WARNER ROBINS -- Union Grove Missionary Baptist Church is 125 years old this month.
David Anthony Clarke Sr., senior pastor, said hes been encouraging members to make celebrating its birthday something to remember.
The church was founded in 1887 near the abolishment of slavery and has seen two World Wars and the Great Depression -- and were still here, going strong, Clarke said. There have been 19 pastors including me, a lot of ministry and theres never been a church split. Honestly, I see that as the favor of God on our church.
Clarke said the history and harmony challenge him and church leaders to carefully steward what God has given them.
Im thankful for the type of people God has given us, Clarke sad. Were a praying people, and I believe we dont take too much for granted. Its a special place.
How has Union Grove weathered history and storms so well?
People here are flexible, he said. Theres a openness and willingness to deviate from the normal to make things happen. Theres very little territorialism, but there is cooperation. Ive been here for 10 years dealing with the ups and downs, and I have to say there have been a lot more ups than downs.
Since records from the 1800s are sketchy, and theres no exact date recorded for the churchs founding, members are making the 125th an all-month celebration.
Were selling ads for a souvenir book with photographs and information from our history and the anniversary itself, Clarke said. Were having guest speakers each Sunday except for the fifth Sunday when Ill speak, and well ordain four ministers. On Sept. 15, well have a gospel concert with Travis Greene, and on Sept. 28 gospel jazz artist Ben Tankard will be guest speaker at a banquet. Its a black-tie affair at the Galleria Conference Center in Centerville with five-star delicacies, not the typical baked chicken affair.
Its perhaps a far cry from when church founders originally met under a brush arbor on land off Ga. 247, north of Green Street.
In 2002, Union Grove published a history of the church from 1887 to 2002 called We Have Come This Far by Faith.
In retrospect, one might visualize the first members as a band of God-fearing, Bible-believing Christians with a mission to serve God in spirit and in truth, it says.
It records the first pastor as Minister Cleveland -- his first name is not known -- and recalls the 1940 move from Ga. 247-Green Street to the current South Davis Drive location when the original tract was part of land needed to build Robins Air Force Base.
The new property cost $50.
The history also states that the church bylaws contain the charge to be led by the Holy Spirit, to walk together in Christian love.
Clarke, who became pastor the year the history was published, issued a challenge in the introduction to make history together by being involved in ministry and obediently following the Lords leading.
Im aware of our founders and the responsibility to carry on in their steps, Clarke said. They were visionaries who took risks. We stand on their shoulders looking forward. We look to the past, but were not too glued to it to keep us from progressing ourselves. The only thing were glued to is our understanding of Scripture. Even there, were a bit more liberal than some Baptists in areas such as embracing women preachers. Its still about being flexible and open to change and re-examining things.
From Flint, Mich., Clarke spent 12 years in the Marine Corps before answering a call to ministry while in Okinawa. He credits his Marine experience for traits that have served him in pastoring oversees and in Georgia and helped him into a worldwide ministry teaching leadership. Clarke also teaches leadership and business communication at Fort Valley State University and has written two books: Starting Over: Five Keys to a New Direction in Life and Are There Any Questions: Living & Leading with an Inquisitive Spirit.
Clarke said his great passion is helping people find their purpose and live as productive a life as possible.
He and wife Michelle have three children: Janelle, 21, Tenisha, 19, and David II, 15.
Ministry and community service have been plentiful in Union Groves history. Clarke said Life Changers is an example. It offers free life skills courses ranging from balancing a checkbook and credit repair to managing emotions and critical thinking.
The church plans a community garden on property on South Davis Drive and expects to expand its global outreach, focusing on Ghana in West Africa where Clarke and church members have recently traveled.
Does Clarke believe his predecessors had global aspirations?
If they were thinking in a global context, I hope we dont disappoint them, he said. I hope they would cheer us on as we seize what comes before us.
Contact Michael W. Pannell at firstname.lastname@example.org.