Sunday, September 16, 2012

First Baptist, Lithia Springs - A Dream Come True

The political season is wearing on me, and judging by the comments I hear and read I think it's wearing on most people.  

The spin.

The attacks.

The gotchas.

The convoluted issues.

The negativity in what is already a time where serious problems exist, and we are in need of real solutions if not bona fide action-plans.

It shouldn't be about who got us into the mess or who might want the credit for getting us out of the morass.   It should be about fixing things...that's it.   Just give me your plan with no static or spin.  Don't tell me about the other guy.   Give me your plan, and I'll decide which one I like.

Simple, right?

You'd think so...but politicians get sidetracked with ego and power and just wanting to be "the one."

I would like to think that most people want to do something worthy with their life.  They want to have purpose and leave behind something meaningful....and if they get the chance to leave behind something tangible....something that can be seen, used, and enjoyed by others that it would be even better.

I don't usually find those types of people deep in the confines of politics.  People who want to have real purpose and meaning hang out in everyday life quietly going about their work...their life.  

They tend to dream. 

They tend to work on projects of their own and with others.

They have goals.

Those people....the everyday normal you - and - me types of people amaze me because more often than not they don't see their dream the first time around....projects go awry and goals have to be restructured.

Yet....they keep going even when everything they work for is suddenly taken away from them.

It's easy to give up, but the human spirit can be a remarkable thing when it meets up with adversity.  Sometimes the right group of people come together and make something happen not once...but twice.

Take a group of citizens from Lithia Springs in the year 1946.   A committee was appointed by Union Grove Baptist Church to look into the possibility of moving the church to the business area of LIthia Springs.  Members of the committee included Tom Gore, Ed Ralls, Loy T. Chandler, and I.C. Williams.   

The committee discovered the John James family had given the land for the church only on condition that it be used as a church.   If the church was moved or disbanded, the land would revert back to the James family.  The committee's report was presented to the church and the suggestion to move to downtown Lithia Springs was not approved.

However, a small group of twelve people still believed God  was leading them to establish a church at Lithia Springs.  One member of the group in particular....Loy T. Chandler (pictured below)....had a dream one Sunday afternoon after church where he later advised God had given him a vision of a church in downtown Lithia Springs. 

At one time Glen Florence (pictured below) owned several lots of land along Bankhead Highway in Lithia Springs.   He was also involved in various business concerns and later was a member of the Georgia General Assembly for the 39th District.  Ed Ralls contacted Mr. Florence on behalf of the group.

Mr. Florence responded to Mr. Ralls by letter on March 1, 1946 and a copy is stored within the historical archives of First Baptist Church, Lithia Springs.   Mr. Florence wrote, "I will be glad to donate a church site....Have you looked at the place next to the school house, as you could utilize part of the school grounds for large Sunday crowds? ...You might want to get Mr. Watt Mozeley to show you the places and write me the amount of frontage needed and the depth of the place, and I am sure we can get together.  Thank you for the chance to do something."

The church was organized on April 7, 1946 in the auditorium of the present Annette Winn Elementary School then known as Lithia Elementary School.   Finances were discussed and a budget plan approved.  The group pledged  to tithe their income, and it was unanimously voted to have services every Sunday.

Ground was broken soon thereafter to begin construction (see image below).   From left to right:  Mary Gore, Ethel Hodges, Vassie Williams, John and Estelle Rice, Pat Chandler, Jewell Patterson, Amy Copeland, G.W. Southard, Pastor Arnold Patterson, John Cauble, Pastor Pat Johnson and John Brown.

The group continued to meet in the school building until the basement of the church was complete.  At the conclusion of the first year the basement was completed and services were held there. 

The church members completed much of the building themselves.  Men would head to the church site after work and complete another shift until late at night.  Every Saturday was spent seeing to the construction at the church as well with the women providing picnic lunches when necessary.  

On October 23, 1949 the LIthia Springs First Baptist building was dedicated to the glory of God.  The dedication theme was "A Dream Come True", and it was.  It is said the building was just as Mr. Chandler had envisioned.

A regular Sunday schedule was held using all of the new equipment and all of the spaces that were available.  Following the morning service a basket lunch was enjoyed and during the afternoon a congregational singing was held and a message of dedication was given by Pastor Pat Johnson from the Douglasville First Baptist Church.

The dedication was followed by a week long revival, but on that Friday night...October 28, 1949 to be exact....tragedy struck.

As the congregation gathered for the evening services the building caught fire.  Instead of gathering to sing hymns and listen to the pastor's message the congregation watched their many hours of  labor and the result of many months of financial sacrifice burn to the ground.  Later the cause was determined to be a faulty gas heating system.

The above newspaper clipping is from the Atlanta Constitution and is dated Saturday, October 29, 1949.   If you click on the image you can see a larger version and isolate it on the screen by itself.  

The caption underneath the image states, "FIRE DESTROYS LITHIA SPRINGS CHURCH...the new $62,000 First Baptist Church in Lithia Springs was destroyed by fire last night.  The structure  was dedicated only last Sunday.   The fire was discovered shortly before a scheduled meeting."

In those days Lithia Springs didn't have regular fire service.  In fact, it would be the 1960s before Douglas County would have regular fire service.  Fire fighting equipment was called from Austell and Douglasville, and a bucket brigade was formed to no avail due to the town's lack of a water system.  

All equipment including a new grand piano, new white pine pews, carpeting, four pianos in the Sunday School departments, all chairs, heaters, and much more were destroyed.  Written histories filed within the church archives state, "It was well the church had a firm foundation because it went from a mountain-top experience of exaltation to the valley of despair in five short days.  it was in the testing time that the real church emerged to build again an even larger, stronger organization, with more facilities to proclaim God's love in the community."

Three days after the fire a meeting was held where the congregation met to discuss plans for the future.  A plan was put in place to raise the funds and go forward with building another "new" church.  Surrounding churches offered their buildings, plus a store building, the Scout Hut, and private homes were used on a temporary basis.   Later meetings were held in the school until a new sanctuary was completed in August, 1951.   The building still stands on the church campus today as a testament to faith, dreams, and sticking to a goal.

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