LAKE WYLIE -- In 1958, the nearest Baptist church was in Gastonia, N.C., and folks went swimming in Catawba Lake, not Lake Wylie.
History has been made ever since, and Pine Grove Baptist Church plans to celebrate its part in the community on Sunday.
"This area has more potential than any area I've ever seen. And with this new development coming, it's really fixing to go crazy," said church pastor Jerry Bryant.
Pine Grove opened its doors 50 years ago. Originally known as Bethel Baptist Mission, Pine Grove Baptist started when 13 members of Sandy Plains Baptist Church in Gastonia held their first service at 3 p.m. March 16, 1958, in the auditorium of the Bethel Consolidated School building. Since then, meetings have been held in a three-room wooden house, the Bethel Gin at Three Points and the current church site east of Three Points on S.C. 557.
"There wasn't anything here when this church was built," Bryant said. "Of course, there's Bethel Presbyterian, which is more than 100 years old."
Milestones line the history of the church, from bringing Sandy Plains congregation member Bill C. Hoffman to become the first pastor on July 13, 1958, to the letter received from Sandy Plains on Aug. 10, 1958, telling the fellowship that 52 charter members made up Bethel Baptist Mission. The men of the church constructed and dedicated the first church building that seated 150 people at the current site in 1959. The new sanctuary, still used today, came along in 1967 and seats 350.
"We really feel compelled to reach out to families," Bryant said of church services, including divorce care and ministries for children and senior adults.
A vision that began in the 1970s for a Christian school now has 180 children with preschool, afterschool and 4K through first grade. Future plans include possibly building an addition to house 250 children in preschool, and also add a K-12 Christian school.
Early members wanted church closer to home
On Sunday, though, Pine Grove will take a moment to look back at where it's been.
Joerine Millen, who just missed being a charter member, is helping to plan special events for the golden anniversary.
"I was a Gastonia girl, married one of the Bethel boys and moved down here a year later," Millen said.
When Millen began attending the new church, she never thought about celebrating five decades someday, only raising a family.
"Back then, being a young mother and wife, it wasn't something that I thought about," she said. "But now, as you look back on it over the years, you see what progress and what dedication it took to get to this point."
Jeanette Almond is one of the 52 charter members. Her 95-year-old mother, Gladys Deal, is the oldest living charter member. For Almond, the same reason she began attending Pine Grove is the reason she has stuck with it all these years.
"I just enjoy the people, and it's close to home," she said.
Almond raised three boys in the church and is grateful for the instruction they received. Almond always will love Pine Grove, even if it has changed since she began there.
"There's so many new people there now, I don't know many of them," she said.
When Pine Grove began, it came from churchgoers who wanted a church closer to home. As the fellowship celebrates 50 years Sunday, Millen said, it will honor a church that accomplished that goal.
"When I found Pine Grove, I found a home," she said. "And that's what it's been."
WANT TO GO?
• What: Pine Grove Baptist Church's golden anniversary.
• When: Special music will begin at 10 a.m. Sunday, featuring Benton and Company from Indian Trail, N.C. The Rev. Charles Ingle, second pastor of Pine Grove, will lead the 50th anniversary service at 11 a.m. Lunch will follow.
• Where: 5415 S.C. 557, Lake Wylie.
• Details: For more information, call (803) 831-2015.