General CBF

Ball Camp Baptist Celebrates 225th Anniversary with More to Come

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper and not to harm, plans to give you hope and a future,’” Jeremiah 29:11

By Laura Ellis

The tangible timeline the anniversary celebration committee assembled from historical memorabilia they found in the church for the 225th celebration.

In today’s climate of upheaval and uncertainty when many Christians are discussing how to ensure the future survival of the Church, one CBF church’s anniversary celebration marks an incredible sign of hope. On May 1, 2022, Ball Camp Baptist Church celebrated its 225th anniversary of meeting together as a congregation.

Ball Camp Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee was founded in 1797, a mere 21 years after the country’s independence and only one year after Tennessee was founded as a state. The congregation lived through two world wars, multiple pandemics, several natural disasters and an ever changing social and political landscape. Through its 225 years in existence, the Ball Camp congregation has had three different church names and five church buildings. A replica of the first log cabin church building was made and displayed proudly in the church’s current sanctuary during the anniversary service. 

The anniversary service on May 1st beautifully reminisced over the church’s history, while grounding its purpose in the present and boldly envisioning what the future might hold for Ball Camp. 

A pulpit Bible from the 1800s was among the historic tokens the committee found. From 1815 to 1877, the BBC had four buildings.

Janie Wallace, chair of the anniversary celebration committee, believes in the power of celebration. She described the service as “a chance to celebrate the fact that God stayed with this congregation and would not give up on this congregation, no matter what…It was a time to celebrate God’s faithfulness to us and our faithfulness as a congregation to God and our faithfulness to not let this church die. Especially coming out of the pandemic, we celebrate that God is still here. This is God’s house and we are going to celebrate everyone who helped keep God’s mission at this church going. Celebrate the former pastors, music ministers, youth ministers, everybody who helped lead and keep this congregation moving through whatever crisis they had to withstand in their ministry.”

In the last 25 years alone, the church has been led by three senior ministers, five youth ministers, three children’s ministers and five music ministers. Many of these former ministers returned to Ball Camp to join the anniversary service, and several of them once again led portions of the service through prayer, song and scripture readings. 

Since 1997, Ball Camp welcomed over 200 new members, baptized 110 people and experienced the passing of over 100 members. A portion of the service was dedicated to the recognition of a few of these extraordinary congregants. One of the recognitions went to Lola Haire, who was the oldest living member of the congregation at 101 years old. This recognition was particularly meaningful for the church, as Haire passed away on June 22nd of this year. 

In addition to the anniversary service, the history of Ball Camp was on display the month leading up to the Sunday service. Wallace and the seven members of her committee spent months meticulously combing through every room in the church for historical memorabilia. Items were collected, organized into categories and displayed for the congregation. The committee found treasures such as a wooden pulpit from the early 1900s, a 200-year-old church Bible, business meeting notes from the 1800s and handsewn flags from World War I and World War II with stars indicating the number of congregants who served in the armed forces and the number of those who died during the wars. 

A history of the five buildings that Ball Camp used as houses of worship in the past 225 years.

Reverend Lee Fox, the current senior minister at Ball Camp, knows that the congregation spends most of its energy focusing on the present and future, but he sees the benefits of the church taking time to “live in their history.” 

Fox said, “Our folks needed something to celebrate. We needed to be together…It was important for the church to be reminded of our role in the Kingdom. In the last four to five years, there’s been so much hate…But I think for us, it was good to see that we’re all still human. We have more in common than we care to admit, and the common is Jesus.”

While the congregation does not normally spend time focusing on the past, the present characteristics of Ball Camp are influenced by its rich history. Fox sees this historical influence most clearly in the congregation’s dedication to missions, which he believes is in the DNA of the church. Ball Camp is highly involved in local, regional, national and international mission projects with a philosophy of responding faithfully to needs as they arise in their community and beyond. 

The church is able to participate in these mission projects in part through its partnerships with local, state and international Baptist associations, including CBF, which Ball Camp has been affiliated with since 1993. Representatives from each association were invited to speak at the anniversary service. 

CBF’s Executive Coordinator Paul Baxley told the congregation, “Today I come to say thank you…Your faithfulness makes possible a much larger Baptist witness around the world that is caring for refugees displaced by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, that is offering hospitality to strangers from North Africa to Sub-Saharan Africa to the Middle East, central Europe and beyond. So when you stand and sing ‘To God be the Glory Great Things He Hath Done’ here in Knox County, you are not just offering a witness in Knox County. But your song of praise reverberates around the world, and for that I say to God be the glory.” 

Two flags representing church members who served in the military. The flag on the left is from World War I, with blue stars representing church members who served and the gold stars honoring those who died. The flag on the right represents member who served in World War II, the blue stars again those who served and the gold those who were lost.

After the congregation remembered its past and celebrated its present, the momentous anniversary service also took time to envision the church’s future. Fox preached, “We can look back and we can be grateful to God for who we are as a church and who we are as a people in this community. But we can never stop here. There’s still so much to be done in our world today. Too much, way too much of our world does not look or sound anything like the kingdom of heaven…This world needs a church that will stand and announce the hope and the promise of salvation.” 

Fox continued, “Christ Jesus our Lord is making all things new every day, providing our salvation, our redemption and our future. Just as Christ has for over 2000 years, just as Christ has for the last 225 years, just as Christ did last year, this year, and yes, even this morning. Let us…be the church that our community, our families and this world so desperately need.”

Ball Camp’s anniversary celebration was a beautiful act of hope, standing in defiance against all of the discord and disconnectedness in the world today. Having survived the last 225 years, Ball Camp claimed with courage and resilience that the church will surely survive this moment as well. Not only will this specific church outlive today’s state of the world, such a celebration gives a witness of hope that the universal Church and the ministry of the gospel will live beyond the chaos of the times. 

Baxley told the congregation, “To celebrate 225 years of ministry is a remarkable witness of faith, particularly in this time…All around us there is a silly question being asked: Can the Church of Jesus Christ survive the Coronavirus pandemic?…If in the inner recesses of your heart, you wonder in the strange and confusing and difficult time, is there a future? Look at the past and the present, and with confidence and joy, say yes, yes.”

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