The Richmond Register

February 12, 2013

Madison County has rich, diverse religious heritage

Madison's Heritage

By Fred Engle
Register Columnist

RICHMOND — Madison County has a rich and diverse religious heritage.  Here are two rather different takes on the subject within the Protestant tradition.

Presbyterianism is strong in the county. Back in the 1970s, I wrote a lengthy series of columns on the history and origins of the First Presbyterian Church in Richmond. Those columns were based on information I obtained at the church and photos of the pastors which hung in the back hall of the church building. Mrs. Quentin (Ann) Keen was the church historian at this time.

If you wish to read these columns they are available on the Madison’s Heritage website or in Madison’s Heritage Volume III, by Grise and Engle.

Arguably the most well known of this long line of pastors was R.E. Telford, who along with Brother Overcash offset the inclinations of the Methodist minister, Brother Poore, when the local Presbyterian church was at the fore in the creation of Central University, a Southern Presbyterian college established 1874 in Richmond.

Eventually, memories of the Civil War that had divided Northern and Southern Presbyterian congregations faded. This, in combination with poor economic circumstances, led to the merger of Central University and Centre College in Danville. Central’s faculty and programs were moved to Danville. The Central University campus then became the core of Eastern Kentucky State Normal School, established by state legislation in 1906.

The mother church of Presbyterians worldwide is St. Giles Cathedral, located on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland. John Knox preached what at the time was a radical form of Protestantism there in the 16th century.

There remains a Church of Scotland church building on nearly every corner in Edinburgh, though sadly they are sparsely attended. When I wouold visit my wife’s family in Edinburgh, I attended a number of services. I often gave a hearty “amen” to pronouncements from the pulpit, much to the confusion of the members of the local congregation. The practice of infant baptism, however, is one of the major differences from my Baptist upbringing with Presbyterian faith.

Much of the Presbyterian worship in past decades in Madison County occurred in town at the First Presbyterian Church in Richmond. However White’s Memorial Presbyterian is one example of a longtime country church in the county. I am sure there may be others and readers who can provide me with more examples of rural Presbyterian worship.

Freedom Baptist Church has been around a long time (some claim it was formed in 1800, some say some time in the 1780s). Mainly made up of transplanted Virginians, the Freedom church was originally located in Garrard County. Try to find a copy of Forrest Calico’s “History of Garrard County and its Churches” for a detailed presentation of this early congregation.

Much of Freedom’s history is made up of its movements between various Baptist associations in the area.

In 1812 it belonged to the South District Association. In 1840, it left to join the Tates Creek Association, comprised largely of Madison County churches. Early services were conducted in a log cabin.

Regular Baptist and Separate Baptist congregations belonged to the Salem, South Elkhorn and Southern Kentucky Associations of the Separate Baptists. The first meeting of the South Kentucky Association met in Madison County with 11 churches sending representatives. This association later broke into a North District and a South District.

In 1837, Freedom baptized 24 new converts. Between 1840 and 1842 the Tates Creek association split over the issue of mission work – 10 anti-mission churches left the group.  Freedom stayed with the Missionary Baptist group. Both Freedom Baptist Church and the Tates Creek Association were affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, formed in 1845. In 1898 the Freedom congregation moved to a new location, while earlier – in 1890 – the church began calling itself the United Baptist Church. For more about the long history of this congregation, see the history of the church compiled and written by Krista M. Loyd.

PUBLICATION NOTE:  Readers are reminded that a compilation of some 60 Richmond Register articles from over the last 40 years by Dr. Grise and myself are now available in the paperback book “Madison’s Heritage Rediscovered.” Combined with relevant photographs selected from the EKU Archives by my granddaughter, Kathryn Engle, who edited the volume, this book is available for $19.99 plus tax.

Autographed copies may be found at the Richmond tourism office (Irvinton) on Lancaster Avenue, ClearSight Optometry on the Martin Bypass and Baldwin CPAs on Main Street. Autographed copies are also available by calling Kathryn Engle at 859-893-0947 or 623-1150.  

These books make excellent birthday presents for family or friends. Keep in touch with out of town family and friends by sharing this gift of home.