WASHINGTON COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Two Washington County churches have signs outside stating that they are the oldest church in Tennessee, according to historians, which one is really the oldest depends on your definition of a church.
A sign sits outside of Buffalo Ridge Baptist Church, proclaiming it the first Baptist church on Tennessee soil, established in 1779.
“Some historians say that it’s the first organized church in Tennessee,” Pastor at Buffalo Ridge, John Herdman said. “The historical society that puts the markers out claims that it’s the first established church in Tennessee.”
About thirteen miles down the road, Sinking Creek Baptist Church’s church building built in the early 1780’s still stands.
“I believe the bible says that the definition of a church is the people, you know it’s not the building,” pastor at Sinking Creek, Chuck Babb, said. “I believe that there was people gathered here before the revolutionary war that were meeting with the pastor.
Sinking Creek Church Historian Eddie Fields has documents that show charter members of the church buying bibles and sonnets with to worship with in 1773, before the building was built.
“So, it’s a definition of church,” Fields said. “They say they were established in 1779, Matthew Talbot was preaching, and our definition of an organized church is a church that a spiritual body, led by an ordained pastor, having routine meetings with the congregation. We know that was happening back as early as 1773, so that’s why we say we’re the oldest church.”
A marker in Nashville proclaims Sinking Creek as the state’s oldest church still in existence.
Despite what the historical markers and signs say, both pastors and historians share one sentiment in the present.
“It’s not a competition,” Fields said. “They’re both in the same era, same time, great people, godly people.”
“Really it doesn’t matter, the good Lord knows which one it was,” Herdman said. “Really, as long as we’re both trying to reach people for His glory, then it really won’t matter one bit which one was first.”