There is disagreement concerning the date this church was established. Elder George W. Purefoy, in his history of the Sandy Creek Baptist Association from 1758 to 1858, stated that the church was constituted in 1757 as an arm of the Sandy Creek Baptist Church, which Elder Shubal Stearns constituted in 1755. But according to information handed down from the forefathers of some present members, Rocky River Baptist Church was constituted in 1756. Both beliefs are in agreement that it was started through the fervent revival spirit of Shubal Stearns.
Elder Stearns helped organize and build the log cabin church for the Scotch-Irish settlers who lived along the banks of the Rocky River, for which the church is named. It first classified itself as Separate Baptist, a movement that originated in New England during the Great Awakening. The church remained an independent Baptist church until 1776, when it became a member of the Sandy Creek Baptist Association, which had been formed in 1758.
In the next half-century, under the leadership of pastors such as Drury Sims, Francis Dorsett, Adam Moffitt, Enoch Crutchfield and William Lineberry, Rocky River grew in membership and influence.
IN 1833, SOME MEMBERS FELT CALLED to help a struggling group of believers at nearby Loves Creek, and the church voted to send 65 members to help form Loves Creek Baptist Church. With their departure, the departure of some members who were "anti-missionary" and the following Civil War years, membership steadily declined.
There was another setback in 1872, when the log cabin church building burned and a new one had to be built. But in the new building, with the leadership of Brother Jesse Louis Smith, Rocky River again experienced growth. Over the next half-century, as itinerant preachers included it in their rounds of ministry, the church became a dynamic spiritual force in the community. In 1911, a Woman's Missionary Society (now WMU) was organized and has been a vital part of the church to this day.
In 1917-18, the third church structure, a wooden frame building, was constructed. The church sanctuary standing today began with that structure. In the 1930s, renovation to the building included the addition of eight small Sunday School rooms.
In the early 1950s, with the inspiration of Mrs. Clarice Duncan and her Fellowship Sunday School class and the leadership of Pastor Claude Johnson, there was an extensive remodeling and construction project. This included the choir loft, baptistry, kitchen, fellowship hall, rest rooms, new heating and lighting, and the addition of an eight-room Sunday School wing on the north side of the church.
In 1954, the Rev. Reid Harris became the first half-time pastor of Rocky River, followed by the Rev. Claude Simpson in 1958. Land was purchased to build a parsonage and the church was working toward having a full-time pastor. When God led Pastor Simpson to be the founding father of a mission in Siler City, Rocky River accepted the role of sponsor of that mission, which grew into Brookdale Baptist Church. After Rev. Simpson left to become the pastor of Brookdale, Rocky River called its first full-time pastor, the Rev. Alden Hicks.
The score of years in the 1950s and 1960s was monumental in the life of the church. Young people were taking their discipleship seriously and serving in all areas of church life. Older members were still active and responsible. Sunday School classrooms and Vacation Bible School were overflowing with children. Sunday School enrollment and attendance reached an all-time high in 1964. The children's wing and four additional classrooms in back of the fellowship hall were built in 1968, when the Rev. James Barbour was pastor.
A CONSTITUTION AND BY-LAWS DOCUMENT was written and adopted in 1972, during the pastorate of the Rev. James Hester. Air conditioning and new heating systems were installed, and the sanctuary was remodeled. The church was also experiencing spiritual growth, with many new believers added to the membership. Sunday School attendance reached the second-highest ever in 1971.
Rocky River remained steadfast in ministry and purpose during the pastorates of the Rev. Charles Lanier and the Rev. Charles Rutt in the latter 1970s. During this period, the church had its first summer youth worker through the Baptist State Convention and also hired the first church secretary.
The 1980s brought a new awareness of missions under the leadership of Pastor Francis Smith. Missions giving increased significantly. Discipleship training and mission studies were well attended. In 1983, Church Training enrollment reached an all-time high. The Rev. Smith and his wife, Bonnie, left Rocky River at the end of 1984 to become Southern Baptist missionaries in Chile, South America.
The Rev. Gene Booker became pastor of Rocky River in 1985 and served for 10 years, until his retirement in 1995. The emphasis on missions continued and missions giving reached an all-time high in 1992. During this decade, two extensive building programs were planned and completed. One addition included the pastor's study, church office, library, choir room and spacious rest rooms. The other consisted of a complete renovation of the sanctuary, the purchase of a new organ and a new piano, and the addition of a larger vestibule.
IN 1992, ROCKY RIVER BAPTIST CHURCH became incorporated as a legal protection for members. Appropriate changes were made to the Constitution and By-Laws, which then became the Charter and By-Laws.
The Rev. Greg Burriss, was called as pastor of the church in June 1996 and has inspired the fellowship with his Spirit-filled messages and his loving, caring personal touch. The members have continued to reach out to each other, others in the community and beyond. The children's sermons have become a special part of the morning worship services and Children's Church is still provided for preschoolers. Prayerful and financial support was given to two mission churches in the Sandy Creek Association: Loves Creek Hispanic Mission and Snow Camp Baptist Mission. And it was a milestone for Rocky River when two women were elected and ordained as deacons in 2001.
DURING THESE LAST FEW YEARS, improvements to the church physical properties have included installing new air conditioning and heating facilities, new chandeliers and a new sound system for the sanctuary, new office equipment and paving the driveway and parking spaces. A building committee is now working on plans for a fellowship building.
Music has always been a vital part of church programs and worship, and it continues to be, with joyous congregational singing, adult choir, children's choir, handbell choir and Christmas and Easter cantatas — all directed by volunteers who give their time, talent and service to the church with dedication and love. On Homecoming Sunday in August 2002, Mrs. Mary Edith Teague was honored for serving over 45 years as organist and pianist; she passed away in 2003.
Rocky River Baptist Church is a beautiful brick structure spread out on a country hillside in Chatham County, near Siler City, North Carolina. But it is much more than a building. It is a fellowship of Christian believers with a rich spiritual heritage.
Rocky River Baptist Church, 1756-1996 by Janette Teague, Brenda Perry and P.D. Short. Published in 1996.