This is the eighth of a dozen stories highlighting the upcoming Nov. 14-15 annual meeting of the Georgia Baptist Convention in Savannah. The stories are being published on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday through Nov. 11 and include both Convention-related content and a look at how the Savannah Baptist Association is making a Kingdom impact in Coastal Georgia.
PINEORA — For Dusty Reynolds, Savannah Baptist Assembly is almost as big a part of his life as his family album. He helped build the facility through the years on volunteer trips to paint buildings, provide maintenance upgrades on others, and help with grounds maintenance.
“I have been going there since it opened in 1967, shortly after it was purchased in 1964 by the Savannah Baptist Association,” the genial pastor explains.
His children grew up there on summer retreats and as they aged into youth retreats. Now, as pastor of The Sycamore Church in Savannah, he brings his congregation there for day trips, prayer retreats, week-long summer camps and youth, adult, and leadership retreats.
“When they were small my kids were always sad to see the week of summer camp come to a close. Camp would begin on a Sunday and end on a Thursday and every year as we pulled through the gates to go home one of them would say ‘Only 360 more days until summer camp.”
A place to play, reflect
Reynolds said his experience has always been a multigenerational event for that week “where member of our congregation would take a week off and bring their entire families to the Assembly to have fun and reflect on deeper spiritual values. An experience like that makes an impression on young folks as well as adults.
“Children build bonds with seniors who they may only see in church on Sunday, families deepen their relationships with other families, and adults play with other children with whom they may have only a casual relationship at church.
And that is exactly what Assembly Director Kevin Alley strives for through his ministry at the 44-acre site about 45 miles northeast of Savannah. The Effingham County facility is located just outside of Guyton in the small community of Pineora.
“Savannah Baptist Assembly is known as a place where you can set yourself apart from the hectic demands of your world. We regularly hear people say that as soon as they drive through our gates they sense a peace and quiet and a spirit of relaxation that they have been seeking,” he explains.
The heart of the campus is the Big House, an old farmhouse the sits in the midst of a 12-acre pecan grove … a peaceful Southern scene that is fast vanishing. Eight acres are set aside for wilderness camping popular with Royal Ambassador and other groups preferring a more rustic camp experience. And 24-acres, in open field known as the hay field, is used by farmers in seasonal crop rotation.
Big House is focus of the retreat center
The Big House is known for its porch rocking chairs that are popular with those of all ages.
“The draw of the Assembly is what happens between meetings or events. You would be surprised what happens in those easy chairs … conversations that have been building for years between individuals but never happened until they came here, found time on their hands, and began to converse,” Alley notes.
The Assembly has four cabins that sleep eight, a larger residential cabin, the Big House that accommodates 23, and the Lodge which houses up to 18. The 75 beds are supplemented by four RV hook-ups.
In addition to all the church-sponsored events such as dinner on the grounds after a homecoming service or age-related retreats, the Assembly hosts two highly popular interdenominational youth retreats with a strong Georgia Baptist presence.
“The spring conference for high school boys titled ‘Fired Up’ and the one for high school girls titled ‘Becoming the Crown Jewel’ are both well-attended,” Alley explained.
Outdoors remain primary draw
But even with such well-programmed events, it’s the outdoors which remain the primary draw for all ages.
“It is so quiet here, people comment about how peaceful and restful their time is when they come for a day or a week. We are less than an hour away from the hustle and bustle of Savannah but a world away in a less stressful existence.
“Few things can beat sitting down in one of those rocking chairs and listen to the wind in the pecan trees.”
The camp is known for its abundance of coastal wildlife native to coastal Georgia.
“Anything Southeast Georgia has to offer, you are likely to find it in the brush or flying through the tree tops,” Alley states.
Jody Jordan, interim student pastor at First Baptist Church of Rincon, has no problem identifying with Alley’s observation. The 47-year-old youth worker has been attending Assembly events for four decades since he was seven-year-old – and now he’s giving the next generation a set of memories they will carry to their children.
“I went to Royal Ambassador Camporees there for years and grew up in the wilderness camping area. The peace and quiet is just amazing, especially being so close to Savannah.
“The Assembly is a place of great spiritual retreat and affordability and is a wonderful place to get alone with God. I’ve only been here in my current ministry position for about a month (having served for six years at Calvary Baptist Church in Savannah) but I’m already planning our group’s first trip to the Assembly.”
For more information on the Savannah Baptist Assembly visit sbassembly.org or call (912) 772-3368. The Assembly is located at 930 Honey Ridge Road, Guyton, GA 31312. Kevin Alley serves as director.