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Noah’s Ark celebrates anniversary, history

Photo by Jim Massara
Secretary Armalee Carnes says Noah’s Ark Church was always a “lighthouse in this community.”

Photo by Jim Massara Secretary Armalee Carnes says Noah’s Ark Church was always a “lighthouse in this community.”

JONESBORO — Noah’s Ark Church is celebrating its 160th anniversary July 8, and Armalee Carnes can tell you almost anything you want to know about it.

Carnes — her pastor calls her Miss Armalee —is the current church secretary and historian, and she’s belonged to Noah’s Ark most of her life. Now in her 80s, Miss Armalee is the institutional memory of Noah’s Ark.

She can tell you, for example, that the church was originally named Ebenezar when its initial incarnaton was established in 1837. That a school was once associated with it. That the present structure was built in 1888. That there used to be two doors on the front of the church, one for men, one for women.

When asked exactly how far these records go back, anyway, Miss Armalee pauses, then replies, “I’d have to do some searching.” Another pause. “It’s not on computer.”

The records, in fact, were kept by Carnes, her predecessor as secretary Zelma Whitaker, Carnes’ uncle Mack, and any member past or present with something to contribute.

Exactly how the church was named is uncertain. One version says that Noah’s Ark Road was there first and the church was named after it. Another version holds that it was named after its first pastor, Noah Smith. A third says that when the church was named, half wanted to name it after the pastor, the other half wanted to name it after the already-existing road, so they split the difference, called it Noah’s Ark and let everyone believe they won.

However the name came to be, it’s definitely unusual.

“I catch a lot of grief when I go to pastors’ conferences,” Pastor John Elliott says with a laugh. “You know, we bring ‘em in two by two. They have a lot of fun with it.”

Noah’s Ark, says Carnes, “was known as a lighthouse in this community.”

Although the church currently has only about 50 members, its connections run like tendrils through Jonesboro and old Clayton County. At a funeral recently held there, for example, someone in attendance told Elliott that his family had supplied lumber used to build the church. Another family now in Griffin comes back to Noah’s Ark every homecoming because a grandfather had once belonged there.

“Some people active in other churches, they’re coming back to their roots,” says Elliott’s wife Deanne.

While Noah’s Ark is steeped in tradition, there are a few newcomers among the roughly 50 members.

“We were looking for a small, God-fearing, friendly, family-based church,” says Tom Mewborn, who left the Methodist church two years ago. “We came here one Sunday and we never left. The people here are absolutely wonderful.”

Elliott puts it this way: “At Noah’s Ark, we’re small enough that you can’t come here and not be known.”

Noah’s Ark Church will celebrate its 160th anniversary at its 11 a.m. service July 8. The church is located at 2952 Noah’s Ark Road, Jonesboro.