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Union Baptist congregation has a long familial history that continues today
11.21.12 UnionBaptist
Winder-based Christian band, the ChoZen, continues the Union Baptist gospel music tradition as church families gather and listen. - photo by LISA LASKEY

The Civil War had ended the previous year when parishioners from two Flowery Branch churches sat together and discussed the merging of their respective parishes.

One year later, in 1867, Union Baptist Church was born. Nearly a century-and-a-half later, the 146-year-old church remains where it was founded, approximately five miles from Flowery Branch’s revitalized historic main street.

And to this day, it continues to serve many of the same family names that entered its doors so many years before.

"I was born and raised in Atlanta, but my grandmother, Gussye Deaton, loved this church with all her heart," said Jackie Kirkely, who returned to the area with her husband.

The couple settled into a home in a nearby active adult community just a few miles from the church. The community bears the name of Turner Deaton. And, it was Kirkley’s grandfather who was a part of the initial formation of the new church. "All 12 of the Deaton children attended the church," continued Kirkley, "which was not only the place of worship but the social hub of the area."

Its small, but steady membership contains multiple generations and races. Elder church members encourage youth programming in order to attract young families.

According to Andrew R. Lewis, a Southern Baptist Convention researcher, churches positively affect community in a variety of ways that reach beyond the pulpit, citing, "...scholars have frequently referenced the role of religion in creating social capital and developing the positive societal impacts of social capital... Social capital is the outcome of trust, social networks and social health, and it encourages economic and social opportunities for communities."

Kirkley has long considered Union Baptist a constant in her family and a large factor in her family’s relocation to the area.

Reflecting on her youth, the grandmother waited for a break in trio gospel band ChoZen’s selection and reminisced of her own days as a child listening to gospel music as it streamed through the church’s open windows.

No air conditioning was quite convenient for the children who were relegated outdoors. "They didn’t want us running in and out of the church," she said.

Today, she is seated just across from her granddaughter and the child’s great grandmother.

Kirkley cited a list of families who were integral to growth of Union Baptist during the early years, many whose names are scattered to this day amongst the history that is Flowery Branch, several which can be seen inscribed on the headstones of the cemetery adjacent to the church.

"The Turks, Clarks, Cashes, Orrs, Littles, Mauldins, Pirkles and Wilkes were some of the families who worshipped there," Kirkley said. "My grandmother’s best friend was Eula Turk. And now Judy Horton — her granddaughter — and I are good friends." Horton handles administrative tasks for the church and is also the pianist.

Lewis contends that a church’s presence in a community provides many benefits that cannot be measured strictly by a balance sheet.

"Churches help communities complete vitally important social projects, for which the government would need to fund if churches did not provide such support," he writes.

"We started going to the church and I soon realized that I am kin to most of the congregation. It has never seemed like ‘just a church’ to me," said Kirkley. "It is a special place, and when I walk through the door, I feel the presence of God there."

There were some new faces amid the small church’s late October outdoor festival, and this made adult Sunday school teacher Chad Reece happy.

"Maybe 10 percent of our newcomers are not connected in any way, but they don’t feel overwhelmed as you sometime can in a large church, and they fit right in," Kirkley noted earlier.

Rising to meet all festival guests with a warm handshake, Reece’s friendly, animated demeanor underscored Kirkley’s assertion, as he encouraged all visitors to grab a plate and join those who had encircled their chairs in the asphalt parking lot, enjoying the music, a meal and companionship.

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