Church family keeps worship center alive

Published 9:37 pm Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Years is a time for reflection.

As I look back over my 30 years of living in Shelby County, I remember a time when my husband put a 4×4 post on the back of our Volkswagen and blazed a trail into our land. Today, that timber trail is the 4-H Road that leads to the 4-H Center which has grown to be a premier place to visit in the state.

Back in those early days, I remember the first managers of the 4-H Center, Terrell and Ann Guthrie, who spent many years building and overseeing the center. My husband, Red, and I became fast friends of the Guthrie’s, and as life would have it, a blood bond was discovered between Ann and me. Her maiden name was Steen and my maiden name is Donald. My great-grandfather, Dr. James G. Donald married two Steen sisters, the second sister after the first one died. Ann and I discovered we both grew up going to Homecoming at Mt. Moriah Fellowship Baptist Church where she was then the organist on the original foot pump organ.

Mt. Moriah is a one-room church nestled in the tall pine trees near Pineapple, Ala. For more than180 years, this “Church in the Wildwood” has been a church that refuses to die.

The church was established in 1828 by pioneers who had made their way from South Carolina and Virginia to this heartland of Alabama; families called Steen, Yeldell, Luckie, Knight, Kendrick, Ward, Thigpen, Powers, Powell, and my family, Donald. The church swelled from the nine charter members to over 360 prior to the Civil War. But times change and people moved on, so by the 1940’s only one meeting a year was held at the church.

My grandfather, Charles J. Donald, grew in Mt. Moriah along with his 4 brothers and 4 sisters. My Papa loved the old church and the cemetery next to it where his father was laid to rest between his 2 Steen sister wives. Papa loved his family dearly and was instrumental in rebuilding the old church in 1955 along with my grandmother Ouida Donald, his niece, Frances Donald Grimes and husband, Harold, his brother Dan Donald and wife, Annie, and Mr. and Mrs. Richard Hagar and the last two members of the church, Mr. and Mrs. Claude Luckie.

The corner posts and beams were taken from the old church and reused in the new. The pews are the original, hand-hewn pine, a type of pine abundant in the old forests, but extinct today. It was decided to have an Annual Homecoming, a family reunion to worship together and have a huge covered dish lunch. Today Homecoming is the second Sunday in October and over 200-300 people appear from all over the USA to meet and reminisce of how we all are kin.

There was a long time when I did not go to Homecoming because of circumstances in my life. I always missed it. I had gone every year as a child and seen my grandfather, and then my father, lead the services. I missed the sense of family. After my sons married, I had one request of them, to go back to Homecoming as a family and show my new daughters from where my paternal family had come, to visit the little church that refuses to die.

I got my wish. It was a poignant time for Ann Steen Guthrie had died that year and her memorial was given as I brought my new family back to Homecoming. I remembered Ann playing the organ as my son Robert sang during the service, the beautiful old hymn, Softly and Tenderly, Jesus is Calling. It ends with the words, “Come Home, Come Home.” As Robert sang each verse, tears poured down my face, for I had come home, I had finally come home. I remembered the ones that had gone on and looked ahead to my new family that I had brought back to the little church that will not die, for our family and all these Homecoming families will always keep it alive.