Ed Grisamore

‘How We Worship’ series to focus on local religious community

There is a passage from the book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” where author John Berendt writes that in Augusta, people want to know your grandmother’s maiden name. In Savannah, they want to know what you like to drink.

“If you go to Atlanta, the first question people ask you, is ‘What’s your business?’ ” Berendt wrote. “If you go to Macon, they ask, ‘Where do you go to church?’ ”

And so it is in Macon and other communities of faith across Middle Georgia.

A recent poll also found that 1 in 5 Americans (21 percent) claim no religious affiliation or church denomination. But it remains an integral part of the lives of those who live in the buckle of the Bible Belt.

During the next nine months, The Telegraph will publish an 18-part series on “How We Worship.” The project will focus on nearly every realm of church life. It will be featured on the first and third Saturday of each month.

Here are some of the topics we will cover. As always, we welcome your comments and suggestions.

A number of local churches offer traditional worship services. Others have made the transition to contemporary services to try to attract younger members. Many of the larger churches offer both, and some have moved to a “blended” service. We will examine the appeal of various styles of worships.

From historic churches almost two centuries old to modern edifices of glass and steel, we will look at the many faces of houses of worship. Middle Georgia boasts tiny country churches and suburban mega-churches. Start-up churches often meet in movie theaters, coffee shops and even private homes. We also will look at the trend of “satellite” congregations moving into the area.

In a region dominated by Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians, we will look at how lesser-known congregations such as Christian Scientist, Greek Orthodox, Church of Christ and others make their voices heard. We also will write about the growth of nondenominational churches.

Hispanic ministries are well-represented in the area, as well as other nationalities. This part of the series will focus on international congregations and their worship traditions.

Dating back to the “Victory Hour” radio broadcasts and telecasts of the 1950s by the Rev. Jimmy Waters of Mabel White Baptist Church, television and radio have been effective ways to reach shut-ins and others unable to attend services. We will look at how churches continue to communicate through those mediums, as well as social media, websites, podcasts and live streaming video.

For many congregations, a strong music ministry is an integral part of worship. Some prefer traditional hymns from a hymnal. Others choose contemporary praise songs, with the words projected on overhead screens. Our series will examine how local houses of worship approach music with hymns, liturgical music, bands with electric guitars and drums, gospel and those who sing without musical accompaniment.

Prayer is an important part of spiritual life. A number of churches provide prayer rooms and prayer gardens. Many offer intercessory prayer, where small groups come together regularly at weekly prayer breakfasts to pray on behalf of those who are sick or going through difficult times. “Prayer warriors,” as they are often called, reach out with cards, notes of encouragement and phone calls.

Another aspect of the series will be the views of local church congregations on dressing up for church. Some men always will wear coats and ties. The ladies will wear dresses -- and some hats. Other area churches have more relaxed dress codes. Members often show up in jeans, shorts and sandals. For some generations, dressing up for church is not an issue. For others, it is an ongoing debate.

Many churches hold their annual vacation bible schools during summer. We will look at the programs and activities local churches offer to children and their families. These will include participating in choirs, field trips and festivals. A number of churches use preschool and “mother’s morning out” as outreach programs to help families with day care needs.

An exit sign to the parking lot at Forest Hills Methodist reads: “You are now entering the mission field.” We will examine how area churches offer mission opportunities for both youth and adults. Some church groups travel to help with relief efforts (hurricanes, tornadoes) or in economically depressed regions. Others focus on medical missions and building projects in foreign countries. Still others focus on mission work within their own communities and neighborhoods, working to fight poverty, blight, repairing homes and providing tutoring in inner-city schools.

Another mission tenet involves local churches reaching out to the less fortunate through food banks and clothing closets. A number of Macon downtown churches provide regular meals to the city’s homeless population. Some have started community gardens.

Some churches put flag-waving patriotism on display. Others are engaged in community activism, holding political forums and encouraging members to vote for certain candidates running for office. Still others believe in strict separation of church and state. We will examine the process.

Many families opt for faith-based education for their children. When school starts back in fall, we will look at some area private and parochial schools founded and operated by local churches.

We also will delve into how youth ministries, as well as traditional groups such as Young Life and Fellowship of Christian Athletes keep local teenagers connected to church life.

To try to promote healthy lifestyles, a number of area churches have built gymnasiums. They offer fitness and dance classes, as well as recreational opportunities to play softball and basketball for both members and non-members.

The series also will highlight area prison ministries, as well as those at the shelters of the Salvation Army and Rescue Mission, and chaplains at local hospitals.

And, finally, as the holidays draw near, we will look at how local congregations celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, as well as a myriad of Christmas traditions.

Contact writer Ed Grisamore at 744-4275.