A six-episode series set to begin airing Monday, Sept. 10 on Georgia Public Broadcasting will focus on historic rural churches in the Peach State, including Georgia Baptist churches.
Monday’s episode of “Saving Grace,” scheduled for 9 p.m., will feature Powelton Baptist Church in Hancock County and Penfield Baptist in Greene County.
“Saving Grace will tell the stories of the great people that settled Georgia after it was founded in 1733 … little known stories that helped shape the society in which we now live,” said Sonny Seals, chairman and co-founder of Historic Rural Churches of Georgia. “Whether they are nearby or have moved away, Georgians continue to be fascinated by the history of these churches and the communities they define.”
Seals and George Hart, who were interviewed by Index Senior Editor J. Gerald Harris two years ago, founded Historic Rural Churches of Georgia in 2012. What started when Seals inadvertently discovered his great grandfather’s grave in the old burial ground of Powelton Methodist Church has become a mission to “research, document, and ultimately preserve historical rural churches across the state.”
Historic connection to The Christian Index
In that article, Harris recounts Powelton’s importance in Georgia Baptist history.
“Powelton Baptist Church, first known as Powell’s Creek Church, was constituted in July of 1786 with 26 members. Jesse Mercer became the pastor of the Powelton church in early 1797 and remained in that capacity until late in 1825.”
Mercer’s legacy among Georgia Baptists is great. In addition to serving as pastor of several churches, Mercer was Georgia Baptist Convention president from 1822-1841. As editor of The Christian Index, he oversaw its relocation in 1833 from Philadelphia (The Index had previously relocated to there from Washington, D.C.). Mercer University in Macon is named after him.
“During Mercer’s pastorate the General Committee of the Georgia Baptists was organized at Powelton in 1803,” Harris continued, “and the Baptist State Convention was formed in the church in 1822. The Convention’s sessions were held in the church in 1823 and 1832. The historical marker in front of the church states, ‘Governor William Rabun was a distinguished member of Powelton Baptist Church, and served it as a clerk and chorister.’”
History can teach about the future
Georgia Baptist historian and minister Charles Jones encouraged others to view the program Monday night.
“Saving Grace and church history in general help us understand and appreciate where we have been and how God has worked among his people,” he said. “It can also serve as foundation for casting a new vision for the future.
“Far too often we naively assume in our churches and denominations that ‘how we do things today’ are the way ‘they have always been done.’ That is a false assumption and Saving Grace will bear this out.”
The 2016 publication of Historic Rural Churches of Georgia, written by Seals and Hart, led to a swell of interest in the topic. Today more than 65,000 people have liked the organization’s Facebook page. A press release by HRCGA says the book has received four major literary awards and is one of Amazon’s most popular architectural and photography sellers.
Other locations for Saving Grace include Rome, Augusta, Columbus, and Dalton. An exclusive interview with President Jimmy Carter will headline the sixth episode. Original airings will take place on Mondays at 9 p.m., with re-airings occurring Saturdays at 10:30 a.m.
“Those watching Saving Grace will enjoy and celebrate Georgia’s rich religious history while taking a sentimental journey through music, images, and narrative,” Jones added. “A journey viewed through the filter of her rural churches … it’s a journey worth taking.”