The first Baptist church established in Louisiana no longer has any members. Its doors open only four days a year, but tens of thousands visit on those four days.
FRANKLINTON – The first Baptist church established in Louisiana no longer has any members. Its doors open only four days a year, but tens of thousands visit on those four days.
The Half Moon Bluff Baptist Church was constituted on October 12, 1812. It was located on the banks of the Bogue Chitto River at Half Moon Bluff, about 4.5 miles north of Franklinton, near Bogalusa..
Today a replica of the original log building with its clay floor resides in the Miles Branch Settlement on the Washington Parish Free Fair grounds. It is here that the visitors to the church come, during what is billed as the largest free fair in the USA.
Each October during fair week, the Washington Baptist Association churches band together to continue the witness of the oldest Baptist church in the state. The Fair Association is dedicated to providing an interdenominational experience at the site, so the churches provide only hymn singing inside the structure.
Each associational church sends a team to Half Moon Bluff Church for two hours during the fair. They sing old gospel hymns inside the church so that fair goers will have a genuine idea of what it was like to worship in the building. The words of the hymns proclaim the gospel for any willing to listen.
Although what happens inside the building is subject to fair rules, what happens outside is not. The churches also man a coffee booth just outside the side door of the church. Volunteers in the coffee booth dispense free coffee and salvation tracts. They also share their testimonies when the Holy Spirit leads.
“I can’t tell you what a thrill it was to meet so many people and share Jesus with them,” Michelle Amacker said. She was a volunteer in the coffee booth in 2006, “When they asked me what they owed me for the coffee, I would tell them, ‘You don’t owe me any money. The only thing I ask is that you take the time to read this little book.’ I would give them a tract that included the plan of salvation.”
The church is part of Miles Branch Settlement, a pioneer-style village with buildings from the 1800s. Half Moon Bluff Church is one of the few buildings that is a replica and not an original. Fair-goers step back in history when they walk through the entrance to Miles Branch Settlement. Just behind the 1800s village, the midway is in full swing but inside you would not know that such noisy machines exist.
In each building, volunteers in period dress perform tasks as though it were the 1800s, presenting a living history lesson for fair goers. The church continues that tradition. The only musical accompaniment provided for the hymn singers is an old pump organ. When someone to play the antique is not available, hymns are sung a cappella.
Inside the commercial building, adjacent to Miles Branch, Washington Baptist Association women’s groups operate a water booth. There they give out free ice water to thirsty fair-goers. They also offer salvation tracts and words of encouragement.
The Washington Parish Free Fair takes place the third week of October each year. Its gates will open on October 16, 2007 at 10am with a parade through Franklinton that ends at the Fair Grounds. It will remain open from 8am to 12pm through October 20. The fair is dedicated to being a family friendly event. No alcohol is sold on the fair grounds.
All entertainment on the open-air stage is free. Artists from various genres entertain, usually including some gospel music. To find more information about the entertainment schedule go to freefair.com. If you decide to take in the free fair, be sure and stop by the Half Moon Bluff Baptist Church and the water and coffee booths and visit with the Southern Baptist volunteers.