In 1928, T. Hunt Taylor and his wife, Euna, were attending church in Gray.
Looking around, the couple decided there was a small community nearby that needed a Sunday School to serve children and older residents.
That community was Plentitude, just to Gray’s southwest. The Taylors took it upon themselves to establish the Sunday School in the local schoolhouse, but that wasn’t the end of it.
Eight years later, in 1938, the Baptist couple’s work in Plentitude led them to organize what was then called Plentitude Missionary Baptist Church, now Plentitude Baptist Church.
“The little school they started that Sunday School in became the church and people say its walls are still somewhere in the walls of our old sanctuary,” said Tommy Freeman, who’s pastored the Plentitude congregation for a dozen years.
Freeman said the old sanctuary is used now for youth ministry and smaller services. He said the Sunday morning service outgrew the older building and now meets in a newer, larger fellowship hall.
For many years, Freeman said Plentitude Baptist was considered a “family chapel,” serving several of the community’s families.
“A family that joined the church in the ‘60s said they were about the first to come in that weren’t part of one of those original families,” he said. “But still there are lot of the old family connections. Like our children’s ministry leader is the mother of our youth minister, and our treasurer and minister of music is the children’s minister’s brother — so we still have strong family ties.
“But the good thing is they’re not exclusive and haven’t made Plentitude a closed group where others aren’t welcome. It’s the opposite. I think it’s one of the unique things about the church that we have such strong family ties but there’s a big desire to welcome others and a real outward look. It’s like we’re family but everybody’s welcome in the family.”
Freeman said these days not all the deacons are related, like they used to be in the Southern Baptist congregation. He said Plentitude has outgrown being just a little country church and its commitment to outreach could be due to its heritage and the Taylors’ willingness to stretch beyond their comfort zone to do something as a blessing to others.
“Plentitude is a great bunch of people,” Freeman said of the flock. “They’re good people, hardworking people and people willing to lend a hand. They were that way long before I got here. I can say they’re a loving bunch because of the way they loved me and my family when we came. They were ready to move forward doing God’s work.”
Freeman acknowledges tensions can arise with a new pastor taking the lead in a close-knit church, but he said that wasn’t his experience, because of both the congregation’s and his efforts.
“There are two approaches,” he said. “There’s one where you come in like a bulldozer, fire everybody from what they’re doing and remake it all. That’s one way that’s taught. I chose a more humble model. I wanted to love people and recognize I didn’t know everything. I made it clear we needed to talk together, pray together and work together. I tried to explain the changes I did make — why we were making them. It’s worked out pretty well. The key was I tried to feel like I was part of the Plentitude family and I tried to treat people like they were part of my family. It was always a two-way thing.”
Freeman said the church has grown. He said while Plentitude had always created ministries to serve different segments of the congregation and was eager to reach out in a help-your-neighbor way — with the skills to actually help — he said when he came Plentitude began taking efforts further afield.
“The church has a real gift for doing vacation Bible school,” he said. “We have about 60 people every year who volunteer just for that — it’s quite a group. This year we’re not just doing it here in Plentitude. This summer a group is going on a missions trip to Haiti and we’ll provide a vacation Bible school there. We’re really looking forward to that.”
Freeman said it will be the first big venture for women of the church in missions, whereas church men have been going out for years with the Builders for Christ ministry.
“Looking at this church, it’s largely a blue collar church and people grew up working at and owning things like dairy farms, electrical companies and construction outfits,” he said. “When I came, I was determined to work with them as much as I could. I don’t always know what I’m doing, but I’m right there helping — at least they let me believe I’m helping. We’ve sent a lot of men to Builders for Christ projects across Georgia and probably did all the wiring at Camp Grace in Roberta, plus a lot more. We’ve traveled to New York and have gotten to go to Brazil for six years. Our Builders for Christ work there led to a ministry to pastors and doing leadership training.”
Freeman said though different in many ways, his background is similar to the Plentitude congregation’s.
“I grew up in Macon as an active member of Vineville Baptist Church,” he said. “I was a graduate of Central High School and while attending Mercer University I started working with youth.”
Freeman said he continued that work as a youth minister after graduating from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He served in youth roles in Georgia and North Carolina before he and his wife, Carol, and their two daughters came to Plentitude.
“I grew up in Macon but our family has a farm in north Monroe Country about 20 minutes’ drive from Plentitude,” he said. “It was my grandparents’ farm and now my father’s. I go up on Fridays and work with him. I grew up in the city but have a country mindset. I think it’s a really good fit for me here.”
Freeman said growing up at Vineville Baptist under a long-serving pastor and youth minister taught him the value of continuity and ongoing ministry in one location. He said that’s kept him from wanting to jump from one pastorate to another as career stepping stones.
“There’s a steadfastness you can feel here,” he said. “There are those who want to come here because it’s not the sort of place that’s just a concert or where things are changing all the time. We have our place. We’re just people loving God and doing life together. A lot of people feel like it’s like coming home.
“In terms of my teaching style, I’m very conversational, but structurally I teach expositionally from a Bible passage. One of the things I pray every week as I prepare is, ‘God, help us love you more.’ It’s a simple prayer but it’s a big request. I really believe in the love relationship we have with Jesus. Understanding his love for us — even when times are hard — means everything.”
Contact writer Michael W. Pannell at firstname.lastname@example.org.