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In the early 1950s, McIlwain Road was a sleepy dirt road community that wasn’t much more than a short cut from Lancaster to Heath Springs.
But about half way down it, something was happening, a group of dedicated church members from the area led by the Rev. J.L. Maloney were hard at work.
When they weren’t working on their area farms or waiting for the mill whistle to blow, they were busy laying bricks to build Oak Ridge ARP Church.
It might have taken a decade to build the mission church, but it was a labor of love.
The church family that started meeting in the small Oak Ridge schoolhouse is about to reach a milestone as its members celebrate the church’s 70th anniversary Saturday and Sunday.
On Saturday, a cook-out is planned for 6 p.m., followed by a Southern gospel music concert featuring King’s Cause.
At Sunday’s 11 a.m. worship service, there will be a slide show chronicling Oak Ridge’s history, along with a message by former pastor Joey Donahue, to be followed by a covered dish lunch at 12:30 p.m.
Billy Crenshaw, a lifelong church member, still recalls stopping by the church site after school with his cousin, Curtis, while Curtis’ dad, John Crenshaw, was digging the basement.
Billy Crenshaw’s mother, Mrs. L.M. “Bertha” Crenshaw, was one of the 11 charter members of Oak Ridge ARP.
“I was about 8 or 9 years old at the most,” Crenshaw said. “Uncle John started digging the basement with a one-mule drawn scoop. I doubt if he could pick up more than one shovel of dirt at the time, but he got it done.”
While most of the soil there was clay, Crenshaw said Maloney would hook a trailer to his 4-door, 1940 Chevrolet and head to dirt roads in Pleasant Hill after loads of sand for mortar to bind the bricks together.
“I guess you’d have to say that we kinda kept the ditches clean,” Crenshaw said, laughing. “Back then, you used whatever you could and whoever you could. There was a lot of folks who weren’t church members who helped us out.”
Crenshaw said while Maloney was the architect, contractor, and church carpenter as well as the pastor, there is one story about him that many of the church members may not be aware of.
“He also taught me Bible class when I was in the seventh grade at Heath Springs,” Crenshaw said. “Now you can’t even pray in class. Rev. Maloney was never one to entertain. He was bold a brassy. Whenever he talked, be it praying, preaching or teaching, he expected us to listen to him.”
While Maloney was preaching, his wife, Eva, was playing the piano, singing and leading the church choir.
After leading the congregation for almost 27 years, it was discovered in 1966 there was no church record of Maloney ever being called or installed as the Oak Ridge ARP pastor. It was just a position he assumed in leading the missionary church, said Joan Pardue, historian at Oak Ridge ARP since the early 1970s.
Pardue said no one has ever been able to figure out the oversight.
“I really don’t know how it happened,” she said. “It wasn’t as strict and I guess they weren’t as quite as particular when it came to church government. The only thing that shows is he (Maloney) had been in the pulpit for some time.”
But Maloney’s time as Oak Ridge’s official pastor was about to be short-lived.
Longtime church member Bobby Hudson said Maloney was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1965. Maloney continued to lead both churches until 1970, when his health failed and the Rev. Arthur Fisher was installed as pastor at Oak Ridge and Pleasant Hill.
“Maloney had good days and bad days, but he tried to help and filled in whenever he could,” Hudson said.
Maloney died in 1971. Eva Maloney recently celebrated her 100th birthday.
“Believe it or not, she still drives and gets around pretty well,” Crenshaw said.
After Fisher, the Revs. Charles Steele and Max Boling assumed the pastorship of both churches.
In 1981, the two sister churches – Oak Ridge ARP and Pleasant Hill ARP – divided after its 42-year association.
Oak Ridge called Donahue as its pastor. Dr. Bill Fleming of Waxhaw, N.C. has been pastor of Oak Ridge ARP Church for the past five years. Fleming is author of “Mapping the Christian Life: How to Lead Your Congregation Into Spiritual Health,” and has written for “Preaching”, “The Daily Walk”, “Christianity Today,” and the “Christian Herald.”
Want to go?
WHAT: Oak Ridge ARP Church 70th anniversary
WHERE: 2774 McIlwain Road
WHEN: 6 p.m. Saturday, a cookout followed by a concert featuring King’s Cause; 11 a.m. Sunday, worship service with guest speaker the Rev. Jerry Donahue, followed by a covered dish lunch in the fellowship hall.
FOR DETAILS: 286-5800