Wilson County church burned by fire 'plows' ahead

October 12, 2015

The Tennessean, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015

Members of a rural Wilson County church building destroyed by fire in February sang Amazing Grace and pulled together on an old plow to break ground this week on a new sanctuary that won’t change much from the old.

Cedar Grove Baptist Church, about 5 miles north of downtown Lebanon on Cedar Grove Road, was established in 1813 and is considered the fourth oldest Southern Baptist congregation in Wilson County.

“Mules dug out land for the first church, farmers cut lumber,” said Bob Byrd, a member of the church’s Dream Team heading up the construction effort. “We’ll have the same purpose we had before the fire. It’s going to be a pretty church. Not gigantic. It’s a country church.”

Cedar Grove, where attendance now runs about 70-80 on Sundays, met in a barn the Sunday after the fire and stayed until temperatures got too hot. Since then Cedar Grove has met on Sundays at Walter J. Baird Middle School in Lebanon on Sunday mornings. Sunday and Wednesday evenings services have been held at a parsonage on the church property.

Many who came to break ground with the plow wore T-shirts with the Bible verse Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

“I feel like we were together when we were here and we’re still together,” said Gordy Graves, 68, who has attended Cedar Grove his entire life.

The new church will be much like the former with a sanctuary to seat 180-200 for services with classrooms, a choir loft, foyer and baptistery.

J&S Construction Company, Inc., based in in Cookeville will replicate elements like the old steeple and entrance area, said Vice-President of Business Development Ryan Morris. The white siding the church had will also return. The new church will be one level unlike the old building and the entrance will also have a covered area to help with weather, Byrd said.

The church was even able to buy about two more adjoining acres it will use for some shift in parking, deacon Sammy Patton said.

“We had the barn to go to and we were blessed to go to Walter J. Baird,” said Jean Kolbe, who has attended Cedar Grove Baptist since 1961. “But when this is built it will be like going back home again,”

Attendance did spike to around 100 while Cedar Grove was at the barn. Though it has leveled off at the school, Patton said it’s still up from before the fire.

More important to the congregation, Cedar Grove has had 21 baptisms since the fire, which interim pastor Gaylon Wiley said is higher than the last several years combined.

Wiley has committed to being the pastor until the new building is completed, which is estimated to be around May depending on weather.

“I’ve invited about 30 families to be involved in the planning process; nearly every family who could possibly serve, and they have responded very well,” Wiley said. “The mood is exciting.”

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