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Saturday, June 23, 2018, 10:21 p.m.

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Conway man seeks help to save rural church

By Tammy Keith

This article was published February 25, 2018 at 12:00 a.m.

hawthicket-church-in-mount-vernon-has-been-sitting-empty-for-decades-and-rick-henry-of-conway-is-trying-to-raise-money-to-repair-the-buildings-roof-his-family-pays-for-the-upkeep-of-the-adjacent-bethlehem-cemetery-where-many-of-their-relatives-are-buried

Hawthicket Church in Mount Vernon has been sitting empty for decades, and Rick Henry of Conway is trying to raise money to repair the building’s roof. His family pays for the upkeep of the adjacent Bethlehem Cemetery, where many of their relatives are buried.

MOUNT VERNON — Hawthicket Church in rural Faulkner County was built with the idea that it would stand the test of time, but it’s falling into further disrepair every year.

Rick Henry of Conway is on a mission to save the church.

“It goes way, way back. My mother said there hasn’t been a congregation there in 60 to 65 years,” Henry said. “It’s an orphan church. No one owns it.”

Henry, a preplanning consultant for Roller-McNutt Funeral Home, grew up in Mount Vernon, where his 81-year-old mother, Rheba Henry, still lives.

“The previous church was a little white wooden church with a tin roof and wooden pews. That church stood for years and years,” he said.

Rick Henry said a relative, Maude Henry, paid for the current church to be built decades ago with the best of intentions.

“In her mind, she thought being that it was a little white wooden church that had been there 100 years as a church and a little school, that it probably would not stand forever,” he said.

Hawthicket Church, which Henry describes as “the little brown church in the vale,” was constructed of brick and has a shingle roof.

However, Henry said, by the time Maude Henry financed the replacement church, most of the church’s members were buried in the Bethlehem Cemetery on the property.

“To my knowledge, there was never a service held in that church,” Henry said. “She built a defunct church.”

Although it wasn’t reflected in the name, Henry said, Hawthicket was a Methodist church.

After another rainstorm, he peered through the windows to look inside the church.

“Now part of the ceiling has given way in the church,” he said. Henry wants to find an individual, group, organization or grant to help “at least repair the roof before it caves in.”

Henry’s father and grandparents attended the old wooden church, and they and many of Rick Henry’s relatives, including Maude Henry, are buried in the adjacent cemetery.

Rick Henry, who visits his brother’s grave in the cemetery, has watched the church deteriorate over the years.

“The roof has a huge hole in it,” he said, adding that it gets bigger with every storm that blows through the county.

A deed shows that the Maude Henry Trust, established in the early 1970s, owns the cemetery. David Brinkley, an employee in the Faulkner County Assessor’s Office, found a deed listed for the 2.83-acre cemetery, which he said was “surprising.” Families often just donated land to a church for a cemetery with no paper trail.

Brinkley said he also has several relatives buried in the Bethlehem Cemetery.

Rick Henry said the Maude Henry Trust provided money for the cemetery upkeep, but not for Hawthicket Church. The money was used to pay someone to mow the grounds, but the money ran out about three years ago, Henry said.

“After seeing the grass overgrown, I, my mother, sister and brother-in-law took over the grass-cutting,” Henry said.

The Henrys spend $1,600 a year of their own money to maintain the property.

“I do have a sign with my name and phone number, ‘If you want to donate, call,’” he said. “Every time I go out the gate, I go, ‘I’ve tried.’”

A woman did call one day. Henry said she asked him about the roof. “She said, ‘I have $100.’ That was a year ago,” Henry said. A few months ago, the woman gave Henry an additional $100 to go toward mowing the grass.

“I told her, ‘We still have your $100 [for the roof],’” he said. Henry said he knows the roof will be expensive to repair, but he hasn’t gotten estimates.

“I was out there Sunday (Feb. 18) because this last windstorm we had, it blew down a huge cedar tree in the cemetery, so I’m paying a gentleman to cut all that and remove it,” he said.

Henry said he has prayed about the church. “It’s on my heart that I feel like if I don’t do anything, I will regret it,” he said.

“I feel like in my heart, I have to try,” he said.

Henry said anyone interested in helping him maintain the church and cemetery may call him at (501) 358-2126.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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