Our Story

How it all started...


BAKERSVILLE, North Carolina - Gathered by church member Buster Sparks over the many years, the collection brings together documents, periodicals, books and other sources that provide thorough coverage of the history of the church, of Mitchell County and of the surrounding area.

"I started several years ago, way back in the early 1970s. If I hadn't started then, a lot of our history could have been lost. I've accumulated a lot since then," said Sparks, standing over a long table heaped with the spoils of his efforts. Sparks began collecting on his own, but the response to his call for historical photographs, books, papers or artifacts was so great he had to get support from his church.

"We started on a bulletin board, and people were bringing things in by leaps and bounds. 1 needed a place to store it all, and they gave me these two rooms here. I used to do this on my own, but it was running into money. They set me up a budget and bought me a laminating machine," said Sparks, as he picked up an oversized volume holding old newspapers. It is one of a stack that holds several bound volumes of the old Tri-County News. Sparks gathered copies of every local newspaper published since 1949. Some he saved himself; others he received from local libraries when they went to microfilm. Leafing through a volume from 40 years ago shows that while some of the subject matter was what today's newspapers cover--tobacco, education and development-- the stories show that life was very different.

Surrounding the heaped tables are bookshelves and glass-covered display cases holding a wide variety of books and pamphlets. There is a copy of the Minutes of the Thirty-Seventh Anniversary of the French Broad Baptist Association Begun and Held at Walnut Creek M. H. August the 23rd and following days. Printed in Greeneville, Tennessee, in 1844, the Minutes lists 15 churches that were part of the association and gives the number of members of each, as well as other information. Several of the churches, including Bear Creek, which joined the association in this year, are still in existence. While Bear Creek is consistently referred to as "Bar Creek," the pastor is given as Stephen M. Collis, about whom Sparks collected much information and a portrait. He was the second pastor, replacing Stephen Morgan, who founded the church in 1830. "Bear Creek is the third oldest church in the county. It was organized before Mitchell County, which began in 1860. Roan Mountain Baptist Church and Grassy Creek were started before Bear Creek," said Sparks, who carefully reads the material that he gathers.

Under glass is an original History of the Roan Mountain Baptist Association Organized at Double Island Church October 5th, 1849. This volume, printed in 1894, contains a record of the annual sessions which were held at the various churches, rotating from year to year. At the initial meeting, Bear Creek Church founder Stephen Morgan was appointed chairman, and his succeeding pastor, Stephen M. Collis was chosen as clerk. The minutes contain questions brought by the different congregations and answers developed by the session as well as resolutions for the entire body. Bear Creek asked at the 1853 session, "What ought a church to do with a member who persists in the practice of distilling, drinking and selling ardent spirits?" Answer: "Church members should not be indulged in the practice alluded to, therefore we advise the churches to use all diligence to reclaim these members from this evil practice, and if they cannot be reclaimed, exclude them, if they use it as a beverage, or any disorder appear. "

The 1854 session passed the resolution, "Resolved that Sabbath Schools are a deservable object, and being only one in our bounds we advise the churches to establish and encourage them in every church." To further the purpose of establishing Sabbath Schools, in 1855 the session resolved, "that we appoint Elder S. M. Collis to deliver a lecture on Sunday Schools in each church in the Association and organize Sunday Schools where practicable ."

In an album containing portraits and brief biographies of the church's ministers, the piece on Collis says, "The record shows that the spirit of this resolution was vigorously carried out, for in 1869 the following report was made: "Your committee on Sunday Schools is happy to state that most of the churches have flourishing Sunday Schools, numbering from thirty-three to one hundred students." Such information is invaluable, and people from all over the country have come to the history rooms to research various topics. Sparks met with people from as far away as California, as well as those from Western North Carolina, to show them through the two large rooms crammed with a wide variety of written material, photographs and artifacts.

"I get a lot of calls from people who want to see this collection or do research. I've had several van loads of people come from places like Forest City, Hickory and everywhere. "One lady, Mrs. Morgan, from Flat Rock Creek in Buncombe County said, 'I've researched at libraries all around, and you have more information here.' She also gave me documents, the original papers showing where Bear Creek Church was established. It was organized by her husband's great-granddad," said Sparks, who personally met researchers to take them through his history rooms.

The photographs that cover the walls and fill a number of albums tell much about the history of the church as well as the community. While most of them are not fully identified, Sparks knew the story behind almost everyone, from the large pictures of the old Chestnut Flat Mine with his brother among the miners to the small snapshots of folks involved in various activities such as working in the 1940s at a hosiery mill in the area or motoring along a dusty road earlier in the century.

A portrait gallery of former preachers lines one wall, a large shot of 1947 singing school, pictures of the various churches that have served Bear Creek, and shots of the large cemetery and the annual June decorations that take place there tell the tale of Bear Creek as well as any of the many books that line the shelves and cover the tables. "I've got every book that's ever been written about Mitchell County or Western North Carolina, I think," said Sparks, pointing to caches stuck here and there in the two rooms.

He picks his grandfather's Bible and his father's old song book out of one case, then he finds the large Bible that has been with the church as long as anyone can remember; each one has a story connected to it. While not part of the collection, the large cemetery stretching along the ridge in front of the church adds to the story of the church. Documents and portraits inside can be tied to weathered graves, such as Allen Sparks' large monument standing over the first grave in the cemetery. The beauty of this spot in the midst of the mountains tells why settlers chose to make their new life on Bear Creek.

Rev. Stephen Morgan 1830
Rev. Stephen Collis 1844-1860's
Rev. Landon Greene Late 1800's
Rev. Stephen Greene Late 1800's; 1903-1907
Rev. Jonathan Duncan 1891-1902
Rev. J.C. Thomas 1908-1910
Rev. Fate Buchanan 1911-1914
Rev. Anderson Sparks 1915-1917
Rev. Molton Buchanan 1917-1918
Rev. Yates Sparks 1919-1921
Rev. Charlie Ellis 1921-1928
Rev. Julis Henline 1928-1932; 1942-1946
Rev. Clarence Buchanan 1932-1941
Rev. M.L. Ross 1941-1942
Rev. Hobart Glass 1947-1949
Rev. Dayton Jones 1949-1954
Rev. Ed Burnett 1954-1959
Rev. Joe Pitman 1960-1962
Rev. Vernon McAbee 1962-1966
Rev. Norton Craig 1966-1978
Rev. Gwyn Sullivan 1978-1981
Byrl Presnell [Children's Church] 1979-1981
Rev. Harold Mason 1966-1978; [Interim Pastor] 1981-1982
Pastor Emeritus 1978-1979
Rev. Clyde Buckner 1982-1988
Rev. R.M. Cassity [Interim Pastor] 1988
Rev. Max Holland 1988-2001
Rev. Howard Buchanan [Associate Pastor] 1972-1978
Rev. Howard Buchanan [Minister of Visitation] 1994-2001
Rev. Chris Rathbone 2001-2014
Rev. Bruce Cannon 2016 -2022
Rev. Chris Rathbone 2024- Present

The Bear Creek Baptist Church has a most interesting church history. It has grown from a membership of 51 in 1849 to over 700 today. The church stands on a rolling hill and overlooks the community in all directions. Rev. Stephen Morgan, who came from Madison County, organized the Bear Creek Church in 1830. The original church was a little hut with a dirt floor, a hole made for a window and a hole in the roof for the smoke to go out. The old church stood at the foot of the hill where Hamburg Road begins.

Later in the 1800' s, another church was built. It stood at the front of our present cemetery. Rev. Charlie Ellis is buried where the pulpit was in the old church. This was his heart's desire. In 1926, another church was built. This church featured two classrooms behind the pulpit. Later in the early 1950' s, additional classrooms were added. Today, this part of the church is still being used for Pastor's Study, Secretary's Office, Library, Historical Rooms, Sunday School office and classrooms.

Construction began on our present church in 1958 and was completed in July 1959. It is a modem church with a seating capacity of 500. In August 1979, a Sound Room at the front entrance of the church was completed. The sanctuary was remodeled in 1983 and restrooms for the handicapped were added. Our Fellowship Hall was started in July 1989 and completed and dedicated on November 22, 1989. It connects on to our present buildings. In 2008, our stage was renovated, a new sound system installed and the Sound Room moved to the balcony. We are in the process of building a Family Life Center that we pray will be used to minister to and reach the surrounding area for Christ.

Through the years, many new ideas, organizations and programs have been added to our church. Some of these include: WMU, Brotherhood, Awana's, Children's Church, Toddler Time, Prayer Rooms, Observance of the Lord's Supper, Senior Recognition Day for our High School Graduates, Annual Church Picnic, Child Dedication, Recognition of our Veterans, Senior Citizens luncheon, church vans, etc.

Many gifts have been made available to us. In May, 1979, a Schulmerich Chime System was received from Mr. and Mrs. J.A. Moore who lived in Glenwood. This chime system could be heard daily throughout the community. In May 1983, a set of handbells were purchased with a love gift from Mary McKinney. We are truly blessed!

From Bear Creek have come many leaders, preachers, teachers, musicians, etc., but most of all we are a people with a genuine love for the Lord. Our people have always extended their hands and hearts in all areas of the community, county, state and world.


Buster Sparks was for many years our Church Historian. He has gone on to be with the Lord. We are very thankful for the countless hours that he devoted to making this a reality. If you'd like more information, contact Addy & Joyce Greene or our Secretary, Linda Duncan at the Church Office. They will gladly introduce the Bear Creek Baptist Church, its history rooms and cemetery to you. For information, call 828-688-4331.

Be a part of our story...

Join us every Sunday morning as we gather to worship together at 9:45 am and 11 am, Sunday evening at 6:00pm and Wednesday evening at 6:30pm.