Tag Archives: Georgia

Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: Church History and #50

The History Room

Does your young, newborn of a 20th century church have a history room? Probably not.

The last church I pastored was considered “historic,” but is was only founded in 1946, not even the 1800’s. It didn’t have a “history” room, only a file cabinet.

But this church (Bethlehem Baptist) was founded in 1791! Therefore, it has a “history room” where old church records are stored. And let me tell you, reading the minutes from a church business meeting held 230 years ago is a trip!

How Times Change!

One of the things that rarely gets discussed in modern churches is church discipline. I mean, it’s very rare that a church member gets called to the carpet for sinful behavior these days, much less barred from fellowship or excommunicated. Yet, spend some time in the history room here at BBC and you will find out that things were a LOT different 200 years ago.

I hereby submit, for your edification and entertainment, selected readings from the minutes of Bethlehem Baptist Church.

  • Jan. 1, 1791:  “Excommunicated Robert.” That’s it. Nothing else was recorded!
  • May 20, 1791:  “Restored James Spratley to full fellowship.” Well, at least something positive happened.
  • June 6, 1792:  “Church met in conference . . . Stephen Renfroe is brought on trial & gains fellowship. ‘The church still seems divided concerning a pastor & 12 of the members rise & declare themselves grieved with the calling of Benjamin Thompson as pastor. Confusion & death is like to take place.‘” Ummm, that doesn’t sound good!
  • Sept. 28, 1792: “Ch. met in conf. Nothing of note came before us. Love seems to abound.Let’s hope so!
  • April 27, 1793: “[Bethlehem Baptist Church] met in conference. No business presented. Br. Baker, his wife, & negro join us by letter. (Br. Baker later becomes Pastor) Nothing unfinished. Love abounds.” It’s about time, don’t you think?
  • March 14, 1794: “David Wilborn is censured by Sister Taylor for injustice in measuring corn.” Where did the love go?
  • June 14, 1804: “Took under consideration the conduct of James Blunt & it being made plain… Alexander Smith confessed to drinking too much. Sister Little complained that Br. James Taylor had run off a part of her land. Neal, Walker, & Edmund May (Mayo?) to reconcile matter.”
  • March 18, 1815: (One month after the War of 1812) “Friday before the 3rd Sunday in April set apart as a day of thanksgiving to God for the aversion of impending danger & the return of his mercy towards us as a nation in delivering us from Wars & bloodshed & restoring peace in our country.”
  • Jan. 15, 1820: “Br. Manning & Barber to cite Jeff & wife (colored) to attend next conference to answer for some charges alleged against him viz: dishonesty & preaching without leave of the Church. Sister Molly a woman of color, dismissed by letter. She formerly belonged to David McCard.” Seems a “negro” had been preaching without permission. He justified himself by saying he’d never been told not to. Then, two months later, the church met and decided, “As to Jeff’s preaching, the ch. thinks proper for him to lay down the practice of taking texts to advance doctrine from, but recommended him to use the gift in public of singing, prayer & exhortation.” Ah, yes! Those colored people sure knew how to sing, didn’t they?

Like I said, things sure have changed in the last 200+ years, haven’t they?

And then there was #50!

So, with all this history, my curiosity got the best of me: I wanted to know where I fell in the lineage of pastors. How many had there been, and what number was I? When I figured it out, there had been 49 men who served a total of 56 tenures here at Bethlehem (a few had been asked to serve a second or third time).

That made me the 50th man to be pastor! Or as one deacon called my last night, the “golden boy.”

Portraits of pastors (mine isn’t up, yet). But this is only 20. 30 more are missing.

Yep, I’m the 50th pastor serving in the 57th tenure … and the second Baker. But THIS “Br. Baker” ain’t got no slaves!

“Love abounds.” For real.

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Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: Adventures In History, or “Break’n the Law”

Learning the History

One of the activities that occupies my time is learning the history of the area where I pastor. Believe me, there’s more than enough to keep one learning for a long, long time.

But learning local history is vitally important for getting to know the people one’s called to shepherd. And being that I’m not a local, not even close, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to go on some adventures in order to get a “lay of the land.”

That is why, after learning of the existence of an abandoned mental hospital, I had to learn more, and if possible, in person.

The Unofficial History

The place that I’m talking about is Central State Hospital, founded in 1842 as the  Georgia State Lunatic, Idiot, and Epileptic Asylum. At one time this was the largest mental hospital/asylum in the world, “serving” up to 13,000 people.

Central State has a long and sorted history with a mixed reputation for healing and horror. From what I have been told by locals (you know, the kind that sit around in the barber shop even when it’s not time for a trim), strange and unexplained things have happened since the “residents” of that place were “let loose.” And when you read the stories that hit the news in the years leading up to the hospital’s closing, you’ll understand.

This hospital was HUGE. We’re talking a self-supporting town! There were a couple of hundred buildings, including a power plant and a cemetery with 25,000 graves! And really, what more needs to be said?

Sadly, even though the hospital was founded as a place to help people, the help they offered for generations was nothing short of horrific. At one point there were 100 patients to every 1 doctor – and NO psychiatrists or psychologists! Common treatments of the confined, those who suffered from anything from depression to schizophrenia, were things like electro-shock, surgeries, and straight jackets.

What’s worse, parent’s in Georgia used to use this place as a threat to make their children behave. They would threaten their unruly children with, “I’ll send you to Milledgeville!” Horrifically, it was a threat with weight, for it’s been said that Central State Hospital was a place “where you sent people away to be forgotten.”

The Unofficial Tour

If you look up Central State Hospital on YouTube, you will inevitably find videos of people exploring the abandoned ruins of this facility. And what’s more, many of those are focused on the creepy and “haunted” aspects of the property. As a matter of fact, Central State is considered one of the most haunted places in America.

However, if you go to MY YouTube channel, what you will find is the video I’ve attached to this post. It is a video of what an unnamed friend and I saw when he offered to give me an unofficial tour.

The only thing is that what started off as a drive around the place ended up with me deciding to get out of the car for a closer look. And once we did that, and once I saw that there were no locks and no signs saying “KEEP OUT!”, I went in.

WARNING: Don’t do this!

“Break’n the Law”

After about an hour of walking around in an abandoned prison essentially meant to house handicapped and elderly prisoners until they died … and after several times of mimicking TV ghost hunters by calling to the unseen down black, unlit hallways, “Is anybody there?” … we retraced our steps and found our way out into the sunlight.

Before we made it to the car, a female security officer in a van came down a weedy, overgrown single-lane drive and rolled up beside us. “You are not allowed to be here…you need to leave now,” she said with all the seriousness of somebody being paid to guard Area 51. “Oh, OK. We were just looking around and about to leave,” we replied.

“Just so you know, we’re not giving warnings anymore – we’re just calling the police and they’re taking people like you to jail,” the security officer then informed us. But then she let us go with a warning.

Back in the car, my friend, also a preacher, asked, “Would your church had fired you if you’d gotten arrested?”

“Probably not,” I said. At least I hoped.

“We literally could have gone to jail,” my friend said. “Yeah, I guess you’re right,” I replied. “But it feels a little adventurous knowing we broke the law and got away with it.” I couldn’t help but remember MTV’s Beavis and Butthead from back in my younger, stupid years: they’d do something moronic, then act like would-be renegades while singing, “Break’n the law! Break’n the law!

This, however, was pastoral research.

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Merry Christmas from Georgia

Merry Christmas from my family to yours, wherever you are in the world!

Included in this family photo taken in our living room in the parsonage of Bethlehem Baptist in Warthen, GA: Myself, Valerie (my wife of 25 years), Marie (my mother of 52 years), Haley, Emma (11-month-old granddaughter), Alicia and Josh (Westbrook), Katie and Gus (the fiancé Pearson).

Nothing like matching pajamas, right? Funny thing, though…it has been so warm yesterday and today that we had to turn on the air conditioning in December!

Happy birthday, Jesus!

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Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: The Convention

I haven’t written much over the last week, especially since the weekend. The biggest reason is that I have been pretty busy with ministry and church-related stuff.

Now, when I say “stuff,” it could be interpreted as things that don’t matter much in the big scheme of things, things that just take up time and make us look busy. That kind of stuff is bad, for we should make the best use of what time we’ve been given.

However, the stuff I’ve been doing (at least from Sunday evening through Tuesday) was centered around our denomination in the state of Georgia. This week we attended the 198th Georgia Baptist Convention Annual Meeting.

Conventions

When hear the word convention, they often think about wild parties and lots of nonsense. The convention I went to for two and a half days was anything but parties and nonsense; it was where 1,300 delegates from Southern Baptist churches all over the state of Georgia came together to do business, worship, and be encouraged.

For those of you who don’t know, congregations within the Southern Baptist Convention are independent, autonomous, self-governing churches – the SBC doesn’t tell us what to do. However, what unites us is a common set of beliefs (Baptist Faith and Message 2000) and a desire to reach the nation and the world with the Gospel by participating in the Cooperative Program. State conventions operate in similar fashion, but deal more with regional needs.

Changes

This year is a big year for Georgia Baptists! The reason is that the whole convention was restructured to become more effective in serving the needs of our churches and pastors.

If you haven’t already, you can click on the link above (or here) and see exactly what’s going on. But if you are short on time and/or curiosity, let me sum things up with a few bullet points.

  • The Georgia Baptist Mission Board has been restructured into FIVE main ministry areas:
    • Georgia Baptist Women
    • Research and Development
    • Strategic Church Planting
    • Church Strengthening
    • Pastor Wellness
  • The Georgia Baptist Mission Board is now regionalized into six new areas. Each region will have a team of consultants that are serving our pastors, their families, and churches. Each region team includes consultants from:
    • Evangelism, Missions, Next Gen, Discipleship, & Worship and Music.
  • The Georgia Baptist Mission Board is committed to three guiding principles:
    • Pastors Are Our Heroes
    • Churches Are Our Priority
    • Georgia Is Our Mission Field

Why the Changes?

As stated in the video you can watch on the website, the main reason for all the changes in the structure and guiding principles of the convention is that there are over 7 million lost people in Georgia. We have to get “wiser, stronger, and more efficient in reaching them.”

There is a great need for discipleship. However, you can’t be a disciple of Jesus unless you are a follower of Jesus! We must get back to the primary mission of the Church, which was the primary mission of Jesus: “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).

I am proud to be a Georgia pastor. It is a great honor to be counted among those who will recommit to “making a big deal about Jesus” in the communities where we serve, and beyond.

Georgia pastors standing to be blessed with prayer.

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Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: Where’s the Coffee?

Preparing Sunday lunch in Zimbabwe, not Georgia 🙂

Food

It doesn’t matter where in the world you go, food is a universal need, even here in the middle of Georgia. However, what people eat and drink when they are hungry can vary greatly between location and culture, and Georgia is no exception.

Consider the following observations…

In Romania:

When I was in Romania, I found out that ground pork wrapped in cabbage leaves (sarmale) was the national dish, and I enjoyed it. As a matter of fact, I can’t remember any food in Romania that I didn’t like.

…except that soup.

Once, when staying in an apartment, the host family made fish soup. When I looked into the bowl, several little fish glared back at me with glassy, broth-covered eyes. Considering that the fish had to have come from water that was heavily contaminated by industrial waste, I had to refuse it. Before I did, just to be sure I was doing the right thing in offending my hosts, I dipped a spoon into the broth and tasted it…I had a metallic taste in my mouth for a week after that.

At least there was coffee.

In Zimbabwe:

As opposed to Europe, food choices in Africa can be a little more adventurous, especially for an American. However, for the most part, the food I ate in Zimbabwe was pretty much the same as in the States. The only thing I was told NOT to eat was anything from the bush (i.e., monkey).

The reason for the similarity is that Zimbabwe’s food had a history of English influence, so finding familiar food was not a problem, just as long as you knew what to ask for. Don’t eat their “biscuits” with gravy, if you know what I mean.

The only thing I couldn’t stomach in Zimbabwe was a desert made of bananas, pinto beans, green onion, yogurt, and Thousand Island salad dressing. After one spoonful I was done. My American palate had met its match.

But, at least, there was coffee!

In Georgia:

Look, believe me, the food down here is great, and other than when they spring something new on me, like pineapple sandwiches, it’s pretty much like anywhere else in the South. However, I’ve come to learn that we have a completely different understanding of one key food group: Barbecue.

The best I can tell, once you’re exposed to raw kaolin (the clay mined from the ground), pine trees, and higher-than-average heat, what the rest of the South does with pork doesn’t matter. Somewhere in their rich, rich history, these folk evidently developed a subconscious hatred for the pig. They like to eat it, but first they must pulverize it then torture it with a light bath of BBQ-flavored vinegar.

But at least there’s coffee, right? Uh, well, sorta.

Beverages

Like with food, it doesn’t matter where you go – people have to drink. Of course, what they drink depends upon the quality of the water and whether or not the locals have an excess of potatoes.

But, regardless, everywhere I’ve been in the world, from North America to Europe to Africa, one drink has been there for me, waiting around every corner, offered at every function, even boiled in pots over an open fire …coffee.

That is, except in middle Georgia!

Seriously, in Romania I woke up to a big, cast-iron pot full of dark, fragrant, exceedingly rich coffee over an open fire. Yes, there was electricity where we were staying, but because there were more than a few of us, and since coffee was a must for breakfast, they broke out the pot, lit a fire, and poured in the grounds.

In Zimbabwe, coffee was offered everywhere I went, including homes that prepared their meals in a mud hut! Even in an Ethiopian airport, where few things were recognizable to a Westerner, there was a coffee shop serving that familiar, satisfying, nerve-calming, caffeinated friend.

But here? Coffee? What coffee?

No joke, I’ve been to multiple fellowships, dinners, meetings, you name it, and I can’t tell you one time – not once – where there was any coffee offered with the desserts! Where else, except maybe the Sahara, do you go to an important meeting and find only water and iced tea, but NO coffee?

I don’t understand it.

All I can figure is that the folk down here are so laid back, so calm, so chill, so full of the “peace of that passes all understanding,” that coffee isn’t needed. Sweet tea is the cure-all for everything.

Or, it could be that they learned other ways to cope with stress way back when Union blockades stopped the shipment of coffee to Confederate troops. I don’t know.

Either way, I’ll survive. I’m tough. I’ll even grow to enjoy the way they do their BBQ.

It’s not like I have to have coffee with every meal and meeting, right? It’s not like God commanded locally-grown Georgia pecan pie be accompanied by a cup of dark roast, right?

I may need your prayers.

 

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Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: Showers of Blessing

It’s Raining!

My first day “on the job” here in middle Georgia (Warthen) was August 1, but we were here a day or two before that. And since that time, I had not seen a drop of rain fall in our yard or on the church building until Sunday…and that was brief.

Sure, it has rained a couple of times since the 1st of August (it’s now Oct. 15), but I was out of town, so I didn’t see it. Other than a major storm that nearly washed everything away with 6 inches of water falling in just a few minutes (which I missed), it’s been pretty dang dry. Frankly, we’ve been in a drought for 3 months.

So, today, as I was driving into the church parking lot, I saw for the first time the church building through a rain drop-covered windshield! I was so taken aback by the unusual sight that I had to take a picture.

Praises!

Since the sound of rain landing on the rooftops has been missing, when it finally did rain again the folks around here took notice. Eyes looked upward, heads tilted like a dog hearing a strange noise, and people literally exclaimed, “It’s rain! Praise the Lord!”

Can any of the worthless idols of the nations bring rain? Or can the skies alone give showers? Are you not the LORD our God? We therefore put our hope in you, for you have done all these things. – Jeremiah 14:22 CSB

The folk around these parts know the importance of rain. Without rain, there’s no harvest. Without rain, there’s ruin. Without rain, there’s desperation. Without rain from the sky, there will be tears from the eyes. Therefore, praises were appropriate.

Rain Will Come

But what I’m waiting for, even more than the rain that will bring an earthy harvest, is the spiritual rain of the Holy Spirit upon the dry and thirsty hearts of men and women, boys and girls.

When I heard the audible praises upon the sound of rain falling on rooftops, my heart longed for the same type of rejoicing at the sound of hearts being renewed, revived, and re-energized.

Ask the LORD for rain In the time of the latter rain. The LORD will make flashing clouds; He will give them showers of rain, Grass in the field for everyone. – Zechariah 10:1 NKJV

I’m asking, I’m praying, and I’ve got my umbrella ready.

 

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Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: Dirt Roads

A portion of the unpaved southern half of the road where I live.

Georgia Red Clay

I’m sure you’ve either heard of it, or maybe you’ve even gotten your clothes stained by it, but Georgia is famous for “Georgia Red Clay.”

The reddish soil that covers much of the state of Georgia, along with areas in surrounding states, gets it’s color from iron oxide, the reddish-orange shades varying as much as any shade of red rust. It’s almost everywhere.

As a matter of fact, a good portion of the secondary roads in my area look just like the one above.

Georgia White Clay

On the other hand, especially around these parts (Washington County), there is another kind of clay: Kaolin.

4 oz. for $7 on Etsy!

As opposed to the common red clay, Kaolin (nicknamed “white gold” because of its color and its profitability) is mined, processed, and sold locally and around the world in various forms for use in products ranging from paper to lipstick. Actually, over 50% of it is used to give coated paper the “gloss” you might see in quality printer paper or magazines.

FYI, just click on the attached link and learn about one of the world’s largest producers of Kaolin located just 10 miles south of me in Sandersville, GA: Thiele Kaolin Company.

However, what I wanted to write about was not the types of clay that can be found in middle Georgia, but those red clay dirt roads…just like the one two houses down from me…right where the pavement ends.

It’s About the Dust

Two days ago, as I drove by one of these dirt roads, I sensed there was something profound…an important lesson…that I needed to learn then share. However, asking myself “What’s so spiritual about dirt roads?” over and over didn’t bring me any closer to a revelation. Then, as I was in the shower this morning, the truth of it all became clear (or clean, whichever):

It’s about the dust!

What do you get on your car after you travel down a paved road? Nothing. What do you get when you travel down a dirt road? Dust! It covers everything.

Think about it. You could drive a thousand miles down a nice, paved highway, and nobody would be any more the wiser of your long, hard journey. But travel down a dirt road and people will know you’ve been somewhere.

It’s About Serving

In a small, rural town like mine, the people have the tendency to care a little more about their neighbor. It’s not a firm and fast rule, but generally speaking, here you’re more likely to have someone lend you a helping hand than in the middle of a metropolis.

Yet, how do people know when you need a helping hand? How do people know you’ve traveled down a long, dirt road?

So often, in our “big cities,” we live such guarded, relationally-sanitized lives that we could be driven to near exhaustion and no one would be able to tell from the outside. In other words, our cars are clean.

But get down to a place where “everybody knows your business” and what do you find? A more openness about the road of life, a transparency that admits the road is dusty and dirty and has an affect on you.

Are bigger towns with the paved roads really all that better? Consider what the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery had to say about “streets” under the heading of  “A Window into the City’s Common Life”:

[The] street as a setting in the Bible represents what is commonly true of the mood, spirit and well-being of the city. Streets typically line the entirety of a city and serve as its reference points. Descriptions of what takes place “in the streets” therefore function as generalizations about what is going on in the city as a whole. – Leland Ryken et al., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 820.

If the streets of this middle-Georgia pastorate are any inclination, there’s a lot of opportunity to be like Jesus…to be a servant. At least down in these parts people are a little more willing to admit the need to have their feet … or their tires … washed.

So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for [so] I am. If I then, [your] Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. – John 13:12-16 

It’s easier to be a servant where the roads are dirt 🙂 

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