DATE: Sunday, September 28, 1997            TAG: 9709270151



                                            LENGTH:   76 lines


Blackwater Baptist Church had its early beginnings in ``reading places'' in private homes in Blackwater and Knotts Island in 1725.

Years later, local history notes, the church was officially ``planted'' in 1774 by A. Plummer and T. Armistead along with others - members dismissed from the Pungo Chapel - reportedly for card playing.

Marvin Settle, director of missions for the Norfolk Baptist Association, got a big laugh when he brought up that bit of history last Sunday when members and friends of Blackwater Baptist gathered for a homecoming celebrate the church's 223rd anniversary.

Blackwater Baptist Church, found on Blackwater Road on acreage that is still ``remote'' from the '90s hustle of malls and road-widening projects, still peacefully borders woods and cornfields. The church continues to serve Blackwater, a community with strong ties among families that is interwoven through the tracts of farmland, woods and swamps along the southern border of Virginia Beach.

Michael Jones, the pastor for the last 15 months, is the first to actually live in the community. Past preachers were either itinerant or lived elsewhere.

``This is definitely a family church and I felt that the surrounding community was a good and stable place to raise a family,'' said Jones. ``It's been unique for the congregation to have someone here who's available when they have a need.''

He also serves as a state-wide missionary for the deaf for the Virginia Baptist General Association and is volunteer chaplain at the Blackwater Fire Station.

Jones presided over the all-day celebration that included a gospel sing and luncheon, but stepped aside to let Ralph Horn, the pastor from 1964 to 1987 address the church.

Edie Gardner, church member for 25 years, said she remembered Horn baptizing her husband, Ray, her three daughters and herself on the same day.

``I'll tell you, listening to Preacher Horn touches you in such a special way and we all decided to get baptized as a family,'' she said.

By the time Gardner and her family decided to be baptized, the church had a baptismal pool and was no longer gathering on the banks of the Blackwater River for baptisms.

Earl McClain, who joined the church in 1927, remembers that day when he was 11 and was baptized in the Blackwater River.

``It was summertime and after one of the revivals,'' he said. ``No one worried about being baptized in the river because that's the way things were done back then.

``Once the preacher dropped one woman as he was about to put her under the water,'' said McCain with a chuckle. ``I guess she slipped away from him.''

Irene Frost held a black and white group photo taken in the late 1950s of the Girl's Auxilary at the church. Beside her, husband, Ralph Frost, and Lettie Dozier picked out and commented on the three Frost daughters who were part of the group in the photo.

``I've been attending this church since I was a month old and I do remember getting baptized in the Blackwater River when I was 12 years old,'' Irene Frost said as she looked up from the photo. ``I've always lived in this community and this church is home to me.''

Throughout the afternoon, the theme of friends and family as the tie that binds members of Blackwater Baptist Church together was echoed by many. ``Nothing would ever cause me to leave this church,'' said Adabelle Riddick, church member. ``There is such warmth and family atmosphere here and if there's a need everybody is here for you.''

Doris McClain agreed. ``We're real close-knit in this church. On Sunday, this church has always been the place we go and when we get here the bad things from the week before are behind you.'' ILLUSTRATION: Photos by BARBARA WOERNER

Edie Gardner, from left, Irene Frost and Lettie Dozier serve drinks

at a luncheon at Blackwater Baptist Church, which celebrated its

223rd anniversary last week.

Shelby Aylesworth, foreground, and Shelby Gregory are members of the

Sunshine Singers and performed at the church service.

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