“By the authority vested in me as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
With that prayer by Elder Thomas Bond, Destry Hill was baptized June 12 in the first such ceremony in more than a decade for the historic church on Plaza Drive in Enterprise that faced closing its doors just one year ago.
“You’re going to get an education,” Tommy Moore said with a smile in the Fall of 2020 as he described to The Southeast Sun his involvement in resurrecting the historic church with a membership that had dwindled down over the years to just one person: his mother Joyce.
Joyce Moore of Level Plains joined the Enterprise Primitive Baptist Church in 1954. She serves today as church clerk. “I was 16 years old and the day I was baptized was the best day of my life,” she told those attending the special bptism service June 12. It is the only church she has ever been a member of. Her grandfather, Sydney Byrd, was one of the charter members of the Enterprise Primitive Baptist Church which branched off the original church founded in Dale County before the Civil War.
Standing beside Joyce Moore at the altar June 12 was Deacon Byron Henderson who had joined the Enterprise Primitive Baptist Church 66 years ago on June 12, 1955 at the age of 20. He was baptized years ago in a pond, he said, smiling at the memory.
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 church was first constituted on Aug. 7, 1948 by Sydney J. Byrd. As a young man, Byrd 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. Seeing the need for a convenient meeting place, the members of Pleasant Grove Primitive Baptist Church of Ozark built 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 government after the government had purchased the property for building Camp Rucker. 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.
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. The 104th Averett-Byrd Reunion is June 26. 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. Also a landowner and businesswoman, she is credited with starting 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 in 2020. “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, 2020 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 what 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 Elder J.C. Stanaland, pastor of Saint Andrew Primitive Baptist Church in Panama City, Fla.
“When Tommy called me and told me that Byron was involved, I knew it was a valid need,” said Stanaland. “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 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.”
“My mother has been coming to this church for over 66 years,” Tommy Moore said. “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.”
“We come to worship our Lord, we’re thankful for every opportunity we have to come to the house of the Lord and worship His holy name,” said Elder Clayton Nowell June 12. “What this church wants to do is show Jesus to the world.”