"In 1936, he baptized 109 [people] at one time in the creek," Prather said. "We've got a picture of that. He's out in the middle of the creek, and people are lined up from the banks all the way down and people [are] sitting all around. It's just amazing. To me of course he was [larger than life]. He wasn't a big man. He was not big in stature but big in personality.
"Everybody liked him. He was very outgoing. ... With him being pastor there, of course the whole family went to church there. That's the only church I've ever known. I've been there all my life. With that many family members going to church, it's like a family reunion every Sunday," she said, adding one of her favorite memories of her grandfather includes hiding in the kitchen with other children to watch him perform numerous wedding ceremonies in his living room. "So we have good memories of that. We are proud of our heritage."
As a member of the church's history committee, the Cartersville resident has been busy preparing for the upcoming 100th anniversary of Tabernacle Baptist on March 20. Along with setting up displays filled with old photographs and newspaper articles, Prather is lending her historical knowledge to the dinner theater's drama, "Declaration of the Decades."
To be presented in the church's fellowship hall, the play will be held March 18 and 19 at 6:30 p.m. and March 20 at 6 p.m. Open to the public, the production will intersperse videotaped interviews of members -- such as Prather -- with a drama highlighting Tabernacle Baptist's evolution since its humble beginnings on March 26, 1911. Now featuring more than 3,000 members, the church started when 15 Baptists met in the Presbyterian Church on Tennessee Street with the intention of forming a church. Under the direction of Pastor George F. Brown, the group was officially named East Side Baptist Church in April 1911 and they purchased the building the following month from the Presbyterians for $500.
The church's name changed to Tabernacle Baptist during the ministry of Crowe, who saw its membership increase to about 1,100 individuals during his pastorate from 1924 to 1944. Tabernacle relocated to its present home at 112 E. Church St. in the mid-1940s, with the building of its original sanctuary that faces Church Street. The church has continued to expand its offerings and facilities through the years, from the children's education building in 1960 to an education and fellowship structure in 1997.
"It marks a milestone for the church in that this congregation has been functioning for 100 years doing ministry here locally and really around the world," said Dr. Don Hattaway, senior pastor for Tabernacle Baptist. "I think it's a testimony to God's grace that he would use us for such a thing and also the people here for their faithfulness to the Lord. It's a time of reflection. We're thinking back as far as to what the Lord has done over these last 100 years. We're reminded of our purpose, which has always been to take the good news of Christ Jesus to our community and to our world. So we're reflecting on that, and we're also anticipating the future, what God has in store for us.
"This is a vibrant congregation. We are excited about the future. We're excited about seeing people reached here locally, but also around the world. We have a lot of involvement in missions in various places in the world and we support missionaries all over the world through our cooperative program giving. And, of course, working in cooperation with other churches, other Bible teaching churches in our community here, is a wonderful ministry as well. So we're just excited about what God is doing -- what he has done, what he is doing and what he will do."
With the guidance of Jim Pohl and Amy Popham, "Declaration of the Decades" will unveil the history of Tabernacle Baptist in 10-year segments featuring the drama team of Craig Popham, Annette Cockrill, Cary Roth, Amanda Roth, Audrey Roth, Jane Linahan, Spence McCoy, Amy Lamm, Matthew Lamm, Stephen Willoughby and Sarah Willoughby. While youth vocalists still are being selected, the adult mini choir will consist of Lisa Bagnell, Libby Goss, Brenda Campbell, Savannah Atkins, Curtis Hart, Mark Bagnell, Dwight Kelley and John Dent.
Tickets for the dinner theater are $15 for adults and $7.50 for children 12 and younger and can be purchased at the church's office, Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Proceeds from the event will go toward the Ric Mason & Perry Goad Missions Scholarship Fund, which provides financial assistance for people to attend mission trips.
"We are currently involved in partnering with different places around the world," said Steve McCombs, singles and missions pastor for Tabernacle Baptist. "And, of course, we help send our people there. These scholarships help us carry the Gospel to around the world. I just sent a team to St. Vincent and the Grenadines [Thursday] morning. That's one of our trips that we're going on. We have a team leaving for West Virginia in April and then we have two teams going in June -- one to Zambia, Africa, and one to Ecuador.
"Our primary goal is to share the Gospel, but there's different reasons for different trips," he said, referring to church planning, working with children, assisting health clinics or setting up house churches, where an initial Bible study could eventually evolve into a church.
The scholarship fund is named in honor of Mason and Goad, two of Tabernacle Baptist's members who were killed during a mission trip in Honduras several years ago.
"Ric Mason and Perry Goad were on a mission trip back in 2007," McCombs said. "They were being transported up in the mountains in Honduras and the truck lost brakes and had a wreck and both of them were tragically killed while on a mission trip. Of course, in honor of them we had a choice to make -- are we going to draw back from missions or are we going to go forward with missions? And, of course, we have chosen to go forward and have chosen to be biblical in our mandate to go and reach the world. It has been kind of a check in our responsibility as a church."
Along with "Declaration of the Decades," Tabernacle Baptist invites the community to attend "a celebration of ministry and missions" March 20 at 9:15 and 10:45 a.m. in its worship services and Bible study classes.
"Our purpose is really very simple," said Hattaway, the church's 15th pastor. "It's to worship God in spirit and the truth and win our community and our world to Christ Jesus. That's what we're here for. We want to impact our community through ministry and also by giving them the Gospel. We're interested in helping their physical needs, but if we just help their physical needs without giving them their spiritual answer to their deepest need, which is salvation through Christ Jesus, then we've not fulfilled our purpose. So we want to do that here and we do that weekly through outreach ministries. We feed the hungry [through our Bread of Life Ministry]. We support women's ministries, those who are in difficult situations through [the Bartow County] Women's Resource Center. And we look forward to continuing these things, [such as] reaching out to our Hispanic citizens here locally. We have a Hispanic mission.
"There's a lot of things going on, but the primary thing that drives us is our love for the Lord and how he has changed us and continues to change us. We believe people need that good-news message that Christ brings, so we want to take it here locally but around the world through mission efforts. We've got a team right now in conjunction with other churches, actually through our association, in St. Vincent and the Grenadine islands now and we got other people stationed around the world. So we want to continue to do that, make an impact in our community like a light on a hill that cannot be hidden. We want to make a difference."
For more information about Tabernacle Baptist and its offerings, call 770-382-1977 or visit www.tabernaclebaptist.org.