History of SCBA

“From this Sion” Sandy Creek Baptist Church November 22, 1755 This print portrays the first worship service at Sandy Creek. The Baptist History Preservation Society commissioned artist Don Adair to create this painting. This picture of the print is used by permission from the Baptist History Preservation Society.

The Sandy Creek Baptist Association has a long and noteworthy history. It includes the birth of many other associations, the starting of hundreds of churches, the sending of countless numbers of preachers, state conventions, institutions, and more. This will not by any means be a comprehensive account of that history. Many books have been written and seminary courses taught that go into the details of that history. In this directory, we will simply be able to mention a few of the “highlights.”  

We begin with a man named Shubal Stearns. Stearns was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on January 28, 1706. Through his Christian journey, he first joined the Congregational Church. In 1745, being greatly influenced by the preaching of George Whitefield, he became a part of the New Light Movement. Six years later, he was immersed and ordained as a Baptist preacher. (McBeth, pp. 227 – 236) 

Stearns and his brother-in-law (Daniel Marshall) had a desire to begin new churches. In 1754, they moved to Virginia, where they had little success. A friend wrote Stearns a letter inviting him to come to a great mission field, North Carolina. Stearns understood this as a direction from the Lord. In 1755, eight families traveled to North Carolina and settled at Sandy Creek. They organized the Sandy Creek Baptist Church and built a church building even before constructing their own homes.

Stearns was said to be a preacher full of passion and fervor. Following the example of George Whitefield, he preached hard against sin and proclaimed the necessity of the new birth. It is said that Stearns’ greatest contribution to Baptists was evangelism, especially in the areas of missions and church planting. He had a dream of sending out preachers and planting churches throughout the South. In 1758, to help make this possible, the Sandy Creek Baptist Association was organized.  In George Purefoy’s book, History of the Sandy Creek Baptist Association: 1758-1858, he lists the following churches as the initial churches in the Sandy Creek association: Sandy Creek, Grassy Creek, Little River, Lockwood’s Folly, New River, Shallow Ford, Slow River, Southwest and Trent. He said that there were 20 ministers, and only seven of them were ordained.  Purefoy said that the first annual meetings were so encouraging, that the ministers “would leave the association with a zeal and courage which no common obstacle could impede.” (Purefoy, pages 62-64)    

The Sandy Creek association began during a period of revival known as the Great Awakening.  From its beginning, the association had a heart for missions and reached far beyond their local geographic area.  By 1770, the association stretched from the Potomac River to Augusta, Georgia, and from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River.  That same year, because of its size and the difficulty of travel in that day, the association formed two new associations: one in South Carolina (the Congaree) and the other in Virginia (the General Association of Virginia).  The churches in North Carolina kept the Sandy Creek name. In the first 17 years, the Sandy Creek association became the mother, grandmother, and great grandmother of 42 churches from which sprang 125 ministers of the Gospel. 

Stearns was the main leader of the association during those early years. It wasn’t until 47 years after its birth that the association elected its first officers. On October 26, 1805, in a meeting in Montgomery County, Brother James Bostick was chosen to serve as the first moderator and Brother Bryant Boroughs as the first clerk.

We will never fully know all that happened in those first years. The early records of the association were never printed. They were hand-written and kept at the home of William Lightfoot. Lightfoot’s home, and most of those records, were destroyed in a fire in 1816. After that, greater care was taken to preserve the records of the association. Then as now, keeping records is never easy. Dr. B. Manly, clerk of the association said, “We had great difficulty in persuading a few churches even as late as 1816, to forward the usual statistics to the association. They had an idea that God intended his disapprobation of that by his displeasure against David for numbering the people.”  (Purefoy, page 66)  

Over the years, the association dealt with many important issues. Of course, one issue in the South was slavery. In the early 1800’s, the association urged slave owners to do the humane thing and keep slave families together instead of selling them off to separate plantations. By 1835, Sandy Creek Baptists were against the practice all together, advising churches “to exclude members who will not abandon the practice, after the first and second admonition.” (Purefoy, pages 163-164)

The association took an active part in the emergence of Sunday (Sabbath) Schools in the mid 1830’s. In 1837, the association sent this message to the churches, “The churches of this body were advised ‘to pay more attention to Sabbath-schools and temperance societies.’” By 1839, “The association recommended all the churches within its bounds, ‘to organize themselves into Sabbath-schools, and in future, to insert in their church letters, yearly, the state of their respective schools, specifying the number of teachers and scholars,’ etc.” (Purefoy, page 178)

The first annual meetings were full of discussions about issues of their day. One issue they discussed was how to handle accusations made against ministers. Their decision was that “An accusation is not to be entertained against a minister except it be established by two or three witnesses.” They discussed God’s forgiveness of sin. One of the churches wrote a letter to the association asking this question, “Does the Lord forgive sin?” The attendees at the meeting considered this “a little remarkable.” Their answer was simply, “Yes!” They talked about the involvement of members in lotteries. They responded, “No, members should not ‘take tickets.’” They talked about whether or not a member should work as a constable. They decided, “We deem it lawful but not expedient.” Through the years, there were many calls to prayer “for a revival of religion among our churches, and throughout all Christendom.” Circular letters were written to share what was discussed and decided at the meetings. Whenever necessary, committees were formed and sent to assist churches with particular needs. (Purefoy, pages 119-169)

Throughout the years, there was always a heavy involvement in missions. As early as 1816, records show involvement in the mission boards for “Foreign and Domestic” causes, including the NC Missions Society. In 1837, the association approved the organization of the “American and Foreign Bible Society.” In 1855, the association earnestly requested churches to take up an annual offering for the Baptist State Convention of NC. “If this was done, our ministry and educational interests would prosper, without the necessity of agents.” “Every church should consider itself a missionary body, and its pastor an agent.” (Purefoy, page 247)

In 1851, the association agreed to build a male academy in Pittsborough (present day Pittsboro), but it was finally built in Mount Vernon Springs and was called Mount Vernon Seminary. The seminary sent reports to the association for several years.

Finally in 1858, the association requested funds “to erect a suitable tombstone in memory of Elder Shubal Stearns, who was, under God, the honored instrument in planting this association.” (Purefoy, page 261) At that time, there were 29 churches listed at the meeting. They represented Alamance, Cumberland, Chatham, Harnett, Moore, Orange and Randolph Counties.

In the book, History Sandy Creek: 1858-1958, the writing style changed. Mostly what is recorded is an account of each annual meeting. Each includes the names of the messengers present at the meeting, the moderator, preacher, and the clerk. There is usually a reference to the number of people baptized that year and the total number of members of all the churches. Very little else is mentioned. The following is just a few brief highlights of the history found in the book. 

In 1860, the churches of the association had a total of 2,408 members. In 1862, the messengers voted to have 800 copies of the minutes printed and started receiving an offering to help with the costs of the printing. In 1872, delegates to the North Carolina Baptist State Convention were appointed at the associational level. The annual associational meeting lasted four days with preaching services on a Sunday morning. Annual collections were started for the support of the State Convention. In 1874, an offering was collected to help provide a scholarship for a student at Wake Forest College.

In 1900, the total membership of the churches was 3,163. Twenty years later, the total membership had grown to 5,570. In 1924, the messengers voted to change the annual meeting from a four-day event to only three days. In 1936, they voted to change the annual meeting to a two-day event. In 1939, they voted to no longer meet on a Sunday. The year 1940 showed continued growth with the total membership being 8,104. 

Miss Roberta Pearle Johnson was the first foreign missionary from the association. She went to China in 1915. She was captured and held by the Japanese from 1941-1943. She stayed in China until 1949, at which time she returned home. Miss Johnson died in 1952.

The North Carolina Baptist State Convention began in 1830 and held two meetings in our association during the early years. In 1832, they met at Rives Chapel. And in 1836, they met at May’s Chapel.

The association celebrated its 200th anniversary in 1958. Rev. Manuel Cunnup was asked to preach the annual sermon that year. He would later serve as the association’s first associational missionary. 

I am not aware of any organized history that has been written since that day. However, the following information has been gathered from the annuals of the association to again, simply share a few highlights of our history since then.  

In 1961, the association was comprised of a total of 35 churches. The total budget for that year was $1,089.00 and the total receipts were $1,077.35.

The annual meetings were a two-day event. The messengers met on a Friday afternoon and evening, and the following Saturday morning. Meals were provided both days. When financial reports were given, they included not only the total amount given by the churches, but the amount given per member. One such year was 1968, when a total of $2,790.20 was given to the association. That averaged out to 27.5 cents per member. In 1968, the total membership of the churches of the association had grown to 10,118.

In 1972, the motion was made to call the first associational missionary. The final vote was 72 in favor and 55 against. The motion was carried and a committee was appointed to find a suitable candidate. In February 1973, Manuel Cunnup began his duties as the associational missionary. He served in that capacity until 1978. The budget that year increased to $17,484.60 and the finance committee encouraged the churches to support the association at a rate of $2.00 per member.

During Rev. Cunnup’s service, the West Sanford Baptist Church dissolved leaving its property to the association. They were officially recognized and appreciation was expressed during the annual meeting that year. The “Baptist Center” as it was called is still used as the offices today. 

The Rev. Ernest Davis came to the association in 1979 and served as director of missions until 1990. The change of title from associational missionary to director of missions occurred as associational work across the nation was going through a time of reorganization. 

In 1990, the association was made up of 41 churches and missions. The annual meeting was moved from a Friday and Saturday to the fourth Monday and Tuesday evenings in October. Also that year, Rev. Larry McElreath came to serve as the director of missions. He stayed until 1993 when he left to work with the North Carolina Baptist State Convention. Finally in the 1993-1994 budget, the total was over $100,000.00.  

The Rev. Roy A. Smith served as director of missions from 1994 – 1998. During his tenure, work was done on the constitution and reorganizing the association’s meetings.  The annual meeting was changed to two semi-annual meetings: one in April and one in October. He went to South Africa to serve in the North Carolina-South African Partnership.

For three years, the association went without a director of missions. The Rev. Jim Lambert served as interim for two of those years. In 2001, the association changed the title from director of missions back to associational missionary. Rev. Gordon West served as the associational missionary from April of 2001 through April of 2013. Eric Davidson began as the interim in August of 2013 and went on to serve as associational missionary beginning in September 2014 until April of 2020. Rob Roberts served as interim from June 2020 through January 2022.
Our current associational missionary is Barry Lawrence. He began his service with us in February 2022.

For over two and a half centuries, churches of various shapes and sizes have joined together through the Sandy Creek Baptist Association to do things that sometimes were impossible to do alone. We take the Great Commission seriously and have worked together to take the Gospel of Jesus to our lost world. The Sandy Creek Baptist Association has helped in giving birth to hundreds of churches, institutions, other associations and even state conventions. We are grateful for all that God has done these past years. We also look forward to what He will do tomorrow. 



History of Sandy Creek: 1858-1958, Bound Minutes from the annual meetings. (no other information given)

McBeth, H. Leon, The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness, Broadman Press, Nashville, TN., 1987.

Purefoy, George, History of the Sandy Creek Baptist Association: From Its Organization in A.D. 1758, to A.D. 1858, Sheldon & Co. Publishers, New York, 1859. 

Torbet, Robert G., A History of the Baptists, The Judson Press, Valley Forge, VA., 1950, Sixth Printing 1965.

Binion, Timothy Don, Shubal Stearns, http://www.pastortim.org/shubal_stearns.htm, visited 2/26/2008