By Joyce Morehouse
special to the citizen
On Saturday, April 27th, members of Morgan County Landmarks Society gathered at St. Paul AME Church in Madison to begin our “Ramble” by coach to six historic churches in Morgan County, each with its own unique history and architecture.
While riding on the coach, members were introduced to each church by Ken Kocher and Terry Tatum, who prepared us for an actual tour of the churches themselves.
“Ramblers” were greeted at each of the churches by either the minister or another person on the staff who gave a brief presentation, revealing interesting details regarding the history of the church.
The first church visited was Apalachee Baptist Church. Pastor Alan Cagle, who has served the church for 24 years, shared some interesting details about its history. The back door of the building was in the original church, Bethlehem Baptist Church that burned. In 1888 the “New Bethlehem Baptist Church” was built on the current property. The name was changed to Apalachee Baptist in the early 20th century. After World War II, Sunday School was started. Men returning from service dug out the basement by hand, using a “flip scoop.” The indoor baptistry was built in 1990 – earlier baptisms were performed in the Apalachee River or a member’s swimming pool. Ten years ago, the interior of the church was redecorated – many of the original features were kept. Pastor Cagle noted that Apalachee Baptist Church gives half of the income they receive each Sunday to missions, one of which is the Gideon Society.
Next our group visited Apalachee United Methodist Church, right across the parking lot from the Baptist Church. The current brick building, replacing a frame structure at a different location, was completed in 1925 and dedicated in 1933 as “Apalachee Methodist Episcopal Church. Preacher Sara Lynn Holbert spoke about the Shockley family and their influence, and Matt White, a black woman who came to Apalachee from South Carolina in 1888 with William and Ophelia Shockley. She lived with them her entire life and is buried in the Apalachee Cemetery. The seating in the church are three ranks of curved wooden pews, which give a feeling of warmth and community to the room. The church has about 60 members. Working with the local Senior Center, they are very active in their outreach in the community. Asked if they had a choir, Ms. Ulrich explained that recently they have placed four chairs up by the pulpit, hoping that people will be inspired to come up and sing together.
The third church visit was hosted by Pastor Jeff Gossett. He introduced Troy Dobbs, a 92-year-old member, who shared with us some memories of his attending Gibbs Memorial Baptist Church as a child. He came from a family of seven children, and he remembered coming to church in a mule wagon. On rainy days, the mischievous boys would bring in “doodle bugs” and put them in the girls’ hair. Down in front of the church was a pot-bellied stove, which kept everyone warm in the winter – there were no members sitting in the back row then. In 2017, the church was renovated. All the wood was brought back to its original state. Pastor Gossett was most appreciative of all the work that has gone in to restoring the church, but he said, “We love the historic aspect of the church, but we are a fully functioning modern church, with members of all ages.”
Bostwick United Methodist Church was our next stop. Pastor Jerry Wolfe shared many interesting stories about the church’s history. It too was once a “United Methodist Episcopal Church.” In 1968, it became the Bostwick United Methodist Church. Pastor Wolf mentioned that there were divisions in the church over the years, and that most religious divisions in major denominations were about slavery. He mentioned Franklin Pierce, Headmaster of the Women’s College in Macon, who “acknowledged the moral implications of slavery, but a believed that the economic needs of the owners were more important.” Bostwick United Methodist has an average attendance of 50-75 members, many of which are old families. The church shares Easter Sunrise service and Easter Sunday Service with the Gibbs Baptist Church next door.
Sandy Creek Baptist Church was organized on the fourth Sunday in March,1808. It was one of the first churches to start the Baptist Association. As Pastor Charles McLain explained, “Right now, we have 45 missionaries all over the world – Jamaica, Haiti, and many others” He was in Haiti during the earthquake of 2018. Having been coming to the church since he was two-years old, he recalls many events. During a revival one time, lighting struck a tree outside, and a fireball entered the left side of the building. Everyone sitting on that side was saved that night. When asked, what were the major changes in the church that he recalls, his immediate answer was, “Air-conditioning!” He noted that the church in Sandy Creek has always been the “heart” of the community.
The last destination was St. Paul AME Church in Madison, where we were greeted by a hospitality staff, several of whom were in bright red T-shirts that said, “Catch-up with Jesus. I’m blessed from my head To-Ma-Toes.” We heard from Selena Clark, Pastor, and others, and learned about their wonderful choir, their outreach programs – which emphasized reaching young members – and their 21st century technology, including on-line giving. Afterwards, we were served a delicious sit-down dinner, which capped our fabulous ramble.