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Small church, full-size faith, enrich history

POSTED: March 16, 2014 1:00 a.m.

Mildred Martin, 86, a member of Chestatee Baptist Church since a baby, remembers when the building was heated by a pot-bellied stove.

Members would take turns feeding wood into it during services. There were no Sunday School rooms, but classes would meet in the corners of the one-room church. Neither were there bathrooms, only outhouses. For many years, services were held only one Sunday a month, but Sunday School would meet every week.

The building, built in 1897, expanded with room for a choir and Sunday School in the 1950s. Loyd Cecil Martin, who grew up in the church, but now attends Corinth Baptist, and his father, Clay Martin, were carpenters during the building projects. Cecil Martin paddled members across Lake Lanier to the church when the lake began to fill, cutting off some members. Mildred Martin also remembers Hammond Martin doing the same.

The church added central heat and air and restrooms in the late 1960s and early ’70s.

Chestatee Baptist is taking a really challenging step this year, a new building already roofed and interior work well underway. The old building is drafty, termite infested and almost ready to fall in, according to Wayne Winkler, one of a dozen members who are volunteering to complete the new church on the same historic site. They hope for a July groundbreaking during annual revival.

Some members were skeptical at first for their tiny church to take on such a project during a less-than-robust economy. They had only $25,000 in a building fund supposed to finance a $480,000 building if contracted. The volunteer labor and materials are reducing the cost by more than half.

According to Winkler’s wife, Brenda, various fundraisers and donated labor and materials have the goal in sight. “We are debt free at this point,” she said. Yard sales, car shows, singings, suppers, choir recordings, cookbooks, youth brownie mix and bed sheet sales have helped. Members raised $12,000 recently at a barbecue that far exceeded expectations.

nother car show is scheduled May 3.

A Lawrenceville church donated pews that will replace the rough white wooden benches that have served for so many years. Wayne Winkler hopes to find a place in the new building to place two ancient original benches that have been preserved as the back row of the old church.

The Winklers, members for only five years, feel a new spirit within the growing membership. They said they felt led to Chestatee Baptist after visiting and are at home with a family of worshipers.

Arlen Pirkle, 55, was baptized at the church during a revival at age 9. He, like some other members, hates to see the old building go, but “it’s falling in,” he said.

They haven’t decided its fate, concentrating instead on seeing the new church completed. “We’ll worry about that after we get into the new building,” he said.

This could be the third church building on the same site at the end of Chestatee Road, according to a history done by Tina Howard with the help of Pirkle and other members. That’s because an Indian mission might have been on the property before Chestatee was officially constituted April 4, 1874. Also, Chattahoochee Baptist Association lists a Chestatee Baptist March 2, 1826.

In 1874, the church had 12 members, and the first pastor was John Edward (Jackie) Rives, who sold the property to the church for $5. It decided in 1897 to build the building that is being replaced by the new one.

The present church fills every Sunday, snugly seating about 100. Wednesday evening services also are held. The new church will provide space for 200 comfortably, the Winklers said.

The Rev. David Skinner is pastor.

• • 

Former Times editorial page editor Ted Oglesby has published his autobiography, “Making a Difference to Millions Around the World — Adapted from the Philosophy of a Country Editor at Work.” The book covers his work as a journalist, in politics, service with U.S. Small Business Administration, as a tax consultant, in the Air Force Reserve, as a tour guide and on an advisory committee to Hall County government, as well as numerous other life experiences.

It’s available on amazon.com, Northeast Georgia History Center, Hall Book Exchange, Hall County Library or the author directly, 770-534-4203.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny.


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