In the mid 1850s, Mount Pisgah Baptist Church had nearly 300 members – more people than all of Apex had at the time.
The church flourished in the rural stretches of western Apex, but it’s not nearly as big now. Only a few dozen families attend Mount Pisgah, although the tradition has remained for some people for generations.
On Sunday, the church will celebrate its 200th anniversary. The public is invited to a worship service and dinner.
Founded in 1814 by 36 charter members, the church was originally called the Church of Yates Meeting House. It adopted its current name in 1818.
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The church has had four buildings over the years, including the current sanctuary which was built in 1951.
Many churches founded at the time touted a strong evangelical message, and the Apex church was no different.
One of its earliest members, Matthew T. Yates, spent the last 40 years of his life as a missionary in China. He and his wife are believed to be the first North Carolina residents to preach there.
Back home, other church leaders worked as missionaries on country roads that have now largely been swallowed up by Jordan Lake in the west and Cary’s suburbs in the east.
Robert Sears, chairman of the church’s board of deacons, has attended Mount Pisgah since childhood – just like his father, grandfather and great-grandfather before him.
His grandfather, H.C. Sears, the son of a Civil War veteran, was a preacher in the early 20th century at Mount Pisgah and also a Morrisville church.
“He had some kind of horse where he could doze when it walked between Apex and Morrisville ’cause it knew the way,” Sears said.
While 200 years puts Mount Pisgah in a category without much company, it isn’t the oldest church in Wake County. Middle Creek Primitive Baptist Church, which was founded in 1756 between Fuquay-Varina and Clayton, likely holds that title.
Raleigh’s 130-year-old St. Paul A.M.E. Church claims to be Wake County’s oldest black church. It was built on Edenton Street in 1884 – less than 20 years after the end of the Civil War.
Sears said the congregation at Mount Pisgah has shrunk over the years partly because many young people want to join mega-churches, or not attend church at all.
It’s a problem many other congregations are facing as well.
“Our pastor said something like 3,000 churches close every year,” Sears said.