Tarkington church celebrates 150th anniversary

The original two-story building, erected in 1878, housed both Rural Shade Baptist Church and the Tarkington Prairie Masonic Lodge. The church used the first floor and the Masons used the upper floor.

Rural Shade Baptist Church in Tarkington celebrated what should have been its 151st anniversary on Sunday, Oct. 31. With the COVID-19 pandemic preventing the congregation from holding its normal gatherings last year, the 150th and 151st anniversaries were rolled into one big event that featured proclamations from Liberty County Judge Jay Knight and U.S. Rep. Brian Babin.

To recognize the church’s long history in the community, a new sesquicentennial marker marker provided by the Liberty County Historical Commission recently was placed below the original historical marker that dates back to 1996.

The congregation of Rural Shade Baptist Church — along with guests Liberty County Judge Jay Knight and Will Carter with U.S. Rep. Brian Babin’s Office — gather for a group photo outside the church on Sunday, Oct. 31, for the sesquicentennial anniversary of the church’s founding.

Rural Shade Baptist Church, located at 3304 CR 2274 in Tarkington, traces its history back to 1870 when a small group of residents gathered in a brush arbor to worship. By July 1878, church founders obtained land for the purpose of erecting a church to serve as a sanctuary and meeting area for the Masonic Lodge.

According to the church’s history, which was shared at the anniversary service, “the congregation was made up of hardworking, community-minded individuals determined to provide a strong moral foundation for their members. Without a prominent law enforcement body available, the church used persuasion and prayer to encourage an environment of order and cooperation.”

The first pastor is considered to be D.D. Forman, who served from 1874-1876, and in 1882. Since its founding, the church has had 40 pastors, the most recently being Rev. Brad Dancer, who began leading the congregation in 2016.

Rev. Brad Dancer, pastor of Rural Shade Baptist Church in Tarkington, speaks to his congregation about the new Liberty County Historical Commission marker that has been added below the original historical marker.

The church expected its members to maintain a high standing in the community and adhere to moral resolutions. The first moral resolution, recorded in 1894, states: “Resolved that this church expects its male members to attend conference meetings and, if any male member is absent from 2 meetings in succession, they will be expected to give a reason for the absence at the third meeting or be subject to the discipline of the church. Resolved further that this church will not tolerate the giving or attending dancing or play parties by its members.”

The first pastors for Rural Shade Baptist Church were appointed from its members.

“They were all uneducated men and all poor except for D.D. Forman. They were farmers who could and did adapt themselves to the surrounding conditions of ‘Plow and Preach’ in a section of country sparsely settled with small churches and destitute neighborhoods scattered over a large territory. In 1898, pastors began being called for an indefinite period of time,” the church’s history reads.

Church services were held on the second and fourth Sundays of the month and were lengthy two-day events, with some folks camping on church grounds or traveling to services by wagons.

“Most people arrived at least half an hour early so that they could visit with neighbors, catch up on the news and children could have a nice romp together. If it was a pretty, warm day, the ladies sat on the steps and visited while the men squatted on their haunches at the side of the building. The services started on Saturday afternoon with singing and preaching, and continued all day on Sunday. Children slept on pallets on the floor,” according to the church history.

Families brought along food that would be needed for the extended stay.

“Included in the business of the church was preferring of charges against members for unchristian conduct and disorderly walk; in other words, dancing and profane swearing. Committees were appointed to investigate the charges and labor with the offending members,” the church history continues. “Sometimes he or she would acknowledge the charge and beg forgiveness of the church and it was granted. Other times, the church withdrew fellowship from the offending member. These early meetings were arranged at the time of the full moon so members would have light to ride home.”

In 1907, the second Rural Shade Baptist Church sanctuary was completed and the old building was granted to the trustees of Oakdale High School. A third church building was erected in 1938, which was used until 1962 when the church completed a modern building with central heat and air conditioning.

In April 2004, Rural Shade Baptist Church broke ground on its fifth church building, which is still in use today.

Over the years, the church has had its own burial ground – Ryan Cemetery, which was turned over to the Ryan Cemetery Association in 1989.

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