NEW HEBRON BAPTIST CHURCH
"If you like what you see,
we meet every third Sunday at 3!"
Today's Message, Tomorrow's Mission."
Dwain W. Penn, Preacher
ABIDING THE AGES
An old friend sits by the side of a dirt road in Pike County, having inspired so many for nearly a century. A little more than a spinner's cast from the Flint River and Flat Shoals bridge, the dear friend has been known to cheer hearts and ease heavy burdens.
No matter what problems tried to encroach upon Pike County's peaceful world, the faithful friend was always there to hear contrite prayers about sincere problems and, in turn, offer the solution through devotion to a greater Power able to meet any need. It could have been concern over the sinking of the Titanic, two World Wars, the Great Depression, or the assassination of a President and other prominent men. It mattered not. The friend would always seem to whisper, "Have faith in God."
That friend is New Hebron Baptist Church, which sits proudly by a narrow dirt road near Pedenville. Chartered in 1907 and built in 1908, its only bond with the modern age is when farm trucks and passenger cars pass by stirring up dust which quickly settles on the whitewashed facade and plain concrete porch and brick steps. In fact, New Hebron has changed very little in its nearly one hundred years. The old stove heater was replaced by propane space heaters and after 83 years without even an outhouse "down the path," modern yet modest indoor plumbing was installed in 1991. But the scene that is so preciously etched in the minds of many former members and visitors since the first worship service is still there. The hand-crafted pulpit and pews which absorbed every prayer, every shout, every song and every tear for decades faithfully create a church of living history.
The first pastor was J. D. Carreker, a store owner at Pedenville. His job was eased by the faithful charter members from local families: Banks, Bates, Coats, Connell, Connor, Fortner, Johnson, Kendrick, Madden, McGahee, Pilkenton, Rudolph, Simerly, Strickland and Turner. After chartering, the members met in the Johnson's Academy school house until the church was built a year later. Later, the school burned down following a failed attempt to smoke honeybees out of the structure.
New Hebron joined the Flint River Baptist Association in 1908 and was the first rural church in the organization to implement the "God's Acre" plan where one acre of farmland per family was set aside and any money made from that acre went directly to support the church. Wives of these farming families helped out, too, by tithing butter and egg money.
The time of New Hebron's greatest growth came in 1929 when 99 members were on the roll. And even though the church was built to hold about 120 comfortably, the pastor then did not get ahead of God by trying to organize a committee to look into the construction of a larger building. As fate would have it, New Hebron's membership began to decline because of dwindling rural jobs and the growth and lure of urban industries.
Near the end of the 20th century, church membership was down to only one, Mr. Fred H. Johnson, Jr., a Pedenville cattle farmer. A new preacher, Dwain W. Penn, was called to New Hebron in September, 1998, just two months before Johnson died. With the passing of this honored member, new zeal and passion have been devoted by the faithful monthly visitors to continue the services to honor history and the great love that deceased and former members had for this precious sanctuary.
Despite the fact that the church was used in two recent television movies, 1989's Cold Sassy Tree and 1998's Mama Flora's Family, there is still a powerful draw that keeps visitors coming back month after month. Perhaps it is the awe of stepping back in time when one enters the building, the haunting tunes of the piano made sweeter by the constantly sticking keys, the fellowship of lemonade and cookies after preaching service, or the friendship of other, like-minded worshippers, who enjoy continuing a tradition that surpasses the age of the oldest visitor.
Dwain Penn, a talented gospeler, accepted the duty of preacher as a result of a dual calling - an invitation from the former pastor, Bill Lawrence, and an unmistakable confirmation from God. To increase monthly attendance and not necessarily membership, Penn has started several annual traditions. In 1907, the church was on the route of a circuit preacher. It still honors that schedule, meeting every third Sunday at 3 p.m. However, special services have been created for certain months.
For example, every third Sunday in February, Abraham Lincoln, a historical portrayal by Penn, comes to speak and preach at the church.
“Lincoln” with a hand-made
1861 Fort Sumter flag.
Every March, visitors have the opportunity to participate in the sacred rites of communion and foot washing.
"Foot washing in March"
May has been designated as the annual spring picnic with emphasis on descendants of charter and former members with a special Founders' Day celebration. Visitors bring their own picnic lunch and blankets or chairs at 2 p.m. to enjoy their meal under the oak trees in the churchyard. A barbershop quartet is hired to serenade the diners.
A costume contest is held with ribbons as prizes along with cash money, both Confederate and current U.S. bills. At 3 o'clock a short service is held in the church house with an old fashion sermon by a southern style preacher, Rev. Walter Dubois, another portrayal by Penn.
September, New Hebron hosts a congregational singing. The service is professionally recorded and made available on cassette tapes for a modest price.
"1999 was our first singing," Penn reports. "That year's tape of 14 hymns sold almost 100 copies. Every buyer heaped abundant praise on the quality of the tape and singing. Some tapes have been sent as far away as California. The public has fallen in love with the sincerity and purity of our annual effort."
In October or November, Penn rotates prominent men of history and literature on an ongoing basis. These men include Jonathan Edwards, Charles Wesley, Ebenezer Scrooge, Beethoven, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther, and Quaker William Penn, a "double cousin" of the preacher.
Finally, in December, New Hebron has a lamplight service with Rev. Dubois reading two southern tales, one about how Santa Claus got mixed up with the birth of Jesus titled "How Come Christmas?" and the other about a poor Texas boy's exciting Christmas titled "The Wonderfulest Christmas in the United States.” Oil lamps were purchased in 2000 when research revealed that a former member, Annie Chappell conducted a fundraiser for lamps around 1915.
"History makes New Hebron so special," says Penn. "It is something so precious that many no longer know what it was like. However, we must have the right balance of the past in relationship to the present and future. We must honor the memories of yesterday, focus on the message of today, and carry out tomorrow's mission." New Hebron has found that niche and will continue to be a vital and proud part of Pike County's rich heritage and modern-day society.
HOW TO FIND NEW HEBRON BAPTIST:
Northwest of Concord in Pike County, GA
To confirm any service, call 770-567-4113 anytime
~ was chartered in 1907 and met in the Johnson Academy schoolhouse until a church was built next door a year later. The school later burned.
~ was on the route of a circuit preacher and set its meeting time at 3 p.m. every third Sunday. It remains unchanged today.
~ still uses the original hand-crafted pulpit and hand-hewn slat pews.
~ is located on New Hebron Church Road in a community once prominently known as Piney Woods, northwest of Concord, Pike County, Georgia.
~ had 99 members in 1929. The last member, Fred H. Johnson, Jr., died in 1998.
~ was featured in two television movies - 1989's Cold Sassy Tree and 1998's Mama Flora's Family.
~ installed an indoor bathroom in 1991.
~ is blessed to have a faithful and talented pianist, Martha Johnson, a relative of the last two members who died recently, her great aunt Mary Johnson and her cousin, Fred. Martha is able to coax the sweetest tunes from the precious piano, now over a half century old.
~ received a steeple and oil lamp shelves from the movie company during the filming of "Mama Flora's Family" in 1998. The original movie steeple was destroyed by a spring storm in 2002, but the shelves are still in use.
~ holds services every month year-round on the third Sunday at 3 p.m. and has special speakers and/or events for the months of February, March, May, and September through December. A biennial Bible Conference is held the week prior to third Sunday in November during odd years.
~ offers free quarterly newsletter subscriptions and sells note cards of watercolor prints of church for $7 (eight cards and envelopes), $12 (sixteen cards and envelopes), cassette tapes and CDs of annual singings for $2 (tapes), $5 (CDs) and music videos (DVDs) featuring church scenes for $5. Order cards and music by mail.