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A little church with a big history celebrates 135 years
The Chestatee Baptist Church building was built in 1897, though it has been renovated since then.


Mildred Martin and Tina Howard talk about their memories at Chestatee Baptist Church.

Chestatee Baptist Church 135th Anniversary

When: 11 a.m. June 28, with lunch to follow
Where: Chestatee Baptist Church, Chestatee Spur off Chestatee Road
More info: 678-776-7703

Steeped in old Southern Baptist beliefs, Chestatee Baptist Church continues to follow traditions like revival, homecoming, foot washing and calling members to testify.

Keeping that kind of old-time heritage might be what has kept the congregation thriving in the Sardis area for 135 years.

"We believe in the lost being saved," said Mildred Martin, 82, the oldest attending member of Chestatee Baptist. "We give an invitation every service where used to, when I was growing up, we had revival every fourth week in July, all my life. And that was the only time you knew of anybody being saved."

Chestatee Baptist was constituted on April 4, 1874, and to commemorate the anniversary of the church, a special celebration will be held after the June 28 worship service.

"The service itself, Brother Matt is in charge of that," said Tina Howard, a longtime member of the church. "The service starts at 11 a.m. and it's between him and the Lord however he conducts that. We should have one group coming in and singing special songs."

After the service a lunch will be served in the church's fellowship hall and church members are welcome to share music with the church.

"We'll have a trailer pulled up, so the ones that want to play instruments or sing songs at that time will go up on the trailer," Howard said.

Also, members will wear period dress to show the changes through the years at the church.

The original church had 12 members, and the Rev. John Edward "Jackie" Rives was the church's first pastor, according to the church's Web site.

In 135 years, there have been an estimated 31 preachers including the current pastor, the Rev. Matt Pruitt.

"The only church I've ever known is a small Baptist church," said Pruitt, who has served at Chestatee almost three years.

There has been growth in the small church since Pruitt arrived, and there are now about 300 members on its rolls. But Pruitt hopes to expand those numbers.

"I want to see souls saved - that's the main reason I accepted the call to preach, to go out the way God has commanded and preach the Gospel," he said.

And the Gospel has been spoken over the years in a couple of different church buildings on Chestatee's property. There have been two church building on Chestatee's grounds. The second was built in 1897, and the first building served as an Indian mission and is thought to have been where the cemetery now stands.

According to church deacon and longtime member Arlen Pirkle, the property was not given to the church, but it was sold to them for $5. Church minutes confirm that Rives owned the property that the church purchased.

"Our present church building was built in 1897, and the choir and Sunday school rooms were added on in the 1950s," Pirkle said.

Exterior changes to the building have happened over the years, but Howard said the congregation has slowly taken to change.

"It's always been family oriented; they treat you like family, your problems are their problems," she said. "There's a lot more younger kids coming in with more up-to-date, 2000 ideas. It makes us older ones stop and look; ... we have to be very careful on allowing stuff to come in that is not our tradition and is not our way."

Martin said the church has always been conservative and traditional but that it was always filled with God.

"We started out with only one church service a month and then moved up to two ... because the pastors had to move around from church to church," said Martin, who added that all the church members were farmers of some kind. "We had homecoming every fourth Sunday in May and we called it dinner on the ground and we had to eat outside, had foot washing and communion."

Maevilene Pirkle, one of the oldest attending members of the church, said that for years the old wooden church had a heater in the center and "members had to take turns and get up and put wood in the heater. ... It was a big day when the church had central air conditioning and heat."

On the anniversary next Sunday, the air conditioner will be running full blast to beat the summer heat and welcome members to the church. But Pruitt is waiting a little longer to prepare his sermon for the special day.

"Whatever the Lord lays on my heart, that is what I go with," Pruitt said. "I've thought about it, prayed about it. The sermon is always completely inspired by the Lord."

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