Religion

Historical Bradley Baptist Church invites community to 120th birthday celebration

Steve Johnson, pastor at Bradley Baptist for 14 years, in the church’s colorful and playful children’s hall.
Steve Johnson, pastor at Bradley Baptist for 14 years, in the church’s colorful and playful children’s hall. Special to The Telegraph

They’re not having a traditional church homecoming service for Bradley Baptist Church’s 120th Anniversary.

Instead, the congregation is inviting the community — the Bradley-Gray community and all of Middle Georgia — to a party for family fun, a chance to learn history and to take time to hang out in the county.

It will be Oct. 14 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the church at 821 Ga. 11 North — about two miles off the Gray bypass.

“I’ll miss not having a homecoming, but what we really want to do is have something on a Saturday so more people can come,” said Jan Greene, an organizer of the event and leader of Bradley Baptist’s Women’s Missionary Union (WMU).

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Steve Johnson and Jan Greene of Bradley Baptist Church check plans for an Oct. 14 community celebration of the church’s 120 anniversary. Michael W. Pannell Special to The Telegraph

Greene, who said she’s attended Bradley Baptist since childhood, said there will be free hamburgers and hotdogs, music, door prizes, bounce houses and other opportunities for children and families to have fun, including a scavenger hunt related to Bradley Baptist and the community’s history.

“So it’s more than a homecoming, it’s a birthday party,” she said. “We’ll have a lot of church and community historical items on display, like the Bible everyone believes has been in the sanctuary for more than 100 years. It looks like it will be a beautiful day and a good time to get out and enjoy yourself, so we hope people feel free to come.”

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This Bible has been at Bradley Baptist Church “as long as anyone can remember.” Michael W. Pannell Special to The Telegraph

Greene said all are also invited to services Oct. 15 at 9 and 11 a.m.

Though Bradley Baptist’s anniversary is marked from its organization in Bradley in 1897, its history goes a little further back. In 1891 it was known as Wayside Baptist and met in a schoolhouse in the Wayside community, just west of Bradley. The congregation began alternating meetings in Wayside and Bradley to serve the two communities and Gray. Greater attendance was in Bradley so the church relocated there.

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The original wooden Bradley Baptist Church building built in 1898. mwpannell Special to The Telegraph supplied by Bradley Baptist Church

“Bradley was the boom town back in the day,” said Rev. Steve Johnson, pastor at Bradley Baptist for 14 years. “There were peach packing sheds all around. There was meat processing, three grocery stores, a bank and other commerce. Some of the buildings are still here. Back then, Gray hadn’t really started growing and Bradley and Clinton were the larger communities.”

The church built a wooden building in 1898 that received radical upgrades through the years, including becoming a brick structure with stained glass windows.

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The original Bradley Baptist Church building has received upgrades since 1898, including bricks and stained glass. Michael W. Pannell Special to The Telegraph

Rev. E.N. Sweeney Jr., served the Southern Baptist congregation as pastor for 37 years from 1965 to 2002. Greene said during most of those years and prior, there was weekly Sunday school but worship services were every other week. She said there’s been a regularly weekly service since the late 1990s.

In 2009, Bradley Baptist moved into a new, larger facilities on its 7-acre lot. At a special service, long-time member Emily Winters Greene read an imaginative, first-person greeting as if spoken by the original church itself to the congregation.

About the first meeting there, Emily Greene had the original church recall, “I heard those people that day call my building a ‘church.’ I was glad to find out at last what kind of building I was going to be. I was to be a place where they could all come together and study the Bible, hear the preacher talk about God and Jesus and sing songs of praise to our Heavenly Father. ... I knew then that my building was going to be a very special place.”

And it encouraged congregants to count their blessings.

“God has blessed Bradley Baptist Church now with a new building as we have outgrown my old building, so I want ‘my congregation’ now to go down to the new building just across the driveway and dedicate it to our Heavenly Father and be happy and thankful that he has blessed us in such a wonderful way.”

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Steve Johnson and Jan Greene of Bradley Baptist Church look for dates in a Bible that has itself had a long history at the church. Michael W. Pannell Special to The Telegraph

Emily Greene’s dramatic reading isn’t something out of place at the modern Bradley Baptist. One of the church’s larger ministries is its own live, annual dramatic presentation of scenes from the life of Christ on church grounds. It’s called “Road to Hope” and visitors walk through scenes more than 100 church volunteers provide.

But there’s also drama in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings: Johnson often uses dramatic presentations for congregants and visitors to enjoy and learn from. An example is a funeral for Jesus they held at Easter — one that didn’t go as most funerals go. It also featured the appearance of a gloating, then defeated, Satan.

Johnson said he most often preaches normally, just not always.

“Maybe some people will take it wrong my saying this, but I think church ought to be a lively place where you can have fun,” he said. “We serve a savior who gives life and it should be fun and joyful and have surprises. I think Jesus was a pretty joyful person. I was new as a pastor when I came here and people were open to new ideas so we’ve all been learning together. We just want to be faithful to the Bible and share the good news, love people and help them.”

Along with a regular slate of ministries, the church also has unique ongoing ministries like Smiles for Seth which provides financial and other assistance to young people and their families facing medical crisis and need. It has helped a couple dozen families so far cover airfares to treatments, regular medical costs, get wheelchair ramps, exercise tables and meet other needs through funds or members’ labor.

There’s also an annual sports banquet Bradley Baptist puts on for Jones County High School’s unified team, a team comprised of the school’s special needs and regular program athletes.

And about 100 Bradley regulars come for meals and fellowship on Wednesday’s before services.

“I’m real conservative,” Johnson said. “But like I said, I believe church should be fun. We want to show people there’s always hope. We’re all sinners who need a savior so there’s no putting on airs about us being better than anybody. We just want to keep reaching out. Often we don’t receive all God’s blessing because we haven’t grown into them. Our character may not be what it should be to receive them. We want to grow in grace together and help each other along the way.”

Contact writer Michael W. Pannell at mwpannell@gmail.com.

Bradley Baptist Church

120th Anniversary Community Celebration Oct. 14, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Address: 821 Highway 11 North, Gray, Ga. 31032

Phone: 478-986-4995

Leadership: Rev. Steve Johnson, pastor

Worship: Sunday school, 10 a.m., worship 9 & 11 a.m., Wednesday supper 5:30 p.m. with Bible studies & activities 6:30 p.m.

Website: www.bradleybaptistchurch.org

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