EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was recently published in the Dothan Eagle’s Wiregrass Pride 2019 edition. It’s now being shared on a variety of our digital and social media platforms.
Every Sunday, members and visitors attending Smyrna Baptist Church fill the church pews. But, very few of those in attendance know the true history of the 154 year-old church.
Smyrna Baptist Church sits off the heavily traveled Hwy. 52 East. The church opened its doors to residents in the Smyrna community back in 1865, shortly after the Civil War.
“It was agreed between the charter members to call the church Smyrna, after the one of the seven churches of Asia listed in the book of Revelations,” said Deacon Charles Cherry. “Records show our first church was built in 1865. It was made of logs and had a dirt floor. Prior to the construction of the log church, church meetings were held under a bush arbor.”
Because records have been lost over the years, it is unclear how long members gathered in the log church before their frame structure was built. Past church records show that during and just after the Civil War, the spiritual and physical welfare of the slaves was the responsibility of their masters. After the war, slaves took the names of their master, and Smyrna Baptist Church is one of the churches in the area that had slaves attend during and after the war. A special wagon would transport the slaves to church and places in the church were provided for the slaves to hear the preaching.
Although there is no recorded document that exists from that time, it is believed at least one slave is buried in the Smyrna Cemetery.
According to church documents, the late J.J. Dawsey donated land for the first frame structure of Smyrna Church to be built. Dawsey also labored many hours in assisting in the building of the frame structure. Dawsey passed away in 1871.
The first frame structure (actually the second church) was destroyed by a storm in 1882. The second structure (actually the third church), a two-story building with an outside staircase was constructed. The second story of the building was used for a Grange Hall, which was a local farmer’s organization.
The building served the members of the church for roughly 50 years, before that building was nearly destroyed by fire.
“One cold Sunday afternoon in the early 1930s, Everett Posey, a member back then, came to church early to start a fire in the heater, but the roof was very dry and soon the building was on fire,” said long-time church member Roger Folkes. Luckily, Mr. Posey managed to get out through the roof loft and extinguished the fire.”
In the 1930s the Smyrna community built on the church property a building that was used for Home Demonstrations, 4-H Club meetings and community gatherings. In 1948, the building was converted into a pastorium and an educational building which educated students through the third-grade.
In future years an annex was added to house classrooms. Plans for the current church building began in 1963 with the first service being held on Dec. 6, 1964.
Folkes can also remember members talking in years past, that the two story church was built before stoke laws was created. Goats that were loose back then would sleep on the stairs of the church, he said.
“Over the years I can remember older members discussing a twenty five-cent tax, which was placed on each male member in the 1800s,” Folkes said. “I don’t know what it was for, but books written about our church’s history also addresses that fact.”
“We may have had different buildings over the years, but one thing has always remained the same, Smyrna Baptist Church has always been dedicated to spreading God’s word,” Cherry said. “In the past few years we have remodeled our sanctuary and here recently remodeled our Children’s Church area and our nursery. We are doing what we can to beautify the Lord’s house, as we reach out to not only those in this community, but nearby communities as well.”
Across the street from the church sits a cemetery filled with headstones representing past members throughout the years. It is also the final resting place for several soldiers, including one unknown Confederate Soldier.
According to Folkes, over the years, the unknown Confederate soldier’s grave had collapsed.
“We don’t know the name of the soldier in that grave, but we do know that’s someone’s family member,” Folkes said. “A few years ago, I and Bobby Adkinson, a fellow church member, poured concrete over the old site. We wanted to make sure this soldier had an appropriate marker.
As members have passed away or some have chosen another church to call home, Cherry and Folkes have remained with the Smyrna Church family for many years.
“Over the years, the church attendance has increased and decreased,” Cherry said. “However, the last three years our church has grown tremendously and I believe we should credit our pastor for that,” Cherry said.
In December 2016, Brother Billy Womack was called to pastor Smyrna Baptist Church.
“Smyrna is a fine Southern Baptist Church that is made up of fine people,” Womack said. “The members of Smyrna Baptist Church are caring and loving people that will do anything for anyone.”
Womack extends an invitation to anyone searching for a church home to visit Smyrna Baptist Church.
“My goal as a preacher is to see the lost come to Jesus and for those who know Jesus to live like him, and live a life that would please God,” Womack said. “I personally want to invite everyone to be a part of our caring and loving church.”
Smyrna Baptist Church service times are Sunday school, 10 a.m., worship service at 11 a.m., Sunday evening services at 5:30 p.m., and Wednesday service at 6:30 p.m.