BY BOB HURLEY
The Timber Ridge Presbyterian Church celebrated its 225th anniversary on Sunday with special services that included a sermon from the chief executive officer of the denomination.
The Rev. Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the chief executive officer of the denomination, cited the long and faithful ministry of the church while preaching a gospel message from Luke 24.
"The pioneers who settled this land took the time to plant a church 225 years ago," Parsons told the capacity crowd, "so let us take time to continue the church."
Parsons, a native of Shelbyville, Tenn., now lives in Louisville, Ky., where the denomination's headquarters are located.
Prior to becoming an executive in the denomination, Parsons served congregations in Newport and Bristol, Tenn., for 15 years.
He became the executive presbyter and stated clerk of the Holton Presbytery in 1994, and in 2008, he was elected the denomination's highest elected office, the stated clerk of the general assembly.
Parsons touched on the changes that have marked the passage of time in the history of the church, adding that the congregation has been "a faithful witness to manifest the love of God throughout this long march of time."
Parson's sermon and the lunch that followed were part of an entire weekend of festivities designed to mark the anniversary of the church.
On Saturday evening, Earl W. Fletcher, Jr., executive director of the Nathanael Greene Museum, in Greeneville, presented a lecture on the history of the church.
"There was indeed a time when Timber Ridge was the western most church on the American frontier," Fletcher said in a telephone interview after his lecture at the church.
"After the First Presbyterian Church in Greeneville, which was originally known as Mt. Bethel, was founded in 1780," Fletcher said, "the Mt. Bethel founders moved a little west and founded Timber Ridge.
FOUNDED BEFORE TENN.
"The church was founded 11 years before Tennessee became a state, and it was actually part of three other states before Tennessee became a state in 1796.
"It was part of the State of Franklin initially, then it was part of North Carolina, then a part of the Territory South of the River Ohio before it finally became a part of Tennessee."
In his sermon, Parsons touched briefly on the fact that Timber Ridge and Sinking Springs Lutheran Church swapped locations in the early days of the two churches, a story that Fletcher used in his Saturday evening lecture and one that is part of the written histories of both churches.
"There were more Presbyterians here at the location that we all know as Timber Ridge," Parsons said, "and there were more Lutherans over at the location that we all know as Sinking Springs, so the two churches swapped locations."
The "swap" had to come after the turn of the 19th century because the cornerstone at the current Sinking Springs Lutheran Church says it was founded in 1801.
The story of the churches swapping locations is included in the church history book, which was available for purchase during the weekend's celebration.
"The history of our churches is not only very interesting," Fletcher said, "but it is also entertaining and enlightening. I hope I never stop learning from it."
The Rev. Dr. Brian Wyatt, pastor of the church, along with members of the anniversary celebration committee and other members said it had been an exciting and fulfilling weekend to be at Timber Ridge.
"There was lots of wonderful food to enjoy and great memories to share," said Wanda Bowers, a member of the anniversary committee.
"Visitors were able to observe the exhibits of historic church documents, artifacts and memorabilia," she said, "and it is our hope that the story of what God has done and is doing at a place called Timber Ridge will go on for at least another 225 years."