STONE MOUNTAIN — I felt as if I were taking a trip back in time.
I sat on a front pew of the old, historic Garden Creek Baptist Church and noted such a lack of microphones. No speakers, no public address system. No air-conditioning either, just a rotating fan sitting on an unused piano in a corner whose air may or may not have reached the preacher in the pulpit.
No videos flashed on a screen in this church. No song lyrics were projected on the wall, and no organ boomed its praises. No glitz or glamour here.
No, I had stepped back in time 100 years, it seemed, for a Sunday-morning service at the church at headwaters of Roaring River in Stone Mountain State Park near Traphill.
I was not in the hometown church any more. I felt thrown back to an era of fire-and-brimstone preaching, to a time of congregational singing of hymns elevated by powerful, lay voices that had been baptized by hardscrabble, wilderness living.
After the state bought out all of the land around here in the late 1960s for the park and after the mountain folk who lived in these hallows had moved out, folks wondered what to do with this wonderful little unpainted, plank church.
As a youth I heard talk of trying to move the picturesque building with a bell in the steeple that rang out up and down the holler for Christ’s people to come to worship in the days before telephones. I also heard speculation on whether the state would just tear the church down.
But caring locals whose ancestors built and loved this church determined not only to not let this unique piece of history be destroyed, but they restocked and revived this house of worship. In 1999, they restarted Sunday-morning services led by a handful of local preachers for the benefit of campers, other park guests and anyone else with an ear to come and hear the Word of the Lord the old-fashioned way.
My first impression was how soft I had become. The straight-back, handmade wooden benches with no cushions reminded me how flawed was my posture. Here you have to sit up straight and, hopefully, listen carefully. I kept telling myself to not embarrass myself by sliding off the 2-by-8 that served as my pew bench.
A framed history of the church, which started in 1897, proclaimed it as one of the few country churches around here that had “not been rebuilt or remodeled.”
I believed it. Bare light bulbs in the ceiling and an interior of treated 2-by-4s attested to the church’s authenticity.
The old pot-bellied stove that I remembered seeing as a youth was long gone, stolen by thieves when the church went unused. But a modern wood stove had been brought in, and colorful American flags had been placed around, including one covering the pulpit table.
About 10 worshipers stood and sang a cappella “Amazing Grace” — all four verses, not just the first and last ones — and then prayed with the preacher knelling in front row.
“He’s right here,” said preacher Wayne Overcash with his right hand over his chest. Christ “is right here in your heart. And he will always be with you wherever you go.”
Overcash, who stops by at Garden Creek on third Sundays before proceeding on to Liberty Grove Baptist Church near North Wilkesboro where he is pastor, read from I Corinthians 3 in the Bible and then preached extemporaneously on unity among Christ’s people. A couple of the brethren spoke amens from their second-row pews in encouragement.
The scene reminded me of old, summer revival meetings when I was a kid and evoked a passion not often shown in modern, preprogrammed, comfortable churches.
Little country churches like Garden Creek helped shape the hometown area’s character in pioneer days. The Second Great Awakening, as history calls it, was a religious movement in the years following the Revolutionary War that incubated in and exploded from places like Garden Creek.
Preachers pronounced the Word with an emotional pitch that touched the pioneers and helped turn America into a church-going, Christian society.
Garden Creek services are held at 9 a.m. Sundays from May to October and during the off-season on first Sundays. Come and visit some time. Leaf-viewing season coming up offers a good opportunity.
And take a trip back in time.
Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.
Back In The Hometown