Hill Grove Baptist Church 200th Anniversary

Trish Turner

Messenger Staff 

Photo Trish Turner | The Meade County Messenger Hill Grove members posed in front of the church.

Sunday, June 26 was a high day for the members of Hill Grove Baptist Church in Guston. This

year’s homecoming celebration marked the 200th anniversary of the founding of the church. The church has been a spiritual and social hub of the surrounding community of Stith Valley and its history and members past and present were honored on Sunday. The day began with a worship

service at 11:00 a.m. People started streaming through the doors around 10:30 a.m. and by the time the service began nearly every seat had been taken. There were roughly 150 people in attendance. The current pastor of the church, Ken Willoughby, welcomed everyone and offered a congregational prayer. During the service we sang several hymns including “Count Your Blessings” and “To God Be the Glory.” Special music was presented by Karen Withers, and Kathy Gerkins Veith accompanied her on the piano. An inspirational sermon was delivered by Dr. Todd Gray who is the Executive Director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. At Hill Grove’s 175th anniversary in 1997, a time capsule was placed outside the church and was covered with a granite marker that read it was to be opened on June 20, 2022. Pastor Willoughby made an announcement that the time capsule had been opened the night before and the contents were on display in the front of the church. He closed the service with a prayer and blessing, then invited everyone to go to the fellowship hall for a delicious meal. Before heading into the fellowship hall to eat, I stopped to look at the display of the items that had been placed in the time capsule. The items included several local newspapers from 1997, a church directory, a 1997 mint set of U.S. coins, and some pictures of church members. I talked with Bruce Stith and his brother Greg who had been present when the time capsule was buried. Bruce said that when the capsule was buried, he wondered if he would still be alive in 2022. He had forgotten what had been put into it and enjoyed looking at the contents. At 1:45 p.m., Kathy Gerkins Veith called all past and present members of the church to come outside to the front of the church to have a group photo taken. She asked me if I would mind taking the picture for them and I was happy to oblige. There were over 60 people who posed for that photo. The afternoon service began with congregational singing and then prayer. Several former pastors of Hill Grove came to the podium and spoke about their time there. The first to speak was Brother Jerry Shacklett who had grown up in that church. He is the fifth great grandson of two of Hill Grove’s founding members, John Shacklett and his wife Rachel Wimp Shacklett. Other former pastors who spoke were Brother Frank Dawson and Brother Steve Butler. Special musical numbers were performed by Suz Ogden, Cindy Dawson and Christy Withers Stith. John Akers narrated a touching story just before Judge/executive Leslie Stith got up to present the church’s history. It is awesome that Judge/executive Stith’s father, Ralph Stith, read the church history 50 years ago at the 150th homecoming celebration. Judge/executive Stith grew up attending Hill Grove Baptist Church and could relate to the history he was reading to us, which is encapsulated below. Elizabeth (Ashcraft) Shacklett and Rachel (Ashcraft) Shacklett (who were sisters), and Sarah (Shacklett) Jenkins, their sister-in-law, kept petitioning their husbands to get a local Baptist church organized in the 1870’s. They were tired of the preparation for and the long journey to other Baptist churches in the area. On June 29, 1822, the Hill Grove Baptist Church, at first named New Hope Baptist Church, was formed. The founding members were Theoderick J. Hubbard, Chloe Chinoweth, Samuel and Nancy Chinoweth, Robert and Chloe Simmons, John and Sarah Jenkins, Benjamin and Elizabeth Shacklett, John and Rachel Shacklett, Rachel Shacklett (the wife of Blancit Shacklett), and Barbara Dowell (the wife of James Dowell). On November 8, 1823, the name of the church was changed from New Hope Baptist Church to Hill Grove Baptist Church. The location of the original church is not known. A new church building was completed in December 1897, but sadly in December of 1901 the church building was destroyed by fire. The next church building at Hill Grove was completed and dedicated in July 1904 in the location it stands in today at 55 Ammons Lane in Guston. Since 1904, some additions and repairs have been made to the church, but the outside looks basically the same. Before the program ended Sunday afternoon, time was given for those in attendance to share memories of events relating to the church. Some recalled hotly contested church softball games between Hill Grove and other local Baptist churches. Others fondly reminisced about baptisms, church programs, and members that had an impact on their lives. I am glad the church members invited me to their 200th celebration. I enjoyed the services, spending time with friends such as Bruce Stith, his cousin Judge/executive Leslie Stith and his wife Donna, and also making new friends, like Kathy Gerkins Veith and Greg Stith. It was an uplifting program, and I am still humming some of the hymn tunes! Hill Grove Baptist Church is the second oldest church in Meade County, with Wolf Creek Baptist Church being the oldest. After celebrating 200 years the congregation is still going strong with Christ centered services held each Sunday, as well as ministries to various age groups and outreach programs for the community. All are welcome to join them!

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