Blackman’s Grove Baptist Church, a rural Johnston County stalwart since 1893, is moving about 100 feet west and a little closer to heaven.
Bucking general trends for Christian congregations across the United States, Blackman’s Grove is growing, mostly because of a baby boom that has created the need for additional Sunday School classrooms. Though church members have discussed expanding for nearly two decades, they were limited in what they could do on the site where the church has stood for 121 years. The building is close to N.C. 96 in front and is hemmed in on the other three sides by a cemetery and a neighbor not interested in selling any land.
Several years ago, the church bought property across the two-lane highway, and while the site is large enough to accommodate a sanctuary and additional classrooms, church members were intimidated by the prospect of trying to raise – or having to borrow – the $1 million or more it would take to build new.
This spring, member Kelli McLamb suggested the church do what she and her husband did when they moved into the area.
“We had a house moved here and renovated it,” she said.
The church expects to pay about $400,000 to move the original sanctuary and its 1950s classroom additions, then build four classrooms onto those.
The work began about a month ago with a contractor digging around the building’s foundation in preparation for lifting the structure off the ground. Last Sunday, the old church looked a little like a white clapboard castle encircled by a moat.
Recent rains might have slowed the work, but church member Stephen Massengill said the hope was for the building to travel across the road, turn around and face the opposite direction by Aug. 16. On its new foundation, the church will be raised a foot or two higher to meet current building codes. It also will get a new baptismal pool.
In the meantime, the congregation is meeting in a former community center that was given to the church years ago. It’s just around the corner. Also nearby, 20 to 30 children and youth meet for Sunday School in what used to be the church parsonage. Pastor Jerry Hicks and his wife moved out three years ago to make room.
Blackman’s Grove has about 160 members, about half of whom show up each week for Sunday morning or Wednesday evening services. Last Sunday, they heard Hicks preach on living a more heavenly life on earth. The eight-member choir sang “Where Could I Go But To the Lord?” Afterward, church deacons held a meeting in the kitchen. The weekly bulletin reminded members that a committee is forming to guide how the new spaces will be decorated.
Members say they feel blessed to need more room, and they hope to pay for the move and expansion without taking on any debt.
Massengill said he expects a couple hundred people to come and watch the church travel to its new location.
He hopes some of them will come back when the work is finished, perhaps in time for Easter.