History of Lebanon Baptist Church: Over 180 Years of God’s Faithfulness
Surrounded with the comfortable neighborhoods and affluent shopping centers of modern Roswell, it is easy to forget that its founders were pioneers, who crafted this community with their own character, labor, and resources.
Outside of Roswell proper at its founding, the Lebanon Church was given the name of the community in which it was founded. Amariah Hembree and his family, together with thirteen other believers, officially organized the church on Saturday, July 16, 1836. Though they had come to the area during the gold lot lottery of the 1830s, these early settlers were not fortune hunters but family builders. They would spend their lives in the Lebanon Community; without the advantage of pre-existing courts or civil laws, they established an orderly society, self-government, and a Christian heritage that is still blessing the community over a century and a half later.
From the earliest church conferences, the church was officially recorded “at peace.” This statement did not always come without first working through disputes. These believers took their responsibility to each other seriously, and church members could be dismissed or “excluded” for dancing, swearing, drinking, not attending church, etc. The unacceptable conduct included even such items as “night or day plays” and “Valentine drawings.”
However, Lebanon appears not to have been stricter than any other church of that era; one displaced member of the fractured “Union Church” declared, “I guess I’ll put it [her membership letter] in Lebanon. But I don’t love ‘em much; they’re too soft to suit me.”A “split” occurred around 1850 when eleven members left the church over a resolution to exact ten cents annually, per member, for missions. However, the spirit of Lebanon is seen in this early (1865?) resolution:
Therefore, be it reasoned, we will not bring up past differences, and in the spirit of meekness and brotherly love, [we will] strive to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace . . . [T]he differences of the past have hindered the cause of Christ and the speed of the Gospel, at home and abroad . . .
The young church determined to move forward in the higher cause of advancing the Gospel. The motion to record the church “at peace and fellowship” is still a part of every regular church business conference. It is usually carried by a “hearty amen,” but at times of internal strife may be questioned or postponed, lest it become a meaningless formality instead of a solemn declaration of the state of the church.
The original meeting place was the Hembree home, located near what are today Hembree and Elkins Roads. In 1838 the church decided to build a “meeting house.” James Hembree was the builder, and the total cost was $158.50. Probably something of a log cabin, this structure stood near the present site of Northside Baptist Church Houze Road. The tiny old Lebanon cemetery is still near the old site; it is still maintained by the church though it has long since ceased being used.
Around 1860 the church built a new building on the hill at what is today the intersection of Alpharetta Highway and Holcomb Bridge Road. During the War Between the States, the Union Army, under the direction of General Sherman, marched into Georgia. Thirty-six thousand troops occupied Roswell in July of 1864. Though the Roswell homes survived, 400 mill hands, mostly women and children, were taken captive and sent north. As for the Lebanon church, the army used the wood from its new building to construct rafts and/or a bridge to cross the river after the Confederate Army burned the covered Chattahoochee Bridge to delay the pursuing Yankees. After the war, the church rebuilt its building, which remained in use until 1916. That year, during a revival meeting, so many people were present that the floor caved in! The church voted to build a new building, the cornerstone of which read:
LEBANON BAPTIST CHURCH
ORGANIZED AD 1836. REBUILT AD 1916
REV C.H. JENNINGS PASTOR
and also listed the names of the deacons and building committee.
Later, in 1938, Sunday School rooms were added to the building (before that everyone met in little groups in the sanctuary). In the 50’s two more rooms were added, and in 1960 the building was bricked. (This original building, after being contended for by various historical preservationists in the city, burned to the ground in January 2004. The cause of the fire was unknown, but believed to be accidental.)
In 1974 a new sanctuary was built next to the old building, which continued to be used, along with an educational building and a youth / recreation building. God continued to grow the church, and the members voted to purchase nearly 30 acres at Crabapple and Chaffin Roads, just a few miles from the old site. On Easter Sunday, 1996, the church celebrated its first service in the new building, which was a testimony to the generous giving of time and money by the congregation. In 2000 a new wing with additional classrooms and a gym was added to the existing building.
Interestingly, only a few artifacts remain from Lebanon’s history, such as an original slave bench from the early 1800s, the 1916 cornerstone, and the steeple (now on its third Lebanon church building). While it is important to remember our past, our pioneer forefathers would appreciate that our focus is on their character, convictions, and accomplishments rather than on their buildings or relics.
Most elements of the old services remain the same, but some, such as seating, have changed over time. Up until the 1930s, men and women sat on opposite sides of the building. Several benches to the left of the pulpit were the “Amen” corner for the deacons and older men. The “Singers” sat in front of the pulpit; later this was moved to the right of the pulpit, opposite the “Amen corner” and they were called the “Choir.” Up until the 1960s, there was no nursery, so babies played on the floor on quilts and children were taught to be quiet in the service.
Foot washing was a part of the services in the 1800s, as was annual communion. The preacher was called, by a vote, annually, even if the same one remained. Many of the early preachers served just a few years; usually, they cared for several area churches and preached at Lebanon only once a month. In 1969 the call of the pastor was changed to indefinite and Dick Hester became the senior pastor, a role he filled faithfully for thirty-four years. A combination of the booming population of Roswell and the spiritual leadership of Dr. Hester contributed to tremendous growth, with the church’s membership reaching over 700, and the church staff consisting of four pastors plus support staff.
From the first days of Lebanon, the church had a pioneering spirit in its attitude toward both social and spiritual concerns. Slaves were allowed to not only worship with their masters but were church members. In fact, the first person to join “by experience” (that is, a salvation experience) was a slave of the Bulloch family named Jone. During “foot washing,” slaves not only washed their masters’ feet, but their masters washed theirs. Burt Hembree, an African slave, was ordained to preach and his brother Alec was ordained as a deacon. They are among the first black men to be ordained in the United States.
Lebanon has also been a family church from its earliest days. During the 1840s drought and locusts caused a crop failure that devastated Georgia’s economy. The church organized the “Lebanon Cobb County Agricultural Society” which proceeded to help the families of the community work together to make it through these hard times. Those with a surplus shared with those who were so destitute they had no food or clothing. The society interceded with creditors on behalf of the indebted families. They made spinning wheels and looms and crafted homespun clothing.
During the middle decades of the 20th century, the church enjoyed celebrating holidays together. On Christmas Eve, after a pageant, “Santa Claus” gave a gift to every child from those tied onto the tree (yes presents really were “on the tree” in those days.) Between Christmas and New Year’s, the young people would go caroling. Independence Day, the entire community turned out for a fish fry. Tubs of lemonade and potluck side dishes completed the meal, while the children enjoyed splashing in the water and playing games. Homecoming, in May, featured good food and fellowship. Dinner really was “on the grounds.” In the 1950s the VIC class (then the young couples class) built concrete tables outside. In the 1980s Homecoming was often celebrated with an “Old Fashioned Day” complete with dress-up and buggy rides!
Early records show a decided interest in missions among the Lebanon people. In fact, the church was officially called a “Missionary Baptist” church (as opposed to Primitive Baptist, Hardshell Baptist, etc. Later the church became a “Southern Baptist” church and in the 1960s an “Independent Baptist” church). In 1838, just two years after the church was founded, the members organized a Missionary Society and collected $7.50 towards “Foreign and Indian Missions.” (This is equal to at least $116 in today’s economy.)
In February 1849, five men from Lebanon attended an Association Meeting in Cumming, Georgia. The church agreed to send $5.50 for the Indian Mission and $.50 for general missions. Later that year, the church voted that each member should give $.10 annually towards missions and as much more as “God in His providence may enable them to give.”
For many years, the second week of August was “Protracted Meetings” or Revival. These were prefaced by men’s and women’s prayer meetings, the men meeting at the Baptismal pool and asking God to fill its waters with souls saved at the Revival meetings. The Revival services might be two hours long, one in the morning, followed by “dinner,” and another at night. Everyone took off from work to attend. The Sunday after was the annual Baptism service—outdoors in cold spring water.
In 1984, Lebanon had its first missions conference with Dr. James Crumpton as the keynote speaker. Bill and Mary Jane Curling were the first missionaries taken on for regular monthly support; the church still supports the ministry of Missionary Evangelism in Alamo, Texas, now under the direction of the Curlings’ sons Chago and Juan. In 1987, Lebanon took its first short-term mission trip to Camp Transformation in upstate New York; and since then has taken approximately one trip a year. Some of our missionary members who have been part of the annual conferences ever since the 1980s include Jim and Skip Curtis (New Tribes Mission), and Tom and Jewel Young (Happy Acres Mission Transit Center). Happy Acres, a missionary “helps” ministry, was born out of the prayers and support of Lebanon in 1983 and has had a close working relationship with the church ever since.
As the initial church building was being constructed, there was a contention among many of the church members as to who could use the building and when. Grieved over the division, several members drafted the following resolution which became the final word on the matter: “The house belongs to the church, and the church has the sole right to occupy the same at all times; but at any time the church building is not occupied by the church, it shall be free to any minister in good standing in his church, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopalian, and Congregationalist denominations. The meeting-house is free to Sunday School, Missionary Society, Temperance Society, Bible School, and Tract Society.”
Lebanon heartily supported the temperance movement; in 1842 former pastor Peter Kuykendall met with another local minister and several Lebanon and Roswell citizens to form the “Washington Total Abstinence Society.” Drinking could be a cause for dismissal from the church; the church passed a resolution forbidding the manufacture or sale of whiskey or wine. By these measures, Lebanon attempted to create a healthier and safer community.
In the mid-1900s the health nurse might let the church know of a need within the community, and the church would take up a special offering. One time $100 was raised for an 11-year-old who had been badly burned. The church took truckloads of its homegrown produce and canned goods to the Georgia Baptist Children’s Home each fall and also restocked the preacher’s pantry for the coming year.
At the groundbreaking for the Crabapple Road building, Roswell Mayor Pug Mabry was present. The former mayor Mabry said about Pastor Hester during his retirement service, “In Roswell, we don’t need a whole lot more people, but we need more Dick Hesters. He was just a community leader, aside from being pastor of Lebanon Baptist Church.” The city of Roswell and Lebanon have maintained a friendly working relationship.
For over 175 years, Lebanon Baptist Church has stood to proclaim God’s truth in Christian love to this community and world. Our faith has been tested—and we have seen God’s faithfulness—through times of internal and external conflict, times of need and times of plenty, times of growth and times of decline. We have worshipped in five different buildings, have had 38 different pastors, and have changed our Baptist affiliation three times. Yet our church has remained because its purpose has remained: to fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission until Christ returns. May we, with those pioneer believers of old resolve to “in the spirit of meekness and brotherly love, strive to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace” that nothing may hinder “the cause of Christ and the speed of the Gospel, at home and abroad . . .”
PASTORS OF LEBANON BAPTIST CHURCH
|PETER KUYKENDALL||1836-1837||J.J. DEMPSEY||1913-1914|
|HENRY COLLINS||1837-1847||W.H. EARLEY||1914-1916|
|RICHARD PHILLIPS||1848-1850||C.H. JENNINGS||1916-1919|
|F.M. HAWKINS||1850-1859||R.M. DONEHOO||1919-1928|
|TOMMY BURGESS||1859-1868||MERCER WILLIAMS||1928-1936|
|BORROUGH NICHOLS||1868-1868||W.M. BLACKWELL||1936-1938|
|W.J. PIRKLE||1868-1870||R.M. DONEHOO||1938-1949|
|J.D. HUGGINS||1870-1894||C.A. MARSHALL||1949-1950|
|J.J. CROWE||1894-1898||FLOYD JAMESON||1950-1952|
|W.H. EARLEY||1898-1899||CARL STEWART||1952-1963|
|R.J. OTWELL||1899-1900||CHARLES DAVIS||1963-1964|
|J.J. CROWE||1900-1902||BERRY HENDERSON||1965-1967|
|E.A. COCHRAN||1902-1903||G.S. WOOD||1967-1968|
|C.D. MCCURLEY||1903(3 MOS.)||F.M. DAVIS||INT. 3 MOS.|
|JOE HEMBREE||SUPPLIED||JERRY BRYANT||1968-1969|
|F.C. OWENS||1904-1905||DICK HESTER||1969-2003|
|C.A. WALLACE||1905-1907||STAN PONZ||2003-2004(INT.)|
|RED MILLER||1909-1910||BRIAN PETERSON||2012-|