HISTORY OF RURAL SHADE BAPTIST CHURCH
After the Civil War, the frontiersman of this part of the South had little to build on but faith. They had come to Texas with the bare necessities of life, which included their Bibles and their church letters. An occasional circuit preacher came to preach to them.
About 1870, a small group of these man and women began meeting in a brush arbor on Tarkington’s Prairie. A surveyor’s notes stated that “a new church is just being finished by a steam mill and gin." This was the beginning of Rural Shade.
The congregation was made up of hard-working, community -minded individuals. Without a prominent law-enforcement body available, the church used persuasion and prayer to encourage an environment of order and cooperation. Church records show a powerfully functioning discipline committee. In 1894, the first moral resolution was recorded: “Resolved that this church expects its male members to attend conference meetings, and if any male member is absent from 2 meeting in succession, they will be expected to give a reason for the absence at the third meeting or be subject to the discipline of the church. Resolved further that this church will not tolerate the giving or attending dancing or play parties by its members.” The early pastors were elected from among men of the church each year. Included in the business of the church was preferring of charges against members for unchristian conduct or disorderly walk: in other words, dancing and profane swearing. Committees were appointed to investigate the charges and labor with the offending members. Sometimes he or she would acknowledge the charge and beg the forgiveness of the church, and it was granted. Other times, the church withdrew fellowship from the offending member.
In 1878, a two-story frame building was erected to “house the Masonic Lodge in the upper story and the services of Rural Shade Baptist Church were held in the house of God," on the bottom floor. D.W. Jackson was pastor for ten years in the period from 1885 to 1900. Other early pastors were elected from men of the church each year.
In the beginning, services were held once a month and later, twice a month. Members would work a while at home on Saturday morning, then a worship service followed by a business conference was held on Saturday evening. These early meetings were arranged at the time of the full moon, so that members would have light to ride home. Fifth Sundays were a weekend of services. Sometimes people came and camped. Others came in wagons for the day. Services started on Saturday afternoon with singing and preaching and continued all day on Sunday. Children slept on pallets on the floor. Should anyone need a drink, a bucket of water with a dipper in it was kept on the altar.
In 1902, Rural Shade conducted a singing school and also collected their first offering for Buckner Orphan’s Home.
When the second Rural Shade church building was finished in 1907, the church granted the trustees of Oakdale High School permission to use the old building as the first high school on Tarkington Prairie. The cost of the new building was $1,147.00.
From 1914 until December of 1920, members from Rural Shade were superintendents for Sunday Schools held at East Tarkington School, West Tarkington School, and North Tarkington School. In December 1920, the first Sunday School at the church was organized.
“There was a nice bunch of young people who all took part (around the time of the First World War and into the 1920’s). Preachers in them days preached hellfire and brimstone. I mean they got up there and they sweated. They’d have a two weeks revival. They first week they got ‘em fired up. And the second week they’d begin to join. The people would get excited and go to shouting and dancing and prancing around….” After one revival when a bunch of people were baptized in a tank, there were snakes in one end of that tank.
During the Depression years, enrollment was large, money was short, but faith in Jesus was strong, and the church was a comfort to many. In February 1935, the Cleveland Advocate reported that there was a fire at Rural Shade Baptist Church during Sunday School. The fire began when sparks from the wood stove ignited the roof. In 1938, the third church building was built and valued at $1000.00. In 1944, the church hired its first full-time pastor. In 1945, construction of the first church baptistry was completed, and eleven people were baptized on Easter Sunday. The last river baptism was held in May, 1950. Laura Vaughn taught the first kindergarten in Tarkington at Rural Shade in 1959-60. She had fifteen students. In 1962, a fourth Rural Shade church building was built for $25,000.00, and it had central heat and air conditioning. On October 1, 1982, we broke ground for an educational building. In December 1990, an army helicopter crashed and the soldiers investigating the crash camped in the Rural Shade fellowship hall for several days. In 1993, the men of the church constructed a new youth wing. In 1995, the church celebrated its 125th anniversary homecoming. The Tarkington Prairie Masonic Lodge joined in the celebration. In 1996, the church received a historical marker commemorating Rural Shade’s part in civilizing Tarkington Prairie. And in July 2005, the church held a weekend of dedication services for the fifth worship center.