Clay Hill Church given new life after renovation

Published 8:08 pm Monday, November 26, 2012

Historic Clay Hill Church in the Pronto area of Pike County has been given a new lease on life.

“Hopefully, now the church will stand for many more years but, then, it will be up to another generation,” Don Renfroe said with a smile.

Renfroe is spearheading the renovation project with Ben English as his right-hand man.

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Clay Hill Church is an outreach church of Brundidge United Methodist Church where Renfroe and his family are members.

Time and weather had worn taken a toll on the historic church that was built in 1875.

The original church building was destroyed during the Civil War and it was through the dedicated efforts of the community that another church building was constructed.

“I don’t have a real family connection to Clay Hill Church but I am connected,” said Renfroe, who is deeply rooted in Pike County and feels a strong connection to the people and places of the county.

Renfroe’s connection to the church is through his aunt Betty Hixon, whose great-grandparents, Emanuel Eli Deese and Elizabeth Deese are buried in the church cemetery.

Churches were extremely important to the life of small communities following the Civil War and the people of the Pronto community came together in an effort to raise the money to build Clay Hill Church back.

“A large pledge was needed to get the construction underway and nobody had much money,” Renfroe said.

“Eli Deese upped and pledged $300, which would have been many thousands of dollars in today’s money.

The story is that, on the way home, his wife, Elizabeth, asked him where he was going to get the money.

She said, ‘We haven’t got it,’ and Eli said that, to get things going, somebody had to make a pledge. ‘The Lord will provide.’”

The Lord did provide and Clay Hill Church served the community for nearly 100 years as a church home to the people of the Pronto area.

Clay Hill Church is the site of the Old Christmas service of scripture and songs held annually on January 6 and The Gathering, an old-time, meetinghouse service, from time to time.

The upkeep of the historic church is dependent on donations and offerings taken at the church services.

The church building was in need of some rather extensive repairs and, as Eli Deese once said, the Lord did provide.

At his death, Joe Sneed left money to Clay Hill Church and, through is generosity, the money needed for the repairs was provided.

“Several members of the Sneed family are buried at Clay Hill Cemetery,” Renfroe said.

“Joe Sneed often attended Old Christmas services at the church and he was very interested in the upkeep of the church and the cemetery.

I think he would be pleased with the work that has been done.’

Renfroe said his hopes are that now Clay Hill Church will be used more often so that people of all ages can know how people worshiped in years past and gain a great understanding of and appreciation for the old time religion.