Twiggs’ Richland Church presents historic holiday program

lfabian@macon.comDecember 5, 2013 

  • Keeping Christmas at Richland Church

    When: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday
    Where: 2204 Richland Road, which runs off Ga. 96 between the Huddle House and exit 24 on Interstate 16
    Cost: $10 for adults and $5 for students 12-18, at the door
    More information: www.historicrichlandchurch.org

“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all year.”

The spirit of that Charles Dickens quote comes alive Friday and Saturday evening at Richland Baptist Church, six miles west of Jeffersonville.

A cast of more than 30 people will trace Christmas traditions from the Victorian Age through the Civil War in a building on the National Register of Historic Places.

Richland Restoration League President Susan Burford’s family settled in Twiggs County in the late 1790s and helped found the church in 1811.

“We have always helped for years and years,” Burford said.

Other founding father descendants volunteer for the program that benefits the upkeep of the 1844 building, which has not hosted an active congregation since 1911.

Proceeds from the $10 tickets will help fund bathrooms to replace outhouses on the property, which is still used for weddings.

There is no heat in the building and the slave galley overlooks once sexually segregated pews that will be filled for the 7 p.m. holiday program.

Ladies in hoop skirts, join gentlemen in top hats and soldiers in blue and gray for the dramatic musical presentation, “Keeping Christmas at Richland Church.”

“I wrote the program and compiled it from letters, diaries and journals from the Civil War prior to 1865,” said Frank Hendrix, program director.

The presentation, which also includes the slave perspective, begins with the advent of tabletop trees, Christmas carols and greeting cards.

Gunfire outside shakes the audience into the reality of war. One year, some guests ducked in the pews as the shots fired. A Union soldier interrupts the festivities, but is quickly led away by Confederate soldiers.

All of the music dates back to the 19th century.

While people recognize familiar tunes, they might not realize the Civil War significance of “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” which will be sung in English and Latin, Hendrix said.

“When the comrades heard that, they knew one of their soldiers had died,” he said. “It takes on the somber tone of a funeral dirge. It’s very moving.”

The cast re-enacts a historical burial complete with an authentic hill-hugger coffin.

Hendrix and his wife, Pamela, who teach music and drama at Twiggs Academy, fell in love with the historic church when their daughter was married there after the turn of this century.

“Middle Georgia should be proud because there aren’t many churches like this around,” Hendrix said. “It almost looks like it did in 1844.”

The Town and Country Garden Club of Jeffersonville worked most of this week gathering greenery for period wreaths and garlands.

Duke Bowen, a past-president of the club, fashioned 3-feet wide stars from twigs and draped mosses in the graveyard.

She combed the woods for two pickup loads full of cotton, holly, magnolia and pine to festoon the church and grounds.

Bowen also is performing for the first time in the sixth annual production.

“It’s just the real meaning of Christmas. It brings it all together with family and good, old Christmas singing,” she said. “It’s a fun way to have it without all the commercialism.”

Father Christmas in his crown of greenery will pass out clementines and soft peppermint sticks.

At the conclusion of the 90- to 115-minute long celebration, the original church bell tolls in memory of the 1811 congregation.

Wassail and cookies are served.

“It’s unlike anything in the area, really,” Burford said. “Other churches have their Christmas programs, but this brings history to life and it’s a great way to teach your children a simpler life.”

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

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