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Oak Forest Celebrates 100 Years
Oak Forest

(by Don Meador, The Citizen-Times, June 2006) 

    Travel Highway 100 eastward from Scottsville, heading toward the community, and your road will take you into an “S” curve approximately six miles from town. As one negotiates the curve, a small, one-room white church-----the # 2---comes into view. It’s a church that for 100 years has worshipped the Lord while holding to the truths on which the church was founded over 100 years ago. Oak Forest Missionary Baptist Church

    Sunday, June 4th was a very special day for the congregation of Oak Forest Missionary Baptist Church # 2. Friends, former Pastors, former members and their decedents gathered for their annual Decoration Day service. But, this year was extra special as the church celebrated their 100th anniversary with recognition being given to the church’s former Pastors and charter members and their decedents. 

   The history of the church can be traced to the early part of the 20th century and to a neighboring church---the Mt. Gilead Missionary Baptist church---located approximately two miles from the church on Pitchford Ridge Road. According to information credited to the Allen County’s Historical Society’s 2004 History Book, on February 2, 1906, Bro. L.O.  Cliburn led a meeting with the purpose of establishing the new church. T.M. Tinsley was appointed as the moderator with W.A. Whitlow selected at the clerk. 

    Records show that Tinsley and Whitlow were joined by a group ready to form the new church. Rev. Letcher O. Cliburn, Mary E. Cliburn, William Everett Cliburn, L.E. Cliburn, G.L. Cliburn, Joseph Carl Cliburn, N.S. Garmon, Fred Holland, Smith Holland, Virgil Holland, Edward McReynolds, Alice McReynolds, Sarah McReynolds, R.G. Stewart, Maggie Stewart and A.D. Stewart were “present with letters to go in to the new church.” Other original members included Dora Stewart Calvert, Mary Brown Cliburn, Susan Cliburn, Harlan Sherman Garmon, Hattie Garmon, Vernon Garmon, Maggie Holland, Sarah McReynolds, Laura Stewart, Minnie Stewart Woods, Rebecca Britt Stewart, and Robert Nelson Stewart.   

    With the church started, building a place to worship was necessary.  A one room structure was built shortly after the church was commissioned. According to historical records, the land for the new church was donated by Samuel and Lula Bridges with records reflect that the Bridges gave the land “in consideration of the interest in and the devotion to the said Church and the cause of Christianity.”

   Today, when one walks in to the 100 year old structure, very little has changed in regard to the building. Vinyl sliding has replaced the original white board sliding. The original two door front door was converted to a double door to “accommodate funeral services” and the original chimney has been replaced by heating and air. No additions have been made to the building except for a handicapped accessible walkway. 

    Outside, a covered picnic shelter serves as the site for church meals on special occasions. On the east side of the building is the cemetery---a cemetery that contains over 400 graves----the find resting place for many who have darkened the church’s doors through the years.  

    “They are living with the Lord,” noted Matt Apple, the church’s last Pastor, referring to church members who are buried in the cemetery. 

    Several flag posts----with an American flag blowing in the wind---can be seen. Church clerk Donald Morgan reflected on the fact that many of the individuals that had passed on lived in an era of great trail for America.  Speaking to the relatives of many buried in the cemetery, Morgan noted that the forefathers and mothers had lived through life we can only read about in history books.

   “Many of those people fought two world wars and went through the greatest depression this world has ever known,” Morgan said. “Think about the trials and tribulations that they had to face and do the work they did and they did it with their whole heart and soul.” 

   Morgan also noted that the work of the Lord and the Gospel had been carried around the world from men and women that had attended Oak Forest.

    “We owe them a debt of gratitude for having a relentless perseverance in seeing that we have the Gospel that’s been handed down to us today,” Morgan said. “We at Oak Forest appreciate that and appreciate the relatives and friends that have come out today.”

    Sunday’s services included recognition of the men and their decedents who had proclaimed the gospel from the pulpit of the church. 

    Elder J.W. Shockley was called as Pastor in 1906, the first of 22 men that have served as Pastor. Elders Lum Ramsey, Lonnie Stewart, A.I. Wilson, Earl Meador, Baxter Powell, Roscoe O. Sanders, Durwood Garmon, W.T. Russell, Odell Willoughby, Emmitt Strode, J.D. Sanders, Landon C. Long, John Meador, Elsworth Strode, Carroll Ramsey, Roy Brook, Oscar Pogue, Mitchell Smith, Michael Brawner, and Matt Apple.

   The men have been instrumental in holding to the strong “old path” tradition of the church. Since its inception, Oak Forest has---according to the church history records----has “always believed and practiced the knee-route way to salvation.” In addition, the church history notes that the focus of Oak Forest was and continues to be to “see that the Gospel is preached to the world and that her members are zealous in their efforts to alert friends and neighbors of the great gift and benefits of Salvation.”

   Like most rural county churches, Oak Forest has seen ups and downs in attendance and membership as the church has proclaimed the Gospel through the decades. In addition to regular services, revivals have been held annually. The history accounts notes that at one time students from the old Oak Forest School---located about a half mile from the church----were marched to the church for day revival services. The teacher told the students to “behave and listen to the Preacher.”

    Sunday, visitors could look back at pictures from days gone by---including a baptizing on the first Sunday in November probably in Long Creek, On that date, Elder Durwood Garmon baptized 15 including Mrs. Carlene Gilliam, Mrs. Hettie Davis, Eunice Woods, Ella Bridges, Pauline Eaton, Edith Garmon, Miss Billy Wray Smith, Etta Walker, Hillus Payne, Sam Cook, Doss Kennedy, John Lee Bullington, Milburn Holland, Rex Thomas, and Carlene Gilliam. Another archived picture showed that, two years later, 15 others were baptized by Elder A.I. Wilson. ---Beatrice Long, Gertie Garmon, Ethel Matthews, Doris  Dyson, Claudine Jones, Clarene Gilliam, Fulton Garmon, Rondel Thomas, Charles Garmon, Calvin Garmon, Howard Kennedy, Estil Payne, W.A. Morgan, Wallace Hughes, and B.W. Thomas.

   The preachers brought the Gospel to the people, good news that touched lives. Bobby Hicks of Franklin---a grand son of a charter church member---noted that his time at Oak Forest changed his life.

   “This is where I heard the Gospel and it brought me down,” Hicks recalled. “It will always be a special place for me. If I had not heard what I heard here, I might not be where I am at now.” 

   Elder Johnny Meador was one of the few surviving Pastors in attendance Sunday. Meador recalled his days at the church during his pastorate in the 1970’s. 

    “It was a great experience,”  “They called me one Saturday night by phone. I had to pray hard and I prayed over it and I felt the Lord was in it.”

   Meador added that the church grew during his time as Pastor.

    “The Lord blessed this church and it grew to the house was full,” Meador noted. “All in all, many were saved here and baptized into the fellowship. The Lord blessed us all together.” 

   The last two Pastors at Oak Forest note that they have encountered wonderful God-fearing individuals during their stints as Pastor. Elder Michael Brawner---Pastor from 1998 to 2001---enjoyed the three years of service at Oak Forest.

   “The people are very dedicated,” Branwer said.  “It was a wonderful privilege.”

   Elder Matt Apple---who recently resigned to accept a church in Tennessee----praised the church for their commitment.

  “It’s a very spiritual church, very old fashioned.” Apple noted. “Most of the members are older than me. They are rooted in old fashions ways and doctrine and the harder you preach it the more they like it.”

   Apple pointed out that unlike some in today’s society; members at Oak Forest are grounded in what they believe. 

   “They are sure about their doctrines and beliefs,” Apple stated. “I appreciate their spirituality and they have a great knowledge of Scripture. I have learned some things from them.”

   Apple pointed out that the history of the church has had a wide impact, noting that individuals from as far away as Florida was in attendance on Sunday.

   “It is amazing that a small people can reach out so far,” Apple said. “Not only in distance but in more important spiritual ways. Oak Forest has had a great effect on people.”

   Sunday’s activities also include gospel singing after the dinner on the ground around 12:30. The singing continued the strong tradition the church has in connection with Allen County’s rich history of Gospel singing. The history of the church includes a note that several “singing schools” have been taught at the church. The church has served as host for the Kentucky State Singing Convention as well as being the site of several county singing conventions. The record notes that many musicians have praised the acoustics of the church due in part to the hardwood floor and high ceiling. 

   In keeping with their church focus, Sunday’s message was not on the history of the church or the past. Instead, Bro, Apple preached a down to earth message---telling the full house about the Lord’s death and asking them to thank about what will happen when they die. The message and ministry of Oak Forest was continuing. 

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