The tent shall rise again for the 170th annual Eastern District Association of Primitive Baptists

This photo is from October 2018 when the "So-say-shun" was held in Clear Springs, Ohio. The annual meeting was held there again this year. in 2022 the event will travel back to Southwest Virginia to Burke's Union Primitive Baptist Church, the tent continuing to travel in years when the hosting location has need for it.

A dateline in the newspapering business is the location we put in all caps at the start of a story to indicate where the information in the story originated.

I don’t have to include one on this, my personal column, although I have at times. Today I have not, because, frankly, I’m not sure what would be appropriate.

The news I have happened in Ohio, but Mom and I watched it live (thanks to Kim Robinette, “livestreaming” online (aha! there are some good things on “social media”) from our kitchen table right here in Kingsport. And the news is about Blackwater, Virginia.

SPRING VALLEY, Ohio; KINGSPORT (no Tenn. because we publish in Tennessee — another newspapering rule); BLACKWATER, Va.

That’s where the news broke, where I was when I heard it, and where it’s about. Because of that pesky thing we call a headline, you already know that I want to share, if you haven’t already heard: the “So-say-shun” is coming back to Blackwater in 2022.

Those of you who have regularly read this column — and some who don’t, but are from around here — know I’m referring to the Eastern District Association of Primitive Baptists’ annual session.

The 169th annual session took place last week (Sept. 30 — Oct. 3) at Clear Springs Primitive Baptist Church in Spring Valley, Ohio. Mom and I had planned since last year’s “So-say-shun” to go to Ohio to this year’s gathering. But we had to cancel attending in person. I didn’t give up completely until three days before its start date, when I logged online to cancel our hotel reservation. I had scheduled a week’s vacation to coincide with the “So-say-shun” as soon as my boss posted a vacation signup list way back at the first of the year.

Mom and I were excited to learn we could watch it online. Mom did so all day Thursday. I watched until lunch then did some other things. On Friday, I got Mom “tuned in” as the proceedings started and told her to alert me when it came time for this year’s voting delegates to “give away” the privilege to host next year’s event.

Years ago it was “normal” for numerous churches to “plead” to host the event. In some recent years, that number has dwindled. So it was a joyful, not contentious, thing when five churches tossed their hats in the ring to host the “So-say-shun” next year. I can’t help think it also might have helped keep the Association’s 169-year-old tradition of location-variation in place.

Prior to hearing the pleas from the five churches seeking to host the 170th Eastern District Association, the congregants under the large, open-sided tent in Ohio heard a report from the committee on arrangements and queries. Brother Oscar Irvin, pastor of Poplar Grove Primitive Baptist Church here in Kingsport, spoke for the committee, explaining two churches in the Association had submitted queries asking it be considered to name the old Blackwater School, owned by Big Door Church, to be designated the permanent location for the annual Association meeting.

The request pointed out the school has indoor seating, indoor plumbing, and a large kitchen. All those things could reduce the logistics required each year to move Association-owned equipment to and from other locations.

Irvin said the committee talked it over at length and had decided to recommend against naming a permanent location, adding that Big Door Church has agreed to let any church that wants to host the annual event at the old school to do so.

“I hope everyone realizes that for 169 years we’ve had this thing from place to place, because we’ve felt like any church that desires to host it ought to have the privilege and opportunity of doing it,” Irvin said. “A lot of things have changed. We ought to be the same. That’s part of our heritage, being able to ask, ‘Will you give us the opportunity to host you?’ “

Afterward no motions came from the floor to move the query forward, and the task at hand turned to the pleas from the five churches to host next year’s meeting.

They were: Fairview (Ohio); Flower Gap (Lee County, Va.); Wallen’s Creek (Duffield, Va.); Willow Chapel (Kingsport); and Burke’s Union (Blackwater, Va.).

Fairview withdrew immediately. Willow Chapel did likewise. On the first vote between the remaining three, no clear majority emerged, but Flower Gap placed third and was eliminated from consideration. In the final vote, Burke’s Union edged out Wallen’s Creek.

Burke’s Union has hosted the Association twice in the past: 1991 and 1929.

So, the 170th Eastern District Association “So-say-shun” will convene “on Thursday before the first Saturday in October” (Sept. 29 — Oct. 2, 2021) at Burke’s Union Primitive Baptist Church, 4472 Canton Road, Blackwater, Va.

And the tradition continues. Hopefully, Mom and I won’t have to watch online next year. But just as we did this year, we will feel blessed and thankful for the opportunity if that’s God’s plan for us.

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