Donor rescues black church

Anonymous benefactor pays off congregation's debt of $15,000

August 11, 2002|By Joel Burgess | Joel Burgess,THE TIMES-NEWS

EAST FLAT ROCK, N.C. - The donor who single-handedly paid off a small historic church's debt of nearly $15,000 wishes to remain anonymous, according to "Mother" Rena Clay, the treasurer of Mud Creek Missionary Baptist Church.

All that Clay would reveal is that the donor was a woman from North Carolina. "She doesn't want people to know," Clay said.

Started in 1867

Mud Creek Missionary was founded by freed house slaves of Charleston, S.C., landowners who spent their summers in Flat Rock, a community in western North Carolina.

The church has existed in some form since 1867.

But the membership that peaked at 150 in the late 1930s dwindled recently to five. Those who were left, most of them elderly, worried they could not pay the loan they took out to build a fellowship hall in 1996.

Mud Creek Missionary had already received much help from sister church Mud Creek Baptist and donors in Asheville, N.C., who helped improve the grounds and the inside of the church.

Oldest member 78

Clay feared all that work would be lost to the debt. The oldest regular member of Mud Creek Missionary, Clay, 78, helped publicize the historic black church's plight.

To save her childhood church and the East Flat Rock landmark, she enlisted the help of Linda Culpepper, a history professor at Western Carolina University.

She and Culpepper went to the media. After newspaper and television stories, help began to arrive.

Clay announced at an open house recently that an anonymous donor had given $14,460, enough to pay off what remained of the $15,000 debt.

She added that other money that has found its way to the church's collection plate would go to the general fund to pay for such things as utilities, the pastor's fund and repairs.

Some problems remain

Before the large donation, the church had received about $2,000, Clay said.

Paying off the loan, however, does not solve all of Mud Creek Missionary's problems, she said.

The church structure is taken care of, but Clay said she continues to worry about the shrinking congregation and invited the public to attend.

"I don't care what race they are," she said. "They can just come and enjoy the services. Because we are all serving one gracious master, Jesus Christ."

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