Living Democracy

Historic Collinsville Baptist Church

image of Collinsville Baptist ChurchMy mom, a native of a small town in Long Island, always told my sisters and me that living in a small town was like having a large family—barbers told stories about your granddad, neighbors knew your birthday, and your third grade teacher had also taught your aunt and graduated with grandma. “Living in a large city can be lonely by comparison,” she’d sigh.

I couldn’t relate to her woes, as my hometown of Franklin, Tenn., is home to nearly 65,000, and our closest city, Nashville, has a population wavering around 625,000. I was surrounded by folks everywhere I went, but I never realized I was lonely until I came to Collinsville.

I bought some bread and peanut butter at the Piggly Wiggly last week. “You must be the new library girl,” the gruff guy behind the counter said, eyeing me from head to toe.

            “Yes, sir, I’m here for the summer from Auburn.”

            “I know that. We all know that.”

And he was right. At Collinsville’s Trade Day, which I truly believe needs it’s own trademark—it’s that unique—I was bombarded with introductions to people who couldn’t wait to meet the library intern.

            “We heard you’re just the sweetest thing!”

            “Oh, Jennifer was right, you’re so charming!”

            “My grandson goes to Auburn—I’ll have to introduce you! You’ll love him.”

image of Collinsville Baptist Church and historical markerI had women inviting me over for lunch and men who offered to fix my car’s busted air conditioning.  The dogs even seemed friendlier down here. On Wednesday, a new friend introduced me to her church pastor. We sat down and introduced ourselves, and I found that he was a big city transplant, just like me.

Pastor John Morgan was so excited to meet a fellow Nashvillian and reminisced about his times in Nashville and Birmingham. “I don’t know how I travelled from one city to another and wound up in a town of 2,000,” he said with a laugh. “But I can assure you that it has changed my life.”

I always found small town life quaint and romantic, and the church service at Collinsville Baptist on Sunday morning exceeded my expectations. Pastor John greeted everyone at the door by name—a huge change from that atmosphere at my home church, which had a population larger than the town of Collinsville and was lovingly referred to as “Six Flags Over Jesus.”

image of Collinsville Baptist ChurchI was introduced to the congregation—“Everyone say hi to Shaye, the infamous Auburn intern”—and greeted with oohs and ahhs, with a few good- natured “boos” sprinkled in by Bama fans. Ladies in opulent hats gave me hugs while their husbands shook my hand. Kids giggled when I talked to them and told me I had a funny accent. Everyone welcomed me and wanted to hear my story.

The service was intimate, with Pastor John sending up prayer request for ill congregation members and praises for those healed. Instead of swanky drum sets and electric guitars, the choir’s hymnals were accompanied by a lone piano.

Generations of families sat together and prayed. I was encouraged to come back Wednesday to help out with youth group and sit in on a choir session. Eventually, Pastor John invited me to his office where he told me about the church’s history.

“This is probably the only church you’ve been to where the founder’s ancestors still attend service!” he announced proudly. He explained the historic marker in front of the church reading “Indian Mound, Inn, and Church Site.”

image of Collinsville Baptist ChurchOriginally, the land was inhabited by Cherokees, then owned by A.H. Lamar and his Cherokee wife. The couple sold the land to the founding family of Collinsville, headed by Alfred Collins, and in 1888 an inn for travelers on the railroad was constructed. The building changed ownership in 1924, and locals have been congregating there for services since.

For a small town, Collinsville has a lot of churches. “Throw a rock from this church and you’ll hit another one,” the pastor told me. “It is the Bible belt, after all.” But these small churches serve a purpose far beyond worship.  They provide fellowship, laughter, and hope—the glue that binds many of these community members together. 

By Shaye McCauley
Last Updated: June 02, 2014