There, on top of the tree-shaded hill, a stone’s throw from the Appalachian Trail, sets the tiny, white-clapboard church called Corinth Baptist.
The view is stunning. The Appalachian foothills roll, gently covered by trees that are a century or two old. A wide expanse of flat, rich green pasture land lies close to the church and collectively, it creates a God-awing view. It is more than quiet. It is serene.
Corinth, the church that my great-uncle Oscar Cannon had lovingly moved from a mile away and had also overseen its upkeep for much of his 95 years, set abandoned for years. Tree limbs covered the roof, cobwebs blocked the doors and, inside, dust thickly painted over the memories of the hard wood pews and out-of-tune piano.
Admittedly, I am sentimental about this little church. Perhaps, maudlinly so. Uncle Oscar helped to build it. Daddy was saved there. On the day he was baptized in the nearby Chestatee River, he met Mama. You can’t forsake strong connections like this.
Two country preachers – brothers-in-law – recently came up with the wild notion to reopen the church and have a week-long revival. When one is called, there are often others who fall in line and absorb that calling, too. Though Terry Head and Les Fuller led, the foot soldiers were many, including a men’s mission group that seeks to reach and teach others, particularly addressing need in the Appalachians.
When the cutting, the dusting, the sprucing, the shining was all done — and a local funeral home donated a piano — prayer service was held weekly to pray for revival. At the first service, 40 men fell on their faces, praying fervently, their knees resting on the solid heart of pine that Uncle Oscar laid in that altar in 1934.
They didn’t just pray. They cried out. Woefully. Humbly. They prayed until there was little breath or strength left in their bodies.
Of course, God was going to bless the efforts of these foot soldiers.
On revival’s first evening, we arrived thirty minutes early in a parade of cars that climbed the winding, one-lane road up to the church. The orange ball of a sun was dropping toward the mountains. The atmosphere was exciting and peaceful, simultaneously.
“You’re gonna pack that church out,” I said to Les. It only seats 75 or 80 but it’s a challenge to reopen a church in a remote part of the mountains and rally folks.
A steady stream of people packed the church. Then, they packed the huge tent outside. Then, we, who remained, filled the hillside with chairs and sat outside to hear the music and the preacher through the open doors and windows.
It was deeply satisfying.
Before the service began, men, both preachers and deacons, gathered in the tiny cemetery, one of the humblest you’ve ever seen. Most of the graves are marked by nothing more than an old rock stuck in the grave. No names. No memories of who they are. Just a nameless, forgotten body tucked deep in the red clay, with the headstone facing to the east.
Each man dropped to one knee. Some held Bibles in their hands. As I studied the suited preachers down on one knee, I thought of how often I had seen Daddy pray like that. He normally sat on the front bench of a service and when asked to pray, he dropped to one knee, rested one elbow on it, and poured out his heart.
That’s what those men did as they prayed in a cemetery of people forgotten by man but remembered by God.
We have been privileged to walk in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul in places like Mars Hills and Ephesus. It was a glorious sight to behold.
But nothing can ever compare to what I have seen at the church of Corinth in the foothills of the mountains.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “Mark My Words: A Memoir of Mama.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column appears Tuesdays and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.