings of the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches of Alderson. Rev. R. B. Hudson, pastor of the Mount Pleasant Presbyterian Church at Sinks Grove, made the address of the evening. He spoke with force and eloquence on the strength of the church and that its power was in its faith in God. It was a forcible presentation of a great truth.

Tuesday night, November 28, was "Baptist" night. Rev. H. S. Hall of the Baptist Church of Hinton, Moderator of Greenbrier Association made an address, and Rev. W. F. Dunaway, Jr., of Beckley, spoke on "Oar Mission as Baptists." Both of these addresses were sound deliverances concerning our faith and doctrine.


Shelby, N. C., 21 Nov., 1911.

To the Greenbrier Baptist Church,
Remembered and Beloved.
Greeting: -

God has brought your great church to her one hundred and thirtieth milestone, making an appropriate time to pause and consider the way over which you have come, and the great men, both clerical and lay, who have entered into the joy of their Lord, and the fragrance of whose piety and labor lingers upon you as an abiding benediction

I, your servant in the years agone - fragrant, blessed years! - long to be with you in your commemoration; but it may not be that I can be there in bodily presence. But I am with yon, and shall always be with you, in the higher and more blessed communion of the Spirit.

With what unutterable gratitude to God and to you, I recall your patient charity, as you forgave sometimes, and overlooked sometimes, the callow utterances of a young man like I was then, who dared to walk in the pastorate after John Alderson, the venerable and the venerated, and after a long line of other sainted men in the ministry.

The shadows upon my day are growing rapidly longer, even as I write. But I want to tell you, in the sweet confidence of an abiding love of you and yours, that I am not afraid as the shadows lengthen

My earnest wish for you, and my prayer to God is, that more and more, as the years go on, you may reflect the teachings and spirit of the Lord Jesus in all your life and activity.

Give my personal love to each and to all of the Old Guard in your membership and to their children for their sake. In the humble hope of a blessed Immortality, I am,

Yours in the Master's work,
Bayless Cade.

Bushnell, Fla., Nov. 16th, 1911.
Greenbrier Baptist Church,
Alderson, W. Va.,

Dear Brethren: -

Though far away I am with you in heart today Memories of the early days come to mind One hundred and thirty years! Father Alderson and the others laid the foundations, others built and you are now building thereon. Their work proved permanent. May yours be also. Let not chaff or stubble or untempered mortar enter the walls. You are building not only for all time, but in a higher sense for eternity. The eyes of heaven look down upon you today and expect every one to do his duty May your work be worthy of the "Well done" we hope to hear when we enter into rest

My health is good for a man of sixty-three I hope to meet you again. If not here, then hereafter. ''God be with you till we meet again."

Yours in His name,
M. A. Kelley.

Atoka, Okla, Nov. 21, 1911.
Greenbrier Baptist Church,
Alderson, W. Va.

Dear Members and Friends: -

Thanks for the kind invitation from your good pastor, for a message from one of the former pastors, in this another happy milestone reached in your honored history.

While we take delight in writing, how much more we would enjoy looking into your faces - the very thought makes me smile.

Long as mind shall last, the most pleasant thoughts will linger of the time we had the honor to serve our Christ as your pastor and friend. In those days we felt his leading hand, and, thank God, you in your changes and we in our changes have felt the same leading and loving hand. We rejoice with you that Pastor McDanel is your pastor and is honored of God in seeing great things accomplished by your united efforts We rejoice as we read of the higher climbing in giving in the name of Christ to state, home and foreign work The true and growing church is the church that breathes the air of her Lord and Master and hears: "Go ye therefore and teach all nations." A blessing will come to the individual and church who in all ways will obey the Divine call.

Greenbrier church has the widest field, not only working at home but through the many scholars who come to the Alderson Academy, in helping to influence and shape their lives, not only for Christ but for the largest service. Last week we attended the Oklahoma State Convention. Mrs. Killian was at the ear one morning and I was talking (as usual) and I heard a voice saying, "I thought that was Mr. Killian" and there shaking my hand was Miss Mary Brown, one of your girls, who now is working among the Indians, and they say that she is doing well, indeed. I tell you we had a good old chat and soon she and Mrs. Killian had a fine time.

Each of us send our love and best wishes and assurance of our continued prayers for the BEST YEARS FOR THE OLD AND HONORED GREENBRIER BAPTIST CHURCH AND ITS NOBLE PASTOR. While we could not stop to see you while coming West we hope to see you another time and stay longer.

May the Anniversary Day bring cheer to your hearts and give you new desires and larger hopes for the coming year and years.

Mrs. Killian joins me in sending our very best wishes, I am

Your one time pastor and all time friend,

Orangeburg, S. C., November 21, 1911.

To the Members of the Greenbrier Baptist Church,

Alderson, W. Va.
My dear Brethren: -

I send you greeting and Christian love upon this, the occasion of your One Hundred and Thirtieth Anniversary.

What a history has been yours. Your sagacious fathers built better than they knew. Providence has favored you with a long and honorable career. Today you stand strong in numbers, strong in influence and strong in organization But the measure of your worth is not in these but rather in the service you have rendered to God and man. The seeking of lost souls at home and abroad has been your consuming passion and your love for the lost has received a noble response in the hundreds who have been added to your fellowship

The reports of your work, which from time to time reach me, are thrilling to a degree. The grace of God has abounded toward you and in the midst of rejoicing you should return thanks to the Father of Lights for his many and wonderous blessings which have rested upon you as a church.

The present pastorate is doubtless the most prosperous in your history, and I thank God for the gift to you of a noble, strong, consecrated and loyal pastor, who has made as his own, the sorrows, burdens, hopes and dreams of your life

As I write these lines precious memories come to me of vanished days. You, my brethren, were my first love and I shall never cease to thank God for that arrangement of Providence by which I came to you, and I record with great pleasure the fact that from the very beginning you were patient, sympathetic, generous and loyal to me as your pastor.

I have not forgotten you; no, not for a single day, and even now I say with Israel of old in the house of bondage, "If I forget thee, oh Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning." Eagerly do I receive all tidings from you and what joy of heart has been mine on hearing of your faithfulness in the service of the King.

How well I loved you you will never know. The happiest hours of my life were when I stood in the public service and looked into your faces. I see you now, though far away. It ia the hour of morning worship. A holy hush has fallen upon the earth as you reach out your hands unto the Father. The loving eyes of Christ look on you and he stretches out his hand to lift you up to himself and his own words of loving sympathy are spoken again unto you, "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest " Then you throw all your burdens down at the foot of the cross and the peace that passeth all understanding enters your soul.

In short my brethren, "I thank my God upon every remembrance of you. Always in every prayer of mine making request with joy for your fellowship in the gospel, from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will pe[r]form it until the day of Jesus Christ. * * * And this I pray that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment. That ye may approve things that are excellent, that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Jesus Christ."

"Finally brethren whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." "Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ."


Henderson, N. C., November 21, 1911.

Dear Brother McDanel:

It is a pleasure to send you a word of greeting in connection with the 130th anniversary of the founding of the old church. I can scarcely realize, however, that five years have passed since we celebrated its 125th anniversary.

On first thought I was inclined to feel that you were establishing a precedent for too frequent celebrations of this event. After some reflection I changed my mind. Once in five years is not too often to pause to erect a milestone and take an inventory of the lessons from the past. It is worth while to keep before us the fact that we are making history, and the work should be all the better for a little voluntary attention. Then, it is impossible to understand the present or to predict the future without a knowledge of the past. Only the man who recognizes the solidarity of history can interpret individual events.

I have said so much in former years concerning the church's past that I shall now confine myself to its present and its future. I desire to congratulate the church upon the achievements of the past five years, so far as these fall within the present pastorate. I have rejoiced in the numerical growth of the church as an indication of its increased capacity for service to the community We have abandoned the idea of the church as an ark or a city of refuge We think of it instead as an organization for serving God through our service for men. What an influence ought such a membership as yours exert upon the whole community! What a power it can wield when it truly realizes that its mission is not to be ministered unto but to minister!

I have been gratified to note that the people of the communities about the town have more and more shown their willingness to co-operate with the central church and do their work through the one organization. I trust that they will continue this policy, and will spend no money in the erection of church buildings except for school purposes Their public worship can be done in one central church. The enlightened Christian sentiment of the age is condemning our former reckless expenditure of money in erecting and adorning mere houses of prayer. We are at last seeing clearly that our church buildings must be adapted to the worship of God through a ministry to the needs of His children. The temple, the mosque, and the cathedral are monuments of ages that said "Lord, .Lord," but neither understood nor performed the things which he commanded. I shall rejoice when the Old Greenbrier is able to erect a working plant adequate for her growing needs She is doing this now in the equipment of the Academy, which I trust will ever remain a vital part of the church's life and work

In congratulating the church upon its past achievements and its future prospects I would not forget the workers who have fallen by the wayside, ere the goal had been reached. Some of these have fallen since I left you One, whose name the church must write high in the list of its faithful, passed out of the race just a few days ago. "These all, having had witness borne to them through their faith received not the promise " But they have contributed their part, as we may do. Some day the work will be done, and in its completion and completeness the workers shall rejoice together.

With my prayers for the success of the church in its work for the coming of the kingdom and the King, I remain,

Very sincerely yours,



Robert B. McDanel.

George Alderson,
A. J. Jones,
D. W. Smith,
J. P. Bobbitt,
E. C. Flint,
Dr. A. Huffman,
J. M. Alderson,
J. L. Kincaid,
T. M. Reynolds,
John Huffman.

W W. Stevens.

Dr. J. H. A. Miller.

George J. Thompson.

George Alderson,
W. W Stevens,
E. C. Flint,
Dr A Huffman,
A. J. Jones,
J. N. Lobban.