Nestled in the Three Creeks Conservation Area in southwest Boone County, Log Providence is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Rev. David Ballenger’s installment at the church on March 18 — which has congregants reflecting on the deep-seated sense of community fostered by the congregation’s founders.
Ballenger said the church’s history has informed the congregation’s mission today.
“It set a stage for us. When the church was established, there was a scope of work that they put in place. We’ve pretty much followed that throughout,” said Ballenger.
Records at the church and the Missouri State Historical Society track the history of Log Providence from its inception 157 years ago.
Before the Civil War, many enslaved people in Boone County were only permitted to worship in white churches alongside local slave owners, according to records. But after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, the New Salem Baptist Church refused to allow newly freed Black citizens to continue worshiping within its walls. In 1866, 49 newly freed slaves established one of the first Black churches in Boone County.
The charter members built an open-sided brush arbor for worship. This structure would have been similar to a modern pergola or gazebo. A common tale told about the original structure revolves around ‘night riders’ hunting down ex-slaves by looking for their worship sites.
Women soaked quilts in the nearby creek and draped them over the brush arbor as sound insulation so the night riders “couldn’t hear them singing and praising God,” said Deacon William Thompson.
In 1868, the church members acquired a plot of land from Eli Everett Bass, one of the largest and wealthiest plantation owners in the area. Using 1,500 hand-cut logs, the members built what would become a major religious center and social hub for the Black community. According to an anniversary pamphlet distributed by the church, the congregation declared that, “The providence of God led us to build this log church.”
The church was expanded twice between 1868 and 1924, when the building was lost to a fire.
Once the church had its bones, the community adorned it with whatever it could contribute. Some pieces, such as engraved pulpit chairs, can be traced back to local donors. Others, such as the sanctuary’s vibrant mural depicting Jesus’ baptism, have been fixtures in the church for as long as church deacons can recall.
Anywhere from 20 to 40 congregants can be expected on any given Sunday. With musicians on a keyboard, piano and drums, music begins before the opening verse is read and is the background for prayers and altar calls.
Ballenger does not define the church’s evolution by its ever-changing structure, but rather by the values it has upheld since its conception.
“It’s been spiritual and family. That’s pretty much what we dwell on, is the love for one another. … We pray constantly that as you walk through the door, that as you drive through the parking lot, that you can feel that same sense of family,” Ballenger said.