The New Prospect Free Will Baptist Church began its existence in 1874 when a traveling preacher named Chesshire rode through and determined that this community south of Texasville was in need of a church. At the time, the area was thickly populated and the site had a cemetery known as the Cook graveyard which made it suitable for the erection of a bush arbor.
Upon the selection of the site, Chesshire spent the night with a nearby family and began work on clearing the area that following day. Several of the nearby people helped cut the logs for pews and helped Chesshire complete that arbor. When the work was done, Chesshire departed for home but promised to return the following Sunday to begin a series of meetings.
On that Sunday morning at the appointed time, Chesshire returned to find a nice sized congregation ready to fellowship and thus followed the first sermon ever preached at New Prospect Free Will Baptist Church. As the weeks passed, more and more interest was shown by the community and the church grew, enjoying numerous converts which added to the congregation.
People came from miles around on ox wagons, mule wagons, horseback, and on foot. Due to this great interest, those attending began discussing organizing regular church meetings, which became a reality after approximately three to four months of arbor services. Although the church was originally known as Prospect Church, it was later changed to New Prospect Church to distinguish it from a nearby church having the same name. Sol Wright, who owned the land at the time, gave the church a deed to two acres of land and in recent years, Ralph Brown has deeded an extra one-half acre joining the two acres to be used to expand the cemetery.
An annual sacred harp sing was held at New Prospect in the early 1900’s on Thanksgiving Day. There was also a period of time when they would have all-day seven shape sings with dinner on the grounds. Mr. Jeff Hendley taught a seven shaped singing school at the church each year prior to 1918. The story is told that one day during the singing school when the organ player, Shellie Peel, sat down and began to play, a lizard ran out of the organ. That particular song proved to be very short. During the early 1900’s traveling photographers would come to sings and take pictures of the families present.
The frame building was used until about 1957, when it was moved away and the present building was erected. In 1957, when the block building was constructed, all blocks were donated by Dr. John Bush of Columbus, Georgia. Later he also donated fencing for the cemetery across the road in front of the church. Dr. Bush was a native of the community and his parents are buried in the church cemetery.
The church has been added to on numerous occasions. The first came in 1964 when a new fellowship hall and two bathrooms were added. In 1976, two Sunday School rooms were added. In 1976, two additional Sunday School rooms, a large storage room, and additional fellowship hall space were added. Other structural changes include a pastor’s study, a baptistery, and one Sunday School room, all which took place in 1987. Also, in 1982, the first and only steeple was erected.
In the early years, the baptisms were held over the hill behind the church were a stream provided ample water for a pool. Later baptisms were held at White Pond, local creeks, and Herbert Brown’s pond. Eventually, a baptistery was constructed within the church.
The membership adopted its first constitution and by-laws on June 10, 1979, to which there have been no changes. The only other rules and regulations formally adopted by the membership are Rules Governing the New Cemetery adopted in 1989.
Ministers who have served the church after Chesshire are: Joe Hendley (Abbevlle), R.M. Kency (Kinsey), John Guilford (Daleville), Preacher Cherry (Dothan, Charley Searcy (Abbeville), Will James (Terese), John Golden (Eufaula), Durwood Long (Columbus), Durwood Adkinson (Ariton), Clarence Culpepper (Eufaula), Gilbert Lacey (Dothan), Wayne Parker (Midland City), Wayne Williams (Edwin), Bobby Register (Edwin), and the present Danny Henderson of Headland. In the years when there was no pastor, members would talk among themselves and inquire into ministers who might be coming through the area and be available to preach. The members would then pass the word throughout the community in order to prepare.
The early members and supporters of the church were of the following family names: Cook, Thurmon, Dunlap, Mathison, Hicks, Wright, Williams, Carroll, Trawick, Owens, Peel, Martin, Bush, Bulger, Bedsole, Walker, Adams, Brown, Knight, Hines, and Beamon. George Hicks and Lum Adams were two of the first deacons and Ella Adams served as the first clerk.
The church outreach ministry has included the following: Vacation Bible School, which began in the late 1970’s, a bus ministry, which began in 1984, and participation in the Southeastern Association Youth Camp, which began in the late 1970’s. In addition to the regular Sunday worship services and Wednesday night prayer meetings, the church also has provided Children’s Church, which began in 1984 under the direction of Larry Sowell.
New Prospect Freewill Baptist Church is proud of its 130 year history, and its congregation eagerly awaits the challenges and promises of the future.
(Linda Sowell is a member of New Prospect Free Will Baptist Church and has been active in restoring the community clubhouse in Edwin.)