When Port Royal Baptist Church celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1913, an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 attendees filled the churchyard and streets.
The church community invites the public to the 200th anniversary celebration on July 21 with the same enthusiastic capacity and hospitality.
In 1913, the church was known as Cane Run Baptist Church and provisions for the potluck dinner to feed such a multitude included tables constructed in a nearby maple grove and a wire surrounded the tables.
According to the article, the rich, the poor, the high and the low brought baskets of food consisting of mutton, fried chicken and old ham, accompanied by pies, cakes and salads. The congregation served the dinner on pasteboard plates to attendees over the wire. ‘…It was in the provision made for feeding the multitude that the true heart of the community was revealed,’ the article stated, ‘… Hospitality bloomed to its richest and best.’
The congregation reportedly sent the leftover food with candidates traveling on the steamboat Defeat up the Salt River the next day.
The thread of community and hospitality runs continuously in the church’s beginnings and memories of its former pastors.
John McAndress, William P. Yarborough, Benjamin Perry, Roxanne McGuire, Benjamin Johnson, Lucy Yarborough and Mary Perry signed Cane Run Baptist Church into existence on Aug. 23, 1813.
In the “History of the Port Royal Baptist Church” by Juanita Batts, Thomas Vardeman and Isaac Malin spiritually guided the Cane Run Church, then a wood-frame building, which sat in the cemetery evident by the lack stones in its former spot.
Before the building’s construction, the congregation met in each other’s homes or in school buildings. The church acquired a one-acre plot for $3 from George Rust of Hardin County in 1817, and an additional lot in front of that plot in 1825 from George Gains for $1.
During a schism in the Baptist denomination over missions that affected Port Royal, Campbellsburg and Smithfield, the congregation split in 1840. The Missionary Baptists occupied a new brick building and the remaining members, known as Primitive Baptists, occupied the wooden building before tearing it down and moving worship services to Turners Station.
A brick building consisting of two front doors, a bell tower and two stoves to heat one side for men and one for women during worship existed in about 1851. The church had a pump organ played by two women in the congregation. In 1853, a committee sought payment from congregation members for the new church proportional, ‘…as they have been blessed this world’s goods. Any member failing to pay their amount will be subject to discipline by the church.’
The congregation decided in 1917 instead of building a new parsonage to build a new church and a committee made of Harry Perry, Ora Tingle, T.S. Powell, Lou Tingle, Arthur Batts, Mesdames Tingle and Bertha Dunaway raised $20,500.
Church members tore down the old brick structure, the basement was excavated using a horse and ‘scoop’, 14 carloads of material were hauled from Turners Station Depot and by river. The stained glass windows were sold to families for $100 each and the church purchased one window for Rev. Thomas Bealle.
By 1924, the congregation had changed the name to Port Royal Baptist Church.
According to “The History of Henry County” by Maude Johnston Drane, The church ordained James Anderson in 1858, Levi Chilton 1867, J.M. Fowler 1884, Charlie Adams and Noble Berry in 1926 as ministers.
The Rev. L.S. Chilton spoke at the 100-year anniversary in 1913. Chilton served as pastor in 1878 and the current pastor, then Rev. S. J. Ezell, opened the celebration with a prayer at 10:30 a.m. Chilton said that the Rev. Isaac Malin was the first pastor of the church.
Former 1960 pastor Howard Olive wrote in 1997 that renovations were done during his time at the church. Indoor plumbing was installed and the church’s annex was under construction.
Pastor Rev. Grady Snowden Jr. wrote that in 1962 some of the more notable events of his ministry happened at Port Royal Baptist. During his time at the church, the back portion of educational rooms were completed. ‘…It was while there that my son Gray was born and my oldest daughter Beth, who was a year old, began her life of interacting with other children.’
Snowden would emphasize the foundation of the church family left an impression on him like so many other former pastors.
‘I will never forget the friendship and support of so many of the people of Port Royal,” Snowden wrote. ‘People are what Port Royal was to me…’
The Rev. Carl Rucker worked as head teacher at Port Royal Elementary across from the church. Rucker would stare at the church board from his classroom not realizing one day he would serve as interim minister there and later as Pastor Emeritus.
“They asked me if I would come out for the month of November,” Rucker said. “Then they asked if I would stay through December. In 2000, they asked if I would interim off the board.”
Rucker said Port Royal had a wonderful church family and the congregation grew during his time there.
“I didn’t do it they did,” Rucker said. “Sherman Berry said I was bringing money to the church, but it was the congregation that did it. The attendance grew during those 10 years.”
Central air was put in during Rucker’s time at the church, a new organ was purchased and stained glass was repaired.
The church voted to invite Kandy Queen Sutherland to co-pastor with husband Dixon Sutherland. Sutherland was the first female pastor at Port Royal Baptist Church. Amber and John Inscore Essick began as co-pastors in 2008.
“We lived in Lexington for those first two years” Inscore Essick said. “My wife and I are really enjoying a different pace of life.”
Dr. John Inscore Essick also serves as an assistant professor of church history at the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky.“It’s been interesting to think about what the church can be and should be,” Inscore Essick said. “I hope we can help folks think about what a church should be in the community and the benefit. We are starting a series of ways to connect with folks within three or four miles of the church. We want to show the relevance of a church, that it’s not just a place. Church is a group of people who are willing to work to be who we want to be.”
For more information about the 200th Port Royal Baptist celebration call (502) 947-5892.