By Gina Kinslow, Glasgow Daily Times
TOMPKINSVILLE, Ky. (BNc) — A celebration to commemorate the bicentennial anniversary of Old Mulkey was held Saturday, Nov. 21, at Old Mulkey Meeting House State Historic Site.
“During the bicentennial observation we will be examining what happened at the historic service of Nov. 18, 1809, and the effects of that service,” said Sheila Rush, park manager. “We’ll take a look at excerpts from the minutes of the church dated 1798 to 1809 and sing period-accurate songs.”
Lynwood Montell, a noted historian and folklorist, led an interactive history activity, asking questions about the origin of Old Mulkey and it’s beginning as Mill Creek Church.
Loy Milam, author of Old Mulkey, A Plea for the Ancient Order discussed “the split.”
“The split was over conditional election or predestination,” he said, and he presented the events leading up to it.
Montell is originally from Monroe County, and Milam is still a resident of the county.
The bicentennial anniversary was observed because of the dramatic effect it had on the people of Monroe and surrounding counties.
“In fact it played a major role in what would become known as the ‘restoration movement,’ impacting both local and American religious history,” Rush said.
The church was established in 1798.
“Like all the churches in the area it followed the Baptist doctrine of the time,” she said. “You think of it as Old Mulkey, but it was actually Mill Creek Baptist Church. John Mulkey was the pastor. He began to question that Baptist doctrine and eventually became convinced that the doctrine was contrary to the Bible. He felt the church needed to return to what he called ‘New Testament’ Christianity. His new views began to show up in his sermons and the congregation here tried him for heresy on three separate occasions.”
On one of the occasions the Baptist Association was brought in to conduct the trial.
“Each time John Mulkey was found innocent of the charges,” Rush said. “After the third trial when the church gathered back on Nov. 18, 1809, John Mulkey made the proposition ‘Now all you who believe as I do, follow me out the west door.’ Of the 200 or so people present more than 150 went out the west door with him. It was agreed that the larger group would retain the meeting house for their use.”
Mulkey struggled to find the perfect name for the new church, but because the impact was so great the new church came to be known as “Mulkey’s Meeting house,” she said.
Mulkey and his followers met at the historic meeting house until 1856. The crude log structure, with puncheon floor, peg leg seats, chinked and daubed walls, clapboard shutters and hand driven shingles was built with 12 corners and in the shape of a cross with three doors. Many historians believe that the 12 corners represent the 12 apostles, while others believe that they represent the 12 tribes of Israel. The three doors are symbolic of the Holy Trinity, according to the Kentucky State Parks website.
After 1856 the congregation began meeting in the basement of the courthouse.
“From there they built Tompkinsville Church of Christ,” Rush said. “It is important to note that the small group that went out the eastern door took the minutes with them and continued as Mill Creek Baptist Church. It is from copies of those minutes that we know the history of this church. That historical document is one that visitors to the park love to see.”
Some think Old Mulkey was the first church building built in Kentucky, but Rush says that’s not true.
“She was one of the first churches but Kentucky historian Ron Bryant says her true claim to fame is the role she played in the ‘restoration movement’ which began here on Nov. 18, 1809,” she said.
More information about the church and the park can be found by visiting the Kentucky State Parks website.
(Editor’s note: Kinslow’s original article can be found on the website of the Glasgow Daily Times.)
Barbara has been involved in missions for over 25 years, both in the field and in publishing.