HAWKINSVILLE, Ga. — Through the Great Depression, integration, and most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic, a historically Black church in Hawkinsville has survived.
St. Thomas African Methodist Episcopal Church celebrates its 156th anniversary in December, and the work of a few women created a snapshot in time.
Pastor Lusora Brown is the first female to lead the congregation in church history.
"But say I'm at St. Thomas, the name and the church, it stands out and it goes a long way," she said with conviction.
Pastor Brown came to St. Thomas African Methodist Episcopal Church 8 years ago, but she's known about the brick building in Hawkinsville for quite some time.
"There's a history behind this church. They used to go and pick them and bring them here. They had a station wagon and a van and filled up with children every Sunday and brought them here," she recalled.
79-year-old Mary Batton Colson said that was her in the station wagon.
She drove kids to Sunday school when she was old enough to get behind the wheel, and now she plays another pivotal role.
"I keep up with the records. I guess you call me the church historian," she said.
She follows the line of a few women, including her mom, who held the job, and they all took it seriously.
Layers of legends go back decades, including the pennies people put together for tithes.
It wasn't uncommon for families to give a quarter per month.
"That's probably all they could afford, because the ladies did domestic work cleaning other people's homes, but they did tithe that 25 cents," Batton Colson said.
The pencil-written words date back to the 1920s, and they include Sunday school cards, pastoral records, and baptism dates.
"This is the record of when I joined the church -- it was February 1949," Batton Colson said, pointing to a record.
About 90 years before Mary came into the world, the Reverend Henry McNeal Turner started the congregation.
"They said the time he came, there wasn't any place for him to stay but that tree, and he slept in that tree outside the church on the walkway," Batton Colson said.
The tree is long gone, and this is the second building to sit on the property. It dates back to 1908.
The iron on the altar is original to that date, the chandeliers, too, and the tongue and groove ceiling replicates how the first church would have looked.
"This church means a lot to a lot of people in a small town like this," Pastor Brown said.
St. Thomas is a living history lesson, sure to survive well into the future.
St. Thomas was one of many AME churches planted in the South by Henry McNeal Turner.
He was elected to the state legislature in 1868 during the Reconstruction era.
Macon's downtown post office was named in his honor in 2000.
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