Macedonia Freewill Baptist Church is located in rural Webster County. (Photo: Kaitlyn McConnell)

This story is published in partnership with Ozarks Alive, a cultural preservation project led by Kaitlyn McConnell.

I often smile and give a second look to our small country churches. They are part of a collective story: Testaments to the importance of faith, and remnants of community from a time when people’s lives were often spent much closer to home.

On this Easter morning, I decided to wind a drive by several of these churches, seeing them through the eyes of Easter.

I didn’t have a set plan on where I was going to go, other than I wanted to end up at Macedonia Freewill Baptist Church in rural Webster County. I have long known of this congregation, but have never visited for a service. It’s tucked away off both a twisty gravel road and a long driveway, and feels like one of the most remote churches that — I hoped and thought — was still meeting.

I stopped about a dozen times along the way, saving a moment-in-time look at these churches that represent hundreds of years of history and likely thousands of life stories. Don’t mind the empty parking lots: It wasn’t always service time when I drove by.

At a few, however, I suspected I would be the only visitor.

I wasn’t sure Macedonia still had services, as I’ve gradually seen more and more of its scheduled meeting times taped over on the sign out front. But when I pulled up, a few cars were there.

And as I walked through the old wooden doors, I became the fifth attendee of the church’s most recent service in more than 150 years of history.

We sang old songs from the blue-bound “Heavenly Highway Hymns” and heard Bible scripture. And when we were done, I asked if this is typically the size of the congregation. Yes, it is, they said — but still, they meet.

“To me, the ones before us apparently felt it was important to keep it going,” said David Throne, who attends with his wife, Nancy. “It was founded in 1870, and it’s still going.”

Visiting Macedonia Freewill Baptist Church in rural Webster County on April 9, 2023. (Photo: Kaitlyn McConnell)

They don’t have a traditional church service now, as their minister left around five years ago. But they gather for Sunday School.

“I just pray that when it’s time for us to have a preacher, God will send one,” David said.

Congregants believe the quartet meets in the fourth building the church has known. It seemingly was significantly supported by another’s great devotion: Jeff Gardner, who died in 1946 and whose tombstone catches my eye on a moment in the cemetery.

“Jeff loved this place so much that he gave his life saveings,” the stone proclaims. A plaque on the church affirms the same, dedicating the building in memory of Jeff and his brother, Joe.

A 1946 article from the “third annual home coming of old timers” at the church shares more:

“The old house was getting in very bad shape. So Joe and Jeff Gardner took the job financing and doing hard labor and remodeled the old church outside and in. A new woven wire fence with steel post around the cemetery,” wrote U.G. Clift.

“After the fine singing was over (there was) a short talk by Joe Gardner in which he asked the congregation to bow their heads for 30 seconds in memory of the old time fathers and who are laid to rest in the cemetery at old Macedonia.”

A tombstone proclaims eternal commitment to Macedonia Freewill Baptist Church. (Photo: Kaitlyn McConnell)

Today, the brothers are there, as is the writer of the article. They and others leave a calling for those inside to keep the same sentiments alive: Out of a deep devotion to God, their faith and serving others, even those gone before.

“One of the ladies who went here, she passed away several years ago — it was only her and another woman who came here for a couple years before anybody else came again,” said Alison Little, who is 28 and began attending as a teenager after a revival.

Today, she comes with her mother, Virginia. The mother and daughter, last to leave on this Easter Sunday, share similar sentiments.

“Why would you want to close God’s house?” Virigina Little says, and her daughter finishes:

“God didn’t say to shut His house down yet.”

Kaitlyn McConnell

Kaitlyn McConnell is the founder of Ozarks Alive, a cultural preservation project through which she has documented the region’s people, places and defining features since 2015. McConnell regularly shares her stories with readers of the Springfield Daily Citizen. Contact her at: More by Kaitlyn McConnell More by Kaitlyn McConnell