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Sacred Spaces: First Baptist Church in Marshallville dates back to 1848

The church is surviving, but has a rich past.

MARSHALLVILLE, Ga. — Marshallville is Macon County right outside Fort Valley. The population is just under 1,300 people, according to the last census.

But go back more than a hundred years ago, and Marshallville was booming.

"I was little two or three-years-old. I'd get squirmy, 'Mom and Dad when is this thing going to be over I want to go home,'" recalled Roy Barrett.

Now, 75 years later, First Baptist Church of Marshallville is one of Barrett's favorite spots. In fact, he's a deacon.

"This window is in memory of J. H. Johnson. That is my grand daddy," he said while pointing to the name etched in stained glass.

Barrett's roots run deep in the walls. His grandfather had a hand in making the ornate church a reality.

About 50-75 yards from the steeple is a field where the original church stood. It was wooden and it burned down in 1911. That's when congregation members began building the church you see today, but they had to wait until the end of World War I.

Pastor Carlton Berry came to First Baptist two years ago.

"If you can imagine this building with no brick on the outside, that's what it was. Naked, I guess, until the war ended," said Berry.

Like most folks, the architecture and stained glass impressed him, but it also made him wonder.

"In a small town like this can we do anything to reclaim some of the kingdom's glory," said Berry. "About 20-25 [people]. I think Sunday we had 24 people here."

That low Sunday attendance highlights a bigger problem for Marshallville -- 164 people left in the last 10 years -- a big number for a town of only about 1,300.

At one point, the town did prosper and First Baptist is a living clue.

"In my mind they must have been pretty wealthy to build the stained glass and the brick," he said. "And this was a balcony here on the side. Not a slave balcony -- I checked that out -- just a balcony because they needed extra seats."

An ample trust set aside years ago provides the funds to keep the lights on, but Berry wants a church that makes a difference.

"I've started meeting with Black, African-American pastors back a year and a half ago and we started having community worship together," said Berry.

He's building connections to restore the church's spirit.

"We've had some ups and downs [but] we have survived it," said Barrett.

Just like his grandfather did over 100 years ago.

Pastor Berry says they've embraced technology. They put their service out online every week. They know people are watching by the comments and the tithing donations have also gone up.

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