Churches of Rural Georgia

Take any back road through the South, and you’re bound to see steeples dotting the landscape. In Georgia, like most states in the region, rural churches have long served as hubs for Southerners. “The church was as much about community as it was theology,” says Sonny Seals, co-author of the new book Historic Rural Churches of Georgia.  “It was law-and-order, a dating service, a country club, and the community center all in one.”

In the book, Seals and George S. Hart compile the stories and images of forty-seven houses of worship—each at least a hundred years old. From First African Baptist on Sapelo Island, founded by newly freed slaves in 1866, to the Great Revival camp-meeting ground in Warren County, a religious gathering spot since 1822, these sites tell the story of the state. A foreword by President Jimmy Carter introduces the book, which includes three hundred color photographs of chapels, graveyards, and sanctuaries in every condition. “Some of these rural churches are thriving,” Seals says, “some are barely hanging on, and some are almost gone but could still be saved.” And that’s what Seals hopes this book and ongoing research project will do—record memory and inspire others to protect it. “Every church has a story rooted in history,” he says. “We have to dig it out and document it as much as we can.”

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