Historic White Oak Church is back in great shape after near closure | Local News


Just over two years ago, the White Oak Primitive Baptist Church in South Stafford County nearly closed forever.

“There will be a rebirth, we will find a way,” said Price Jett, treasurer of the Patawomeck Tribe in South Stafford.

Jett recalled the moment on February 2, 2020, when this revival happened, just after he and fellow tribesman Charles “Bootsie” Bullock finished trimming the yard on the church grounds at 10 Caisson Road. Members of the White Oak Indian Tribe had maintained the property for years, not only as a community service to help maintain the nearly abandoned country church, but as a tribute to the many members of the Patawomeck Tribe buried in the cemetery on the church grounds. .

What Jett and Bullock saw that day were several cars parked at the church and its occupants already inside, including 83-year-old Betty Jo Lael of Spotsylvania County, the newest member of the ‘church.

Jett said Lael was comforted by the church’s acting pastor and a handful of others after learning the church would soon close due to a lack of parishioners and a lack of money. Bullock said the religious group simply planned to abandon the structure and let it fall into disrepair, but also felt obligated to maintain the cemetery in some way.

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In all the years of mowing grass and tending outside the church, this was Jett and Bullock’s first encounter with a church member inside its gates.

“Betty was emotional, she was crying,” Jett said. “[She was] the only voting member of the church and she felt like everything fell on her to shut down the church.

Jett said he and Bullock felt compelled to help save the church which has been an integral part of the White Oak community since its founding more than 230 years ago.

“We heard that and were defeated,” Jett said. “We said [Lael]don’t worry, it won’t be the death of this church.

Jett and Bullock soon met fellow tribesmen David Carpenter and Bruce Sullivan and the four formed a non-profit organization they named the Historic White Oak Primitive Baptist Church to get to work. on maintenance and fundraising and helping to keep the old church alive.

“The church has no plumbing,” Bullock said. “It’s kind of like it was during the Civil War.”

So far, the group has raised over $30,000, but the list of new projects to take on at the church keeps growing.

Bullock said that since the nonprofit took possession of the building, the termite problem has been resolved and parts of the floorboards destroyed by the pests have been replaced. Many windows have been replaced or reglazed, and the white accents inside the church have all been repainted. Outside, the roof has been repaired and repainted and approximately $4,000 is spent each year to help keep the building and grounds in good condition. The property is a Virginia Historic Landmark and American Civil War Trail Site, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“We got him back to full fitness,” Bullock said.

Bullock said that about 30 years ago the exterior of the church was clad in white vinyl siding, but he said the next big project is to replace it with a durable, imitation fiber cement siding. the wooden plank on which the church was originally finished. in. Bullock said the job is expected to cost between $30,000 and $50,000.

“When the siding is replaced, the original window shutters that are still inside the church will be put back in place,” Bullock said.

Although the renovated church has no pastor or registered congregation, Christian worship is held every fourth Sunday of the month.

“It’s just local people, people who love the church,” Jett said.

In addition to local residents who have enjoyed the church for generations, there is also a new group of parishioners who have found it a great place to pray in a rural setting. Two months ago, more than 150 people crowded into the original hand-carved pews for a candlelit Christmas service heated by two wood-burning stoves placed in the heart of the church.

“Several churches in the community came together that night,” Bullock said. “It’s a special place. … The community really supports it.

During the Civil War, Union forces occupied and camped around the church, and Jett said the church always had a spirit of unity. It was one of the first churches in the Fredericksburg area to open its doors to black worshipers over 150 years ago.

Jett said that in the 1860s many slaves wanted to worship in a church, but local churches would not allow it, except for “White Oak Church.” Jett said letters to the church from Fredericksburg politicians and wealthy townspeople asking that their slaves be allowed to worship there are all part of a treasure trove of historical literature and church documents. recently obtained from the Southern Baptist Historical Library & Archives in Nashville, Tenn. Jett said all church records were recently located there and brought back to Stafford. No one knows how the documents were found in Tennessee.

During the 1940s and 1950s, Carolyn Gaylen Lampert of Spotsylvania attended White Oak Church every other Sunday with her sister, father, and grandfather. Lampert, 79, recalls day-long services where parishioners took a break for lunch under the trees outside and feasted on fried chicken, ham, potato salad, deviled eggs and of coleslaw. After lunch, Lampert said the congregation returned to their pews to continue preaching in a church where no musical instruments were ever allowed.

“As a little girl I was a little bored, but there was good food there,” Lampert said. “There was no music and the preachers preached for a long, long time.”

Lael, who returned to the church last week with the original pewter communion vessels used from 1897, said the church was once again alive, vibrant and in caring hands.

“I just want everyone to remember what it really meant,” Lael said. “Just a lot of memories left here.”

Visit whiteoakprimitivebaptistchurch.org for more information.

James Scott Baron: 540/374-5438

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