FORT VALLEY -- In 1878, it was common for southern Christians to gather under the twisted branches of brush arbors for special summer. Thats when and where a group of baptized believers first gathered to form Central Union Missionary Baptist Church.
Not long after, they built a three-room structure on the north end of Pine Street near the railroad tracks.
Im the thirteenth pastor to serve Greater Union Missionary Baptist in its 135 years, said the Rev. K. Daniel Dawsey. The longest serving pastor was Rev. A.J. Shaw who was here for 34 years. Im at 12 1/2 years now.
A photograph at the church shows the congregation in 1960 happily marching in a long line from the wooden Pine Street building to their new brick facility on Preston Avenue.
But the church wont be on Preston much longer.
In 2005, we bought a 72-acre pecan orchard on Ga. 96 in west Fort Valley where we well build a new campus, Dawsey said. Lane Packing farms it, and as part of our agreement members get a 3-pound bag of pecans -- sort of from our orchard to your table -- as a blessing and reminder we have property to build on. In 2009, we were able to burn the mortgage on the land and hope to start building in 2014.
Dawsey said the church is comprised of young and old who have moved toward more contemporary services while honoring their traditional styles and heritage.
When I got here in 2001, Central Union struggled with an identity crisis like all churches do, he said. It was a very traditional Missionary Baptist church challenged with transitioning to a more present-age ministry. We recognized we had four and sometimes five generations here. God has allowed us to become a very vibrant church that maintains a traditional Gospel message using modern means. We very intentionally include every generation in all our plans and ministries. It can be difficult, but we give one another grace and seniors work alongside children and youth work alongside adults. Im thankful the church has embraced that.
Dawsey said first Sundays are dedicated to old-fashioned devotions and hymns. Other services are contemporary, and second Sundays are youth led in all but the preaching. Third Sundays are young adult and college-age oriented and fourth and fifth Sundays carry on the more contemporary feel.
Dawsey said the churh has long been known for its great choirs and music. In outreach, one goal is to reach children and families through ministries such as Upward! Sports programs. Central Union also has a significant outreach to Fort Valley State University.
At 63, Dawsey has been in ministry for 21 years, serving bi-vocationally most of that time. He is a Perry native and earned a business administration degree from Fort Valley State where he had a football scholarship. He coached there for a year but went on to pursue a civil service career that took him to Valdosta for 26 years. While there he pastored Mount Pisgah Baptist Church. He retired from Robins Air Force Base.
Dawsey studied finance and banking at the University of Florida and received his certified community development credentials from the University of Georgia. He earned master of ministry and doctor of ministry degrees from Bethany Theological Seminary.
Dawsey and his wife, Elaine, have four children and 10 grandchildren.
I often think about the men who mentored me when I was a young preacher, Dawsey said. After all these years the roles have changed and I embrace the chance to mentor young ministers. Right now I have six ministers on staff I call partners in truth. Some call me a pastors pastor because I have such a heart for making sure men and women called into ministry are prepared. I encourage seminary training even though there are dangers for students due to an emphasis on political correctness. But still education is valuable, you just need to be grounded in Gods word.
Though Dawsey said he at first was uncertain about leaving his church in Valdosta with its larger population and possibility of growth, he soon realized his ministry in Fort Valley and to students at Fort Valley State allowed him to reach and disciple young people who would in turn touch the nation and the world.
Contact Michael W. Pannell at firstname.lastname@example.org.