SIX CHURCHES, SIX MILES, SIX WEEKS

IMG_1542Six Churches, Six Miles, Six Weeks

 Kristie Macrakis 

Riding my bike up and down the hills of old highway 76 in Morganton, GA, in the North Georgia mountains, I come across six churches within a six mile stretch of the ride interspersed between pastures of grazing horses and bovine cows and hills and meadows decorated with farm houses and log cabins. I wonder what the services are like, who the people are, what they believe in and why they survive in our secular age.

It is not unusual to see a church on every street corner in Georgia. Downtown Blue Ridge, the biggest town near Morganton, has its share of churches –the First Baptist, the Methodist and others, but they are bigger. I like the idea of the old small country churches. And many of them have cemeteries next to them to bury members of the congregation.

The first church I come across on the bike route, past the Blue Ridge TVA dam and panoramic view of the lake, is the Toccoa Baptist Church and its accompanying cemetery. By North Georgia standards, it’s a medium sized church and a long white steeple emerges from the top.

I vow to attend the 11:00 am Sunday services the next week after a bike ride. Unlike previous efforts to go to church, I follow through with this one. After a brief bike ride at 10:00, I load my bike back onto the jeep bike rack and change from bike clothes into a skirt and nice T-Shirt, but I’m still perspiring from the humidity.

As I quickly scoot into the brick church, I sit on the back pew—there are only eight rows– but my effort to remain anonymous fails when the pastor, a middle-aged white man with short grey hair, a white shirt and tie and grey slacks comes over and shakes my hand in greeting. I extend my sweaty hand in embarrassment. He looks like one of the clean-cut Jehovah’s Witnesses people who roam the streets in packs.

Singing from the hymnal accompanied by an amateur piano player has already begun by members of the congregation who have gathered behind the pulpit. Music has always been the main attraction for me in Churches, whether the Stephansdom in Vienna or a small country church in the mountains.

As the congregation sings I look around the church and notice three stained glass windows with doves in them on either side of the pews. Fluorescent lighting mars the atmosphere though the church has a clean, well-cared for feel to it.

I also look for a bible in the pew racks. There are none. Everyone has brought their own bible. I guess it’s Bring Your Own Bible (BYOB); I’ve seen that at other small churches. I lean over a look at the mother-daughter pair in front of me. They have their own bibles and they are marked up –passages are underlined and marked up in red. I wish my students would only read their books for my classes as carefully!

The congregation now has time to offer prayers to people in the community. One woman reported that her husband fell off his tractor and died. It’s sad, of course, but it underlines for me the nature of the community at hand and pastoral setting. Prayers are offered.

Once the prayers are done, the preacher approaches the pulpit, but before I know it, he, along with his assistant are kneeling on the ground behind the pulpit grunting like sheep baahing to “Lord” and “God” “lord cleanse me and wash me, ha!” I can’t make out any other words. I guess it’s some sort of worship.

As the preacher goes to the pulpit, he apologizes, for what I don’t know. But he seems to dread the topic of his sermon – sin. After a brief reading from Revelations, he pauses for dramatic effect and says he wants to dwell on Revelations.

“The blood brought before the lord, sacrifice in front of the lord.”

He kept apologizing, wasn’t sure kind of sin he was talking about. “Go back into the scriptures, word of the lord.”

“I’ve sinned before the lord.”

“Purge me, wash me.”

“Watch potter on the wheel, limp ball of clay, tore it down, built it up.”

“Vineyard, wine press, bring forth wine grapes.”

“Everyone thirsty, come before the lord.”

“When things was good and things was bad…”

“Married to the lord, to one flesh, got saved, got married.”

“Amen,

They say, save people through the lord.”

I’m still not sure what kind of sin he is referring to — original sin, sin in general or perhaps he committed adultery…

In any case, the following week I was vacationing in Gloucester with my mother. When I pulled out the night table drawer at the Sea Lion Hotel  I was delighted to find a Gideon’s Bible, in pristine condition. When I shrieked with delight my mother, the root of the family’s atheism, blanches…Maybe I’ve turned “religious.”

As a historian, I thought she might be interested to see that the Gideon’s had a nice outline at the beginning of the book, highlighting historical passages…to no avail.

Although Gideon’s bible offered no insight into the Toccoa Preacher’s discussion of sin, it did remind me of The Beatles’ song– Rocky Racoon. Remember the refrain –Rocky Raccoon checked into his room
Only to find Gideon’s bible

…And now Rocky Raccoon he fell back in his room
Only to find Gideon’s bible
Gideon checked out and he left it no doubt
To help with good Rocky’s revival

 

The ha’s! continued, he marched up and down before the pulpit.

By the end of his “sermon” he had worked up a sweat, had removed his tie and was wiping his brow.

I’ve heard these “ha’s” before at a Southern Baptist Church—I supposed they are there to make it more dramatic. No snake handling…maybe at the next one.

At the end of the sermon, people from the congregation thanked him for his “message,” a message I missed. I had planned on e-mailing him to ask, but there was no contact information on the web for the Toccoa Baptist Church.

One women thanks “Jimmy” for saving her soul.

During my bike ride before church, I had seen a sign in front of the Morganton Baptist Church: “ There are no atheists in hell…they believe.”

Yikes, am I going to be thrown feet first into the fires of hell, even though I’m only a pagan agnostic? Stayed tuned for next week’s blog…

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “SIX CHURCHES, SIX MILES, SIX WEEKS

  1. Kristie,I find your message to be very entertaining. I used to live in Morganton,off of Loving rd to be exact.I lived on a road named Wilderness View.I owned a small business in BLAIRSVILLE, called Graphics Unlimited. Being very close to the Union Country line,I had a Morganton or Blue Ridge phone number, but paid property taxes to Union County.But I understand exactly what you are referring to about the churches up here.I was born and raised in Marietta.When I came to the mountains,it was almost a culture shock!Before I moved to BLAIRSVILLE, I lived and went to college in Brunswick. Although it is the same state,there is a huge difference between how people treat you.For instance, I patronized a convenience store owned and operated by a well known family in BLAIRSVILLE. After about 2 or 3 weeks, I noticed that the cashier was alot more friendly to other people than myself. I finally asked her,Why is it that u are SUPER nice and friendly to other customers, but when I get to the register, it’s all business? You hardly even smile when talking to me.She anwsered, well, we’re getting tired of everyone from Flordia moving up here and acting like they own the place. I said maam,I’m from Marietta. Come to find out,she and her family lived one street over from where I grew up. They had moved to BLAIRSVILLE 7 years before me.I was kinda ticked off because she was judging me,without knowing anything about me.Luckily though, I met and did business with alot of the “Big Wigs”,in the town,so my business was successful. On the other hand, I knew a man that came from Savannah, and bought a popular tire and auto repair shop.He and I got along great. But on the second day of owning his shop,a local dump truck driver walked in,and went to the back, without introducing himself or anything of that nature. Before my friend could make it to the back, the guy comes back through carrying 2 huge tires and wheels. The new owner said, where are u going with my tires? The guy said, these are my G.D.tires,and I’m getting 6 more too! After saying that, the guy put down one tire and pulled his pistol from his waistbelt,and said, Do u have a problem with that? My friend who was a ex-marine,pulled his gun from under the counter and pulled back the hammer and said,Tommie, call 911 and tell them to send not just the police, but a couple of ambulances too!The guy said, Hey,u pulled the hammer back like you’re gonna shoot me.The owner said, Why would u pull a gun on someone and not use it? Anyway, my point is,if there is one,lol,the guy was a local good ole boy,and the once very successful tire shop failed miserably and almost bankrupted my friend. The story spread around town like a wildfire. That could of been my business, had I not handled the situation at the convenience store. Well,I’m sorry to take up so much of your time,but I did enjoy your opinion of the local churches.

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