published Saturday, February 23rd, 2013

Union Fork Baptist turns 175 with eye on future

Dan Mouw says Union Fork Baptist Church has a great facility, a great location and great people.

"Nothing is holding us back," he says.

Since Mouw came to Union Fork as pastor three years ago, the church has grown in worship attendance from 42 people to upwards of 150 per week.

On Sunday, the Southern Baptist congregation will celebrate its 175th anniversary, its history placing its organization start in 1838, making it one of the oldest Baptist churches in Hamilton County. Both Concord and Oakwood Baptist churches in Chattanooga also claim 1838 as the founding years in their histories.

To mark Union Fork's occasion, a representative of the Tennessee Baptist Historical Committee will present the church with a plaque on Sunday.

The church's first house of worship was a log cabin, which stood on a hill behind the congregation's previous location at the corner of Old Dayton Pike and Union Fork Road, according to a church history. The founding members named it United Missionary Baptist Church of

Christ at Union Fork, and Union soldiers later camped on the site during the Civil War. The name was shortened to Union Fork Baptist in the early 1900s.

The congregation moved its services to a community schoolhouse one quarter mile south of the log cabin in 1882, but that proved too small, so a one-room frame structure at the donated Old Dayton Pike and Union Fork Road site eventually was built.

But by the 1950s, that structure had become unsound, and a larger church was constructed on the site. During construction of the fellowship hall, the main church building was heavily damaged by fire but rebuilt.

In 1994, the growing congregation purchased 18 acres of land located between Lee Pike and Scribner Road, began construction there in 1999 and completed it in 2000. Since then, Union Fork has sold its former site at Old Dayton Pike and Union Fork Road and sold three of its 18 acres in order to pave more of its parking lot.

Today, Mouw characterizes Union Fork as a teaching church and a loving church with "good unity" that offers a blend of traditional and contemporary music. One of its hallmarks, he says, is helping needy people.

"We try to minister to people whatever their need is," he says. "We're an old church with a new vision."

Courtney Smith, who joined Union Fork Baptist in 2007 and is now a deacon there, says holidays are always a big outreach for the church.

At Easter, he says, the congregation holds a community Easter egg hunt. On July Fourth, members make and sell funnel cakes at Soddy Park to benefit youth activities. And at Halloween, the congregation hosts a trunk or treat for children.

The funnel cakes have become somewhat of a local legend, he says.

"Somebody probably got a deal on a deep fryer," Smith says. "Somebody had a funnel cake recipe. It's become a big draw."

Church youth recently returned from a weekend partially funded by the funnel cakes, he says. "Youth are a big focus," he says.

Smith says he, his wife and seven children have felt welcome at the church.

"We're a loving church," he says. "That's the biggest thing. Everybody who shows up is welcome."

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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