Reverend Sidney S. Murkland, a native of Scotland, was a missionary and an abolitionist who aided and abetted northern churches in ministering to Negroes.
Just before the end of the Civil War, Reverend Murkland came to Concord Presbytery to accept the pastorate of Bethany Church. There, he purchased land and ministered to both blacks and whites; blacks usually sat in the balcony. Having no love for the idea of man’s enslavement of other men, Reverend Murkland was very out spoken in his convictions of equality between the races – so much so that he was dismissed from the rolls of Concord Presbytery.
Father Murkland, as he was reverently called, was persistent. Following the close of the Civil war, he invited freed blacks to gather in his home for worship. People of all ages came, some walking five-to-ten miles. He taught them, and instilled in them the determination for an education and to get ahead economically. Reverend Murkland gathered several blacks who had worshipped in the balcony of the Bethany Church and formed a Presbyterian Church for blacks that was appropriately named Freedom.
Originally, Chestnut Grove members attended Bethany (now Freedom Presbyterian Church). Reverend Borders organized Chestnut Grove Baptist Church in the 19th Century. It was known as the Belt School House, Brothers Pink Belt, Dock Gaither and Bill Holland were the first deacons. The first building was an old wooden frame building. There was one choir and three deacons, but by putting all their faith in God, they began to strive for advancement.
In 1898, one acre of land was purchased from Bill and Lizzy Fraley for $8.00. By 1900, the church was built on it. At that time, the front of the church was facing east. Reverend A.B. Smoote served as pastor.
In 1934, the church was built at the present site under the leadership of Reverend T. R. Rucker. The first mention of the building was through the Senior Missionary Department. Sister Vallie Leach, president of the missionary circle, brought up the idea and all members agreed that a new church was needed, thus the members began working.
They had fish fries, picnics, and baby contests. Prayerfully, everybody worked together. Several white people donated logs for the new house of worship. Nathaniel Click drew the blue print for the building, Roy Lazenby sawed the logs and Lonnie Stevenson built the church. Each member did what they could. The deacons at that time were Lee Holland, Ab Allison, Ab Glasscock, Robert Hall, Rolland Chambers, Bernin Chambers and George Phifer.
Reverend T. G. Alexander and Reverend D. L. Mcguire served as pastors and worked with the members for the building of God’s kingdom.
From 1958 to 1961, Reverend W. F. Nixon served as the pastor of the church. Under his leadership, in 1960, the frame church was bricked and remodeled through pledges from all members.
In the years 1968 – 1970, Reverend B. S. Mason was the pastor. Under his leadership, the church added a baptismal pool, a fellowship hall and new restrooms. In the midst of the building growth, God called our beloved pastor home for even greater work. Even though we loved and needed him, God needed him most.
Reverend Felix Bailey placed the corner stone for the addition that was begun under Reverend Mason’s leadership. Under Reverend Bailey’s administration, new pews were added, outside lights were installed, and the parking lot was paved, Reverend Bailey served from 1970 – 1975.
In 1975, after praying and trusting God, Reverend Joe L. Coleman was called to pastor the church. Under his spiritual guidance, an air conditioning system was installed, speakers for the church were purchased and two new Sunday School rooms were added to the education department. An all male chorus was organized so that there were three choirs to render music each Sunday. The membership increased and there were several marriages under his leadership. There were seven deacons, fourteen trustees, and an Usher Board, Reverend Coleman did a wonderful job preaching the gospel each Sunday and visiting the sick as often as possible.
In September 1987, Reverend Charles J. Ferguson was called as pastor of the church. Membership increased and a Tuesday night visitation to homes of the sick and shut-in was established. The church began enjoying a weekly Wednesday night prayer service that included a Bible study session. There were now four choirs, six deacons, an active Sunday School, a missionary circle with three working departments and several auxiliaries. Under Pastor Ferguson’s leadership, the church purchased a modern church bus and in 1990, the church become a Life Member for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). We were able to purchase five acres of land on Chestnut Grove Road in April of 1994. Reverend Ferguson resigned in January 1995.
In April 1995, Reverend Dale K. Gibson came to us as speaker during our search for a pastor. After serving as interim pastor, he was officially called as pastor. In 1997, one of the members, Jody Turner, announced his calling to preach. After his trial sermon on October 19, 1997 and his being licensed, he was accepted as our associate minister under Pastor Gibson’s leadership. He left this church and began his own ministry. Also, called to preach were Ministers Robert Ramseur and Chris Tillman.
After over one hundred years, God answered our prayer by opening the hearts and minds of Larry and Janice Wike, the owners of the property surrounding the old sanctuary. They sold our congregation nine and nine-tenths (9.9) acres of land on June 23, 1999. Only by God’s grace and mercy were we finally able to make that purchase and later sell the property on Chestnut Grove Road. Through tithes and offerings and the special building fund, “Share the Bread,” we were able to raise funds for a new church structure without having to hold fundraisers. Additionally, several friends and neighbors gave generous donations to assist with the building project. There were also bequeaths in wills of deceased members who felt a desire to bless the church. In 2002, construction was begun on the new edifice under the guidance of Pastor Gibson. We moved into the new building the second Sunday in January of 2004. The building committee members were Donald Breedlove, John Dalton, Linda Dalton, Albert Leach, Deborah Ramseur, Whitfield Ramseur, Keith Turner, Shirley Ramseur, Dorothy Woodard, and William (Woody) Woodward.
The deacons who served under Reverend Gibson’s leadership were Shirley Ramseur, John Dalton, Kelvin Howell, James Roseboro, Johnnie Turner, Robert Ramseur and Keith Turner. We had four choirs, a musician, an active Sunday School, a missionary circle with three departments, ushers with both young and adult members, nurse’s aides, deaconesses, trustees, kitchen committee, and pastor’s aide.
Reverend Gibson resigned from the pastorate in January 2012. Minister Robert Ramseur served as our interim pastor until July 2013 when the congregation recalled Reverend Gibson to serve again as the pastor.