Connie Esh, The Murfreesboro Post, October 27, 2015
Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, founded in 1885, is a small church with a long, rich history. One part of that history is that one of its former song leaders, Robert Fisher Boyce, wrote the first song in the church hymnal, “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem.”
Here’s what Jeff Mowery has to say about the song on his “Hymn of the Week” website:
“It’s not a very old song, but one written in 1938 by a Tennessee farmer. Robert Fisher (Boyce) operated a small dairy farm just south of Murfreesboro. He was a religious man and served as a deacon at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church.
“One summer afternoon, Boyce felt inspired to sit down and write the words to ‘Beautiful Star of Bethlehem.’ He wrote the words in his dairy barn sitting on a milking stool. His daughter later helped him compose the music to this song, and it has been recorded by several well-known artists including The Judds, Patty Loveless, and Bill and Gloria Gaither.”
The church members at the little white church at the side of US 41/Manchester Road still sing the hymn, too. In fact, if you enjoy good, old-time gospel songs, Mt. Carmel is the place to be on a Sunday morning.
The church is steeped in tradition and history in many ways. The oldest member is Robert Allman, 99 years young. Allman remembers when the church had no water or electricity.
‘Saved church 3 times’
“I used to come on Sunday morning and build a fire in the potbelly stove, so the church would be warm when people got here,” he says with a smile. “And I saved the church three times.”
The first time, he recalls, the stove’s chimney caught fire. “We didn’t have a ladder, so we pulled a pew up and I climbed on the roof.” He poured water from a bucket drawn from the church’s well down the chimney and put the fire out.
The second fire happened after the church got electricity. The old pews needed to be sanded and refinished, so the church added 220-volt electric service to the 110-volt wiring they already had. But when the men started sanding the pews, the electric meter caught fire.
“I took a 2-by-4 and knocked it off the wall,” Allman recalls. “They were going to charge me for that meter, but I said ‘No.’ I saved the church.”
‘Built the Sunday school’
Saving the church was only one of many services Allman and his wife Mildred offered to their church. He built the four Sunday school rooms at the back of the church sometime in the late 1940s.
“I built them, but I don’t remember just when,” he says with a grin. “I was younger then, a lot younger.”
He helped wire the church, too. “Carl Marlin and I went up there and wired it,” he says, pointing to the ceiling lights. “Before that, we had coal oil lamps that you had to light with a match. That was so long ago.”
Allman turned 99 on Oct. 20, and in church the previous Sunday, everyone came up to the front and hugged him. But Allman says he’s just carrying on a family tradition – his great-grandfather Tom Allman lived to 94. And Mt. Carmel is the sort of church that people come home to, such as Robert’s daughter Judy Allman Nixonand her husband Hayden, who come back every year from Walnut Creek, California, to visit the church where Judy grew up worshiping.
‘Piano player was blind’
Besides the Allmans and hymn writer Fisher Boyce, Mt. Carmel can boast several well-known Murfreesboro personages of yore. One was its blind piano player, Gerald Smith, who tuned pianos all over town. Another is the church’s former pastor Frank Messick, who preached for 40 years at Mt. Carmel’s pulpit, and his son Jesse. Then there’s Nancy Pate, who served 39 years as the church’s secretary-treasurer and still helpsBrenda Marlin do that job.
These days, Mt. Carmel averages between 20 and 30 people attending on Sunday morning, but the members remember when the church was full – and they’re working to make it grow again.
The Marlin family has always been involved in the church, too. Currently Raleigh Marlin, Linda Marlin Westand Harry W. Marlin, Jr., all attend, along with Raleigh’s son also named Raleigh, who serves as the church’s current song leader together with his piano-playing wife Alicia Marlin.
The Marlins’ great-grandfather Monroe Prater gave the church the land it stands on and some of the trees it was built with, while William McKee also donated trees for construction lumber. Prater’s daughter Addie married the first Raleigh Marlin, starting a Mt. Carmel tradition of Marlins named Raleigh, spelled like Sir Walter or the city in North Carolina.
‘Old pews still in use’
His grandson Raleigh remembers falling asleep in one of the pews on Sunday mornings. The old yellow poplar pews, made at the same time as the church was built, are still in use – but Raleigh adds, “We padded them since then.”
Raleigh’s sister Linda remembers another faithful member of the flock from their younger days.
“Raleigh had a dog named Bullet,” she says. “He came to church whenever the door was open. After the service when the preacher stood at the door and shook everybody’s hand, Bullet sat right beside him and wanted everybody to shake his paw, too.”
Brother Harry remembers the Allmans’ service being an example to others in the church.
“When I was a kid, we had to work for our spending money,” he recalls. “Some Sundays I didn’t have anything to put in the plate, but my grandma would say, ‘Don’t worry – you can be a servant like the Allmans.'”
Parishioners enjoying the service Sunday all agree on one thing – they would like to welcome more people to their little church. The pastor, Bro. Murray Mathis, speaks for them all when he says, “I’m trying to help Mt. Carmel become what they want to become, a church that reaches out to a community that’s growing.”
Please click here to read the the article written by Murfreesboro’s Ralph Vaughn for the Murfreesboro Post, January 15, 2015