This year, Greater Piney Grove Baptist Church will mark 100 years in the community.
The Atlanta church kicked off a yearlong celebration on Feb. 8 with “The Greater Piney Grove Legends Forum” and ribbon cutting ceremony for an exhibit chronicling the church’s history.
Janie Brown Miller, 88, was among eight legends who shared their fondest memories of Greater Piney Grove during the Saturday forum. Brown Miller joined the church as a second-generation family member seven decades ago and is glad that she did.
The Greater Piney Grove Baptist Church has chronicled its history with an array of artifacts in an exhibit in the church's basement. Officals performed a ribbon cutting ceremony for the exhibit on Feb. 8.
“My fondest memory was actually joining the church in 1944. My mom and two aunts were already members,” said Brown Miller, who sang in two of the church’s choirs and served on the Courtesy Guild as a member. “I have enjoyed my stay here. That’s why after 70 years, I’m still here having a good time.”
Brown Miller is not alone. Her cousin, Alzora Heard Pitts, also has been having a “good time” for a long time.
“We’ve been through everything—from what you call down home services and powerful three-day revivals to the contemporary service and revivals we still enjoy today,” said Heard Pitts, 80, who joined in 1946.
Considered one of the church’s mothers, Heard Pitts said she believes the youths are the future of the church.
“You have to reach out to the youth. We always felt that was important. They are not perfect but neither are we. We can’t make the youth feel uneasy or awkward around us.”
Kenneth J. Lowe, 59, another long-time member, shared his stories of growing up at “The Grove.” Lowe said he learned how to play the piano at the church by a Sunday school teacher by the name of Leola Scott Jackson. He said he even remembers running away from deacons in the church as a little kid.
“I’ve been a member of this church for 53 yearsbut I’ve been here all my life. Not only did I grow up in the church, I was literally nearly born in the church. My mother was in choir rehearsal when she went into labor,” said Lowe. “On top of that, two panelists on this forum were the first two women to hold me. I went from my mother’s womb to their hands. Mother Shepherd was a nurse at Hughes Spalding at my delivery and my Aunt Janie Miller was my mother’s best friend in the choir. She was in the delivery room. I remember going from lap to lap between the three of them and always being fed good.” We have very cordial deacons now but when I was growing up it wasn’t like that. They would run me off the piano and I would run back in through another door.”
The forum was not without some good, old- fashioned singing. Lowe accompanied the Rev. Columbus Champion, another long-time member, through a verse of one of Champion’s favorite songs, “Long As I Got King Jesus.”
The event also included a ribbon cutting ceremony for an exhibit that will serve as a permanent fixture at the historic church. The exhibit chronicles the church’s history from its beginnings in 1914 to more recent accomplishments such as the church paying off a $400,000 mortgage on a 30-acre tract it purchased in 1996.
The exhibit includes an array of artifacts—from original church robes and usher gloves to a letter of appreciation from Dr. Martin Luther, King Jr., dozens of photos and a 10x10 quilt made by members highlighting the church’s five pastors.
“The quilt was completed in January. We thank God that we are on the threshold of celebrating all year long our centennial celebration,” said the Rev. William E. Flippin, Sr., who has served as senior pastor of the church since 1990. “A lot of churchesmay dismantle or brush their history under the rug, but we embrace it because we know that if it wasn’t for God’s grace, if it wasn’t for those pioneers’ faithfulness, we wouldn’t be here today to not only celebrate our 100 years of history but also to commemorate going into our new church later this year.”
The 7,000-member church, located at 1879 Glenwood Ave., S.E., Atlanta, is planning to celebrate its 100 years by hosting at least one activity each month leading up to the grand opening of its new 37,000-square-foot worship center scheduled in August.
PAR Construction of Macon, Georgia is building the new edifice. The facility will seat 1,250 and will also serve as a community outreach center.
Some of the church’s celebratory events include spring and summer revivals, a jazz concert and a drama production entitled “100 Years and Counting.”
“We thank God for the history, the generations before us and the future generations who will walk through our doors at The Greater Piney Grove Baptist Church,” Flippin said.
For more information on the church’s events, call 404-377-0561 or visit www.pineygrovebapt.org.
Centennial Forum Panelists:
Janie Brown Miller joined in 1944.
Alzora Heard Pitts joined in 1946.
Deacon Tommie Lee Wyatt joined in 1947. Jeanette Brown Holt joined in 1949.
Lillian Shepherd joined in 1952.
James Hightower joined in 1961.
The Rev. Columbus Champion joined in 1965. Kenneth J. Lowe joined in 1961.