“The Spirit of the Lord is in this place and, by the grace and mercy of our Almighty God, the church is on the rise again.”
That, in a nutshell, is what Elder J.C. Stanaland said with a smile as he surveyed the interior of the historic Enterprise Primitive Baptist Church, located on Plaza Drive in Enterprise.
Stanaland, the pastor of St. Andrew Primitive Baptist Church in Panama City, Fla., is interim pastor of the Enterprise church as it celebrates an annual Communion Meeting Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 21 and 22. The praise and worship service is all day Saturday beginning at 10 a.m. with a break for lunch provided by the church. Sunday service is at 10:30 a.m. and communion is after lunch.
Organizers of the service hope the event serves as not only a homecoming for those whose family trees in Dale and Coffee Counties built the church, but also those interested in the historic House of God.
Enterprise Primitive Baptist Church has a long history in Dale and Coffee Counties in general and the cities of Level Plains and Enterprise, specifically.
“The Primitive Baptists are named Baptist for the Biblical method of entering the church,” Stanaland said. “To baptize is to immerse or to submerge under water, as did the apostles.
“The Primitive Baptists are named primitive—meaning old and original—to emphasize their pursuit of the original Apostolic doctrine and practice as recorded in the Bible,” he explained. “Primitive Baptist Churches are bound together by a common doctrine and practice with only Jesus Christ as the higher authority. Primitive Baptists like to say ‘Our headquarters is in Heaven.’”
The church now known as Enterprise Primitive Baptist Church was first constituted on Aug. 7, 1948 by Sydney J. Byrd. As a young man, Byrd had joined the Pleasant Grove Primitive Baptist Church in Ozark, where he later was ordained a deacon.
In the late 1930s and early 1940s, some of the Primitive Baptists in the area had been meeting for worship in different homes, said Stanaland. “Seeing the need for a convenient meeting place, the members of Pleasant Grove Primitive Baptist Church of Ozark build a house to be used for worship.
“The school building built on the church land of Beulah Primitive Church in Dale County was bought from the United States Government after the government had purchased the property for building Camp Rucker,” he said. “With this building and donations from the Pleasant Grove Primitive Baptist Church and from individuals, a building was erected on a lot given by Eben Lewis Averett and his wife, Tera Byrd Averett, in the Level Plains community.”
Soon afterward, Pleasant Grove Church extended to Enterprise. The first meeting there was held in the new building on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 5, 1944, with Pastor Elder S.W. Etheredge preaching on “The Kingdom of Heaven” using Matthew 8:23 as his text.
“Amazing Grace,” was the first hymn sung by the first congregation of 57 people, according to church records. Plans were made to meet every first Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. with Etheredge agreeing to serve as pastor.
Joyce Moore of Level Plains joined that church in 1954. She serves today as church clerk. “It was out in the country under a different name,” she said. “We have the church meeting minutes going back to before the Civil War.”
“You’re going to get an education,” said Joyce Moore’s son, Tommy, with a smile as he outlined his involvement in resurrecting the historic church with a membership that had dwindled down over the years to just one person: his mother.
S.J. Byrd had eight daughters, Tommy Moore said. “Five of them married five Averett brothers.” The descendants of the Earnest Linwood Averett and Mary Ann Curenton Averett and the S.J. Byrd and Lovie Elizabeth Waters Byrd families have gathered for more than 100 years to celebrate the Averett-Byrd reunion. It was from these families that most of what is now Enterprise Primitive Baptist Church membership was comprised.
One of the Byrd sisters who married one of the Averett brothers was Tera Byrd Averett, a civic and education leader who was honored in 1987 with the celebration of a “Tera Averett Day.” Averett was an educator for 39 years as a teacher, principal and junior college instructor. A landowner and businesswoman, she is credited with developing Pinedale Estates and started the first motel in Enterprise which was also the first motel in south Alabama.
“She owned this property,” Tommy Moore said about his aunt. “She built this building in the late 1950s and then deeded the church to itself in January 1962.
“Back then it was 95 percent direct descendants of the Averett and the Byrd families,” Tommy Moore said. “Over the years, that changed of course.
“We’d gotten to this point where it dwindled down to five remaining members,” Tommy Moore said. “It dwindled down to my mother being the only direct descendant who was a church member.”
Tommy Moore’s mother’s mother was Clara Byrd, one of the three Byrd sisters that didn’t marry an Averett brother. “They ran out of brothers,” he said with a smile.
“To make a long story short, the membership dwindled down to my mom and a few others and they had decided to sell the church,” Tommy Moore said. “Then my mom called me on June 10 and she said, ‘This was Aunt Tera’s church and all of my family has gone here and I’m not feeling good about this.’”
Tommy Moore said that is when he and his wife Shelley stepped in to help.
The church had been closed for months because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I grew up in this church. It opened the year I was born,” Tommy Moore said. “My mother said this was not want Aunt Tera and great granddaddy would have wanted and she asked if there was anything we could do.”
Tommy Moore called his mother’s double first cousin, Byron Henderson, a Level Plains native who now lives in Albany, Ga. “His mother was one of the eight Byrd daughters who, like my granny, did not marry an Averett brother,” he said.
Henderson had been raised from the age of four by S.J. Byrd and his roots in the Primitive Baptist Church grew deep. He recommended that Tommy Moore call Stanaland.
“When Tommy called me, it was out of the blue and I didn’t know what to think,” Stanaland said. “When he told me that Byron was involved, I knew it was a valid need. He told me that his mother was the sole surviving member of this church. All the other members are gone so the entirety of the church rested with her.”
Stanaland spoke with Joyce Moore, who turns 83 Nov. 19, on the telephone. “Come to find out that she was so interested in keeping this church that she was in this building cleaning it by herself so right away my interest was really piqued,” Stanaland said. “The things she said to me she made me know that if the Lord would be gracious and merciful, I would help any way that I could.”
Two weeks later, on Aug. 9, Stanaland met Joyce Moore. Henderson and his daughter Merita Ott joined the Enterprise Primitive Baptist Church that day. “So in one day we went from one member to three members.”
Stanaland reached out to two fellow Primitive Baptist pastors who have joined in helping make the church renewal happen. Stanaland agreed to serve as interim pastor for six months.
“My mother has been coming to this church for over 66 years,” Tommy Moore said. “She’s still the church clerk and treasurer.
“One of the things she told me early on is, ‘I don’t want to lose my church,’” Tommy Moore said. “So we are working to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
(NOTE: Visit the Enterprise Primitive Baptist Church Facebook page.)