MORGANTON — A long time ago, the buildings on Old Highway 76 were filled with the sounds of children and young people. Used from 1925-1992 at separate times as a high school, junior high, and elementary school, they had been a centerpiece for families throughout Fannin County. Before that, the buildings had been the home of North Georgia Bible College for 26 years.
In the early 1990s rumors circulated that the property was going to be converted into a jail. Myrtice Maynard, whose father Oscar Guthrie had served as superintendent of Fannin County schools, knew that had not been her father’s plans for the building.
Looking through the former superintendent’s papers, she discovered the deed stating that if the property wasn’t going to be used for education, it must be turned over to the Morganton Baptist Association.
Like her father had been, Myrtice Guthrie was a member of Morganton Baptist Church. And, she knew of a congregation needing some extra space.
In April 1996 Morganton Baptist Church acquired the property through the association. The church had been experiencing tremendous growth, averaging 500 on Sundays when congregations of a couple hundred in the mountain community were considered big.
“The church invested nearly one million dollars into the property to convert it from a school,” tells Eric Kincaid, pastor. “That included a 500-seat auditorium, two-story education facility, and single-story brick building that provides an office, classrooms, fellowship hall, and cafeteria. A third building – a gym – includes showers and an upstairs meeting room.”
In August 1997 the church celebrated moving to its current location with an estimated 550 in attendance. Jerry Falwell preached the dedication sermon. On Oct. 14 this year the church celebrated again, this time recognizing its 150th anniversary with Georgia Baptist Executive Director J. Robert White preaching.
Attendance has dipped over the past 20 years. But Kincaid, who arrived at the church three-and-a-half years ago, foresees a bright future thanks to several dedicated volunteers who have helped with some much-needed upgrades.
“Our own people and mission teams from as far away as Texas have helped us get these facilities ready,” he says. “We see God opening doors for new ministries.”
Two pictures of the same area
Outsiders may get an affluent perspective of Fannin County, thanks to the million-dollar lake homes and downtown Blue Ridge’s rise as a destination visit for shoppers and those looking for a taste of the mountains. But venture off the four-lane carrying tourists through North Georgia and evidence of poverty, mental illness, drug abuse, and even homelessness can be seen throughout the area.
“Homeless people show up on our church’s doorstep regularly,” points out Kincaid, 47. “This last week I picked up a guy at the Dollar General and drove him the eight or nine miles to the spot in the woods where he lives.”
It’s not surprising that the church’s clothing and food ministry receives a lot of attention. Donors help keep the ministry the largest of its kind in the county not subsidized in any way by the government, Kincaid says. He estimates it provides for some 400-500 people a month.
“Through this ministry we’re able to help a lot of folks struggling to get by,” he adds. “People who come through here also get counseled and prayed over.”
Other preparations for reaching the community include a transition in worship style and studying what Scripture says about preaching the gospel within the existing culture. Since Easter, Kincaid has been preaching through Acts to show how the early church spread from Jerusalem to Rome.
Seeing what’s possible
Getting more familiar with the Great Commission will lead to greater days at Morganton Baptist Church, says its pastor.
“We’re to get involved. Jesus went to the people; he didn’t wait for them to show up. We have to change our method of growing the church. Engage with others and ask for the opportunity to talk with them about the gospel.”
Brainstorming over other ministries includes establishing a monthly outreach activity and – bringing the facilities to a full circle – getting involved in local schools. Kincaid sees the gym as potentially serving as host to Upward Basketball and other community events. He and his wife, Nicole, homeschool their two daughters and feel a support group for other homeschool families would be beneficial.
Assuming all local homeschool parents make that decision to instruct their children in a Christian environment – like the Kincaids – would be assuming too much, says the pastor.
“Many of them are distrustful of institutions, like the church. We’ve seen a lot of interest but haven’t been able to get many to attend meetings.”
Considering the buildings’ history, it’s easy to see how Morganton Baptist Church is poised to make a difference through such steps.
“We don’t hide the fact that we’re a Christian-based homeschool support group. But, it’s there primarily to help parents feel comfortable and be successful in their teaching. Our hearts’ desire is to set parents up to succeed in teaching their children.”