Canaan Hill Primitive Baptist Church

Canaan Hill Primitive Baptist Church was organized under the leadership of Elder Abe Gilchrist. Elder Gilchrist and some other members left the Shiloh Primitive Baptist Church in 1905 and began worshipping at the Galilee Primitive Baptist Church on the Evans Place, Lowndes County, Alabama. Records reflect that although Galilee no longer exists, it was once pastored by Elder T. M. Gardner, Sr.

Elder Gilchrist and others later moved to a vacant house on what is commonly known as Tribulation. It was there that the church began to grow. They, then, moved to a school building beside Highway 80 not far from Tribulation. The families that were a part of organizing the church was Riley and Annie Peterson, Nelson Bracy, Sr., and his family, Mingo Bracy’s father, and the Gilchrist Family—George, Richard, and Elder Abe Gilchrist.

After having service in the school for a while, a white man named Mr. Haygin offered them land to build the church. After receiving the land, the men purchased lumber to begin building. While the men worked on the church, the women prepared food for the men. When the building was finished in 1908, Elder Abe Gilchrist decided to name the church Mt. Canaan Hill Primitive Baptist Church, and all agreed. Elder Abe Gilchrist was elected as the church’s first pastor and Robert Peterson was the first clerk. The deacons were Deacons Sumpter Davis, Humphrey Davis, Nelson Bracy, and Deacon Miles. Sister Hattie Gilchrist was the mother of the church.

Some time later, Elder Abe Gilchrist withdrew Mt. Canaan Hill from the Pilgrim Rest Primitive Baptist Association during the 5th Session of the Plan and Constitution and united with the Indian Creek Primitive Baptist Association. After 1926 at the Bethel Primitive Baptist Church, the 5th session was removed from the plan and constitution, and the Canaan Hill Primitive Baptist Church united again with Pilgrim Rest Primitive Baptist Association.

From the following families, the church began to grow in numbers and spiritually. The Davis Family included Sumpter and Geneva and their children, Alfred “Buster”; Sumpter “Nigger,” Jr.; Jonah “Scrap”; Clara, Pennie, Niceie, Dianah, Lizzie, Emma, and Easter. The Davis Family daughters purchased the first bell for the church. The Bracy Family included Nelson and Mary Bracy and their children, Mingo, Isaac, Tina, Millie, Carrie, Mary, and Julia. The Peterson Family included Riley and Annie.

After Elder Abe Gilchrist’s demise, Elder Henry Bracy was elected as pastor of the Canaan Hill Primitive Baptist Church. Then, Elder M. C. Gardner was elected as pastor in 1931 and served until 1933. Next, Elder C. J. Johnson was elected as pastor and served for 28 years and, also, served as vice moderator of the Pilgrim Rest Primitive Baptist Association for a brief period. Under his leadership, the Canaan Hill’s first choir was organized.

In 1965, Elder Columbus Sanders was elected as Canaan Hill’s next pastor. Quickly seeing a need for progress, Elder Sanders began the foundation for Canaan Hill’s present location. Elder Sanders served actively for about 16 years and retired because of his failing health.

Men and women recognized for the significant growth of Canaan Hill were Deacon Jonah “Strap” Davis, who served as clerk until his death along with his wife, Annie Lee “Bay” Davis; Isaac “Ike” Bracy, who served as the superintendent of the Sunday school and a deacon; Deacon George Gilchrist, Sr., who served as chairman of the Deacon Board; Deacon Gilchrist’s wife, Dianah Davis Gilchrist, who was the sister of Sister Clara Gardner; Sister Clara Gardner served as the mother of Canaan Hill.

After the death of Deacon Gilchrist’s wife, Dianah, he married Sister Lola Lee Coleman. In April 1961, Deacon Gilchrist died and was buried at Evans Place.

In 1968, Canaan Hill moved to its present location under the leadership of Elder Sanders. The land was purchased from Oscar and Clara Gardner. The present building was built by Isaac Bracy, a member of the Canaan Hill Primitive Baptist Church and son of Deacon Mingo Bracy.

In 1971, Deacon Ulysses Daney, along with his wife, Sister America Daney, moved to Lowndes County from Detroit, Michigan, and united with the Canaan Hill Primitive Baptist Church. Deacon and Sister Daney were former members of St. John Primitive Baptist Church, which was a member of the Pilgrim Rest Primitive Baptist Association, and inspired many new ideas.

During years of notable growth, Deacon Mingo Bracy served as chairman of the Deacon Board and as the only deacon for a few years; Deacons Ned Gatson, Sr., Deacon John Gatson, Sr., and Deacon Joe Gadson, Sr., assisted Deacon Bracy. In January 1971, Deacon Willie Fred Gilchrist, Deacon John T. Gilchrist, and Deacon John T. Gardner were ordained as Canaan Hill’s deacons. After Deacon Mingo Bracy’s failing health, Deacon Willie Fred Gilchrist was elected chairman and served until his untimely death in May 1990. Deacon Gilchrist, also, served as superintendent of the Sunday school from 1965 until his demise. Then, Deacon John Gardner was appointed as the superintendent of the Sunday school.

In 1976, Elder J. H. Ray was elected as Canaan Hill’s pastor and served until 1989. Under Elder Ray’s leadership, the church purchased new pews, added a fellowship hall, and bricked the drive and the church.

During the period between Elder Sanders and Elder Ray, Moderator T. M. Gardner, Jr., conducted services at Canaan Hill.

Individuals and dates to be noted for historical purposes are Elder Wash Gardner, who came to Canaan Hill from Shiloh Primitive Baptist Church; Sister Pennie Davis Farris, who once served as the church clerk, sister of Clara Gardner, who served faithfully until her death on June 29, 1989; Sister Cora Fultz served faithfully until her demise on January 3, 1988; the front was added to the church in July 1989; and Sister Loretta McGhee was appointed clerk in 1956. Other deacons to be noted are R. P. Peterson, Nelson Bracy, and J. M. Miles, whose names are reflected on the 1936 minutes of the Pilgrim Rest Primitive Baptist Association.

Elder Tom Gardner III was elected pastor of Canaan Hill in the fall of 1989. His first official act was on the first Sunday in November when Elder Gardner III christened the first child ever in the church, Little Gabrielle Wendy Houston. Elder Gardner III’s official installation service was held on March 4, 1990. Also, Elder Gardner III served as the evangelist and the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee of the Pilgrim Rest Primitive Baptist Association.

Currently, Elder Lovell J. Jenkins is the pastor.

Church Website

Elder James O'Ree
Interim Pastor of Canaan Hill