Kindness, benevolence: Piney Level Baptist Church welcomes all
By Linda Braden Albert | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Piney Level Baptist Church will celebrate its 130th anniversary in May. While the church’s roots go deep in Blount County, Pastor George Macht believes the message of the old, old story is as important today as it was almost a century and a half ago.
Macht, one of 29 pastors who has served the church, has been at Piney Level since 1974. His association with the church began long before his call as pastor, however.
“My first introduction to Piney Level Baptist Church was as a small boy when I came to the annual decoration of graves with my parents,” Macht recalled. “That’s when I was about 9 or 10 years old. Then in 1974, for the month of March, I became their interim pastor because they didn’t have a pastor. Then on March 31, 1974, they called me as their senior pastor. I’ll soon be here 39 years if the Lord lets me stay till the last day of March.” Macht’s home church is Forest Hill Baptist, where he was saved, baptized, licensed and ordained. He pastored his first church in 1965, Ellejoy Baptist.
Inez Adams and her husband, Earl Adams, are longtime members of Piney Level and have been instrumental in gathering materials about the church and its members to preserve its history. Adams said Piney Level’s root go back to Carter County. The first definitely known date of the Baptist Church’s presence in the state of Tennessee was in 1775 in Carter County, and students of history believe other Baptist churches were offshoots.
Early settlers arriving in Tuckaleechee Cove, now Townsend, formed Tuckaleechee Baptist Church and asked for admission to the Tennessee Baptist Association in 1803, the oldest church in the Association’s records. No record exists for this church past 1810, but in the following year, Miller’s Cove Baptist Church appeared in the records. Adams said Miller’s Cove became the mother of all Missionary Baptist churches in Blount County.
Crooked Creek Baptist Church was founded in 1825 in what is now the Hubbard community, and in 1832, it split, resulting in the formation of Pleasant Grove Baptist in 1833. Piney Level probably formed about that time but remained an unorganized church for about 51 years.
When Pleasant Grove split in 1882, Piney Level was organized with several additional members in 1883. The Rev. J.H. Morton was elected as its first pastor.
Piney Level Baptist has seen a number of changes. The building, according to a 1935 newspaper article described the church as “perhaps the oldest church in that community, built of logs and covered with split boards.”
“So we know that one had to set in the cemetery because the pictures of all the buildings that we have were frame building,” Adams said.
Her research shows that John and Nancy A. Riddle sold “a certain parcel” of land to Piney Level Church Feb. 28, 1882, for $23. The first church building was one room constructed of hewn logs and lumber, which probably came from a local sawmill. A frame building replaced the first structure, and as the congregation expanded, so did the facility. In 1941-43, four classrooms were built on the southeast side, and in 1951-53, four more classrooms were added. In 1954, an addition was built on the back of the church with a full-sized basement. There were four classrooms in the basement and two classrooms directly behind the pulpit. An oil furnace was installed at that time, and 10 feet were added to the auditorium.
In 1971, a building fund was started. The church membership decided there was not enough land at the site of that church building to build a larger church and also have enough parking area, so a search began for land on which to locate a new building. In that same year, Mr. and Mrs. Lee Lambert donated the land on which the current facility stands at 3527 Piney Level Church Road.
The current church building was constructed in 1976 at a cost of about $250,000, and the first Sunday school and worship service was held there on Jan. 23, 1977. The old frame building on the hill above was torn down later that year and the bell from that building was located on the grounds of the new one. An addition was built in 1998 that included seven classrooms, a kitchen and fellowship hall at a cost of $195,695.
Macht said, “I suppose one of the biggest changes has been the use of technology. We have a wonderful sound system, we’re on the world wide web. We have CDs that are available for the home bound. They stay about a week behind. For example, this week’s service will not be available until next week.”
The church congregation actively serves its membership in a number of ways, Macht said. There is a ministry to home-bound members, an active seniors program and “an excellent youth department,” he said.
“Vacation Bible School is tremendous,” Macht said, and involves all ages of participants. “It will probably be the last week in June. It is amazing what those people do with that, it really is.
“We just finished the collection of groceries for the Baptist Center. That’s a very big program here. The people work very hard on it.” More than 10,000 items were collected for the food bank.
Macht said about 75 people attend Sunday school each week, and from 125 to 150 attend the Sunday morning worship service. The membership stands at 496. The church is served by a group of men who are deacons, the pastor and a group of men who are trustees.
The pastor said he would like to see more outreach within the local community to reach the people nearby who need a church home. “They do a beautiful job with foreign, home and state missions, and they go on mission trips, but it kind of falls down right here around our church doors.”
He invites anyone without a church home to visit Piney Level. “We love everybody unconditionally regardless of culture, race, and most of all, we’re interested in reaching them for salvation and growth in discipleship.
“Every church is uniquely different,” Macht continued. “Churches are really groups of people. It’s not the building or the programs per se, it’s the people, and it takes on the flavor of those people. I tell them all the time sincerely, honestly, that I pastor the greatest church of the world because of the people who are here. They were that way when I came, it’s not because of anything I’ve done. I believe that Piney Level people are the most kind, benevolent people you’d find anywhere.”