KATHLEEN -- In 1849, as the threat of war between North and South grew, a group of Houston County slaves were recorded as gathering and praying for a church of their own.
The slaves were ostensibly members of the white Sand Ridge Baptist Church, located on a road between an Ocmulgee River landing point and Perry. Sand Ridge documents say slaves had been freely admitted to the congregation since the 1830s when Brother Sam, a man of coller (sic) was received by the church by letter.
In 1855, Sand Ridge records show 33 white members and 76 black. In 1860, Sand Ridge Baptist built a new building and moved near what is now Houston Lake, becoming first Houston Factory Baptist then Houston Lake Baptist Church, according to a Houston Lake Baptist history written by Peggy Clancy in 1986.
The history says Sand Ridges old building was given to black members who in turn moved it to the Sand Bed community close to Kathleen off what is now Ga. 247.
Though specific dates differ according to various histories, Sandbed Baptist Church is one of Houston Countys oldest churches and arguably came into being well before it met in a building and officially incorporated.
Even so, its first pastor is known as the Rev. Munson and its first meetings at Sand Bed were the third Sunday of each month.
Three years ago, again after much prayer, the Sandbed congregation moved to a modern building along Bear Branch Road near its intersection with Houston Lake Road at Houston Lake.
This is undoubtedly an historic church that came out of the slave era, said the Rev. Floyd Clarington, who has pastored the church since 1996. His wife, the Rev. Emma Clarington, is also a pastor.
There have been great leaders, some great pastors, who have been at this church through all those years, Clarington said. Im very humbled to follow in their footsteps. Each one worked to keep the church going and following the Lord, and I often think about them and their struggles. Sometimes, I feel unworthy.
Though he became the churchs pastor 17 years ago, Clarington, 67, said he was no newcomer to Sandbed or to Middle Georgia. He said he dated his first wife, the late Dora Clarington, at Sandbed as a teenager. They had three daughters, and Clarington now has seven grandchildren.
Im country, he said. Im from Houston County and originally had to walk almost four miles one way to school. When we got there, we had to go out and get wood to make a fire in the stove before we could get warm. We finally moved to the city, and I could ride a bus. I was the first in my family to finish high school and graduated in Perry in 1965. I went into the Army in 1966 and served in Vietnam.
Clarington said when he got out, he came back to Houston County and soon after got a job at Robins Air Force Base. He worked there for 27 years and retired through an early retirement incentive program.
Dora and I also started cutting hair in 1972, he said. We went to school together in Macon and even taught some there. We started our own business in Warner Robins, Claringtons B&B, on Manor Court. At first it was called Perfect Touch. Im still trying to sell the building. Then the Lord called me to ministry in 1981, and I started pastoring in 1983 at North Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church in Warner Robins. I was there for 13 years before coming to Sandbed. I never would have believed I would be pastor at Sandbed.
Always happy to be busy, Clarington said each pastoral role required that he learn and practice new skills, even carpentry to tackle some of the needs of keeping up old buildings. But when a deacon told him forest timbers used as support and flooring at Sandbed were rotten beyond repair, he believed it was time to move.
He said it was then they built a new facility in the booming Houston Lake area. He said the move, which resulted in a $1 million-plus investment in land and property, was a challenge to the congregation and a testimony of Gods faithfulness.
Clarington said he told members, We can do it. The Bible says with God all things are possible. And he did it.
Clarington said the Lord has led Sandbed Baptist Church to take strides toward becoming less traditional in order to attract others. He said service times have been changed and new styles of music incorporated. He said God has even led the church into radio ministry each Sunday at 12:30 p.m. on 980 AM, 1400 AM and 100.5 FM.
We want to welcome everybody, he said. We want to spread the Gospel no matter what color or where people come from. We dont have any Spanish speaking people in our church yet, but we hope to. When God moved us here he moved us to a great place, and its all about preaching the Gospel and telling others about Jesus. I thank God for all hes done for this church and for the insight we need to continue to move forward and do his will in years to come.
Contact Michael W. Pannell at firstname.lastname@example.org.