APPLING, Ga (WJBF)- A major characteristic of small towns is a big sense of community. In the center of many of those communities are churches.
Kiokee Baptist Church in Appling is the oldest Baptist organization in Georgia.
Founded 250 years ago, Kiokee Baptist Church, named for the nearby creek, still considers itself a small town church. But this small town church has made a big impact on the State of Georgia.
“We don’t take for granted the heritage,” said Eddie Brown, Chairman of Deacons at Kiokee.
Kiokee Baptist Church was founded in 1772 by Daniel Marshall. Marshall was sent across the Savannah River by the pastor of Stevens Creek Baptist Church in South Carolina.
Steve Hartman, Kiokee’s current pastor, said that move had consequences for Marshall.
“And from there he was warned by the Georgia authorities– Georgia, of course, being an Anglican Colony, not to cross the river. And if he did, he’d be arrested. And, well, he did. And they did,” he explained.
Marshall was arrested for preaching at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Augusta.
Legend has it that Marshall was on his knees praying and the Constable, Samuel Cartledge, put his hand on Marshall’s shoulder saying quote, “You are my prisoner.”
“Interestingly enough, the jailer who watched over Daniel Marshal in Augusta, ended up being converted to Christ, coming to Kiokee, and actually was made a deacon at the church,” said Hartman.
After he was released from jail, Marshall started Kiokee Baptist Church. He, along with Shubal Stearns and Samuel Harriss, are considered the fathers of the Southern Baptist Church.
Marshall is said to have been charismatic, leaving a lasting impression on people he came in contact with.
“All that we know about him, he was a Godly man. He was an uneducated man, but he was a powerful preacher,” Hartman said. “And his legacy remained through his son and even his grandson who were the second and third pastors here at Kiokee.”
Hartman explained that many of today’s Southern Baptist churches can trace their roots to Kiokee, including Solid Rock Baptist Church and Abilene Baptist Church.
“The church has, over the course of the years, indeed, had many missions that turned into Churches. We’re not only deeply invested in local ministries, but we minister throughout the United States and even throughout the world.”
Over its centuries in existence, Kiokee’s congregation has been housed in 7 different buildings. No one knows where the first two were located, but the third building, built in 1808, is what is known as Old Kiokee Baptist Church on Tubman Road.
Eddie Brown is the Chairman of Deacons and has been a member of the church his whole life. He explained that the congregation may have had a good reason for moving from the brick building to its 4th location.
“As the congregation shifted towards Appling to get closer to the community, or back to Appling, it was from 1828, was the active facility, until it was destroyed in 1875 by, history says, a tornado,” he said.
In 1937, the congregation built its 6th building on what is the current campus. Then, in 1994 a new and much larger chapel was built and connected to the 6th building as an extension.
Both are still used today.
“But it’s still the resiliency of those people. It would have been very easy, don’t you think, of how many times those buildings were destroyed or things happened that you’d think, ‘Well let’s just quit this,'” said Brown. “But that was never an option. It was always the heritage that God had blessed us with to keep on keeping on. And so, I think that still resounds today.”
The congregation still uses Old Kiokee Baptist Church a few times a year for events like weddings, but something special exists on that property A natural spring fed baptismal pool where they began baptizing people as early as 1821.
“But the history goes back so that once a year, sometimes twice, the whole church gathers around the baptistry, and does something that has been going on for 214 years. Seeing people take that visible act of following Christ,” said Hartman.
Brown has fond memories of his own baptism in the Baptistry and said baptisms are one of his favorite times of the year.
“In this very room we tell them– when you step in the water, it’s gonna be cold. So be prepared for that. The shock is coming. And so you can see it on kids’ faces,” he laughed.
Brown got emotional saying that one of the most special parts of Kiokee Baptist is the generations of family, many of whom can still trace their ancestry back to Daniel Marshall.
“My two daughters were baptized there and my grandchildren will probably be baptized there, and so..”
“What does that mean to you?” asked NewsChannel 6’s Kim Vickers.
“I can be very passionate about that because I just love my family and I get to go to– that I worship with my family and I get to see them do ministry and get to see them grow and mature,” Brown said.
This year Kiokee Baptist church celebrates 250 years with several events, the last two happening in September.
With that many years, this is just the tip of the iceberg of rich history.
Hey Appling! That’s just part of Your Hometown History.
Photojournalist: Will Baker.