Liberty Township; east side Ramseur-Julian Road.
[Sandy Creek Baptist Church was this month approved to be designated as a county Landmark; the description below was written years ago, but I updated it to take note of the recent loving improvements done by members of its congregation. It is not yet listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but it is not only deserving of that designation, it should by all rights become Randolph County's first National Historic Landmark. For a a look at the complete Landmark application, check it out on the Landmark Commission page on the county website.]
Sandy Creek Baptist Church is both the oldest organized church and the oldest surviving religious structure in Randolph County. A recognized landmark in religious history, it is noted by the nearby state historic marker as the “Mother of Southern Baptist Churches.” The congregation at Sandy Creek was founded by the “Separate Baptist” minister Shubal Stearns (1706-1771), a Boston native who led a group of eight families into the area in 1755. Most colonial or “Particular” Baptists were members of the Philadelphia Association and advocated a strict Calvinist theology of “what will be, will be.” Separate or “New Light” Baptists broke with this practice and proposed active campaigns to win converts with Sunday Schools, revivals and missionary work. Stearns’ efforts to awaken the religious impulses of the back country were wildly successful, with his original congregation of eight families mushrooming into 606 members by 1770.
In June 1758 Stearns formed the Sandy Creek Association, an organization including not only the original church but three nearby offshoot congregations. The association soon grew to include members all over the South, and as far west as the Mississippi. Baptist historian Morgan Edwards noted in 1772 that “It, in 17 years, is become mother, grandmother and great grandmother to 42 churches, from which sprang 125 ministers, many of which are ordained and support the sacred character as well as any set of clergy in America.” In 1830 the Sandy Creek Association backed the creation of the new Southern Baptist Convention, and the two organizations soon combined. Sandy Creek Church itself, centered in the area of most active opposition to the colonial government, suffered greatly during the War of the Regulation. Edwards estimated that 1,500 families left the region after the battle of Alamance in 1771. This combined with the death of Rev. Stearns in November of the same year, soon caused the membership of the church to dwindle to a mere fourteen.
Nationally, the Separate Baptists combined with the Regular Baptists in the early 19th century, but the merger was not popular. In 1836 discontent was so profound at Sandy Creek that part of the congregation broke away and formed the nearby Shady Grove Baptist Church, leaving the old building to the ‘Primitive’ (or anti-missionary) Baptists who maintain it today.
The existing Sandy Creek Church is the third building to house the congregation. The first building burned about 1785, and the second, built across the road, was blown down by a storm. The third, according to strong local tradition, was built in 1826. The log building is approximately 20 by 25 feet in size.
The church is one of the best examples of antebellum meeting houses left in North Carolina. It still features the original pulpit, or “Bible Rail,” and some original benches.
Raked “galleries” or balconies around three sides of the interior were removed in 1936, but have recently been expertly reconstructed.
The log church was weatherboarded in 1870 and covered with asphalt siding in 1953; both coverings were removed in 2007 when several rotten structural timbers were replaced. It is good to see one of the county’s most important historic landmarks is being well maintained by its congregation.