The following is from Houston County Living, Summer 2021 Issue ………..Elko, Georgia is a small town made up of charm, character and a close-knit community. In 1891, three years after Elko was established, the town “birthed” its first church, Elko Baptist Church. The church began with nine members, five males and four females. They were a small bunch, but they nurtured the church through the first few years of what was only the beginning of a flourishing history. For over 100 years, the growing congregation met and worshipped the Lord within the walls of this small space. It wasn’t until 2010, when Pastor Harold Lee Moore passed away at 91 years old, that the happenings of Elko Baptist fizzled away. Without a pastor, the members of the church stopped attending services, which caused Elko Baptist to go out of commission.
Four years later, Pastor Wayne Holcomb and his wife, Debbie, experienced a transition in their ministry. They had been pastoring another church for almost 10 years when they felt led to step out of their current role. In the same weekend that they announced their transition to their congregation, the opportunity to visit Elko Baptist arose. Wayne and Debbie were unaware of the extensive history and current state of Elko Baptist before they saw it, but they were interested in its potential from the start. Wayne tells me, “It took some doings to find one of the younger descendants of some of the founders of the church.” When they located her, they set up an appointment to view the church. Wayne and Debbie describe the condition of the church after four years of neglect, and it is quite shocking. The steeple, full of wasps, was unsealed with cracks between the boards allowing the wasps free access into the church. The blinds, originally installed in the 1800s, were rusty and barely concealed the window panes that were falling out behind them. The carpet and pew cushions were outdated and caked with dust, desperately needing to be replaced. Examining the rest of the church, Wayne and Debbie saw the full condition of the building and knew that restoring the church would be a big project.
Not only was the church in an unkempt condition, Wayne and Debbie tell me it had the physical appearance of abandonment. Debbie says, “The last time the four or five people met here, they just left and never came back. That Bible up there was opened up on the pulpit and there was money in the collection plate.” Wayne says of its previous pastor, “He was preaching here as long as he could. When we came in here to look at the church for the first time, that stool was right there and his cushion was still in it.” It was as if the church’s operation ceased to exist in a single unknowing moment. Despite all this, the Holcomb’s trusted that the Lord would bless whoever set out to restore His church.
Having visited Elko Baptist and feeling led by the incredible timing of the Lord, Wayne and Debbie stepped up to bring the church back to life. Debbie tells me, “The girl that met us here that day told us we could move in and pick up where they left off, but she also said, ‘I just ask that you don’t change the structure of the church –the look on the outside. Don’t tear down walls and stuff like that.’” Honoring her request, they set out to improve the church’s condition without shedding it of its long-standing character. Wayne, a carpenter and general contractor by trade, was more than equipped to head up this project. The process of renovating the church was one of continued assurance that Wayne and Debbie were doing the Lord’s work. A current member of the restored church stepped up during renovations and contributed by replacing the old windows with new vinyl windows. In addition to fixing the steeple, repainting, and replacing things like the windows, carpet and pew cushions, they upgraded the extension on the back of the church. They renovated the kitchen, installed new cabinets and floors, and redid the bathroom.
In addition to the renewed building, the Lord blessed Wayne with a whole new congregation. Musically inclined members of the church play instruments such as the electric guitar, mandolin and banjo during the services. Wayne adds, “My lifelong association with musicians gave me an inside track on some of the bands that come here several times a year and perform for us live.” One member that plays the guitar during services is Jeff Walker. At 92 years old, he is full of life, energy, and has a heart for people. Jeff lights up the room with his signature dance that he calls, The Elko Shuffle. It is genuine folks like Jeff that occupy the space of Elko Baptist and welcome newcomers with outstretched arms.
Many thanks to Alexa Tebben and Houston County Living for this article. Be sure to click and scroll on the photos below for more history and information on Elko Baptist.
As you saw in the opening photograph and learned from the Magazine text, Elko presents as a unique architectural church structure with a remarkable preservation success story. As seen in the featured photo, Elko’s design is late Victorian, and the belfry is unlike any other we know of in this part of Georgia. The tower rests on the entry porch and is a steeply sloped and high structure that is flanked by two gables. The tower then rises to a sharp peak as it reaches for the sky. Without the restoration project lead by Pastor Wayne Holcomb and his wife Debbie, this rural church treasure would have certainly collapsed and become another lost historic treasure. Instead, generations of the present and future will be able to visit and enjoy this monument to the past!
Here we have provided one of the pages from the magazine that provides a photograph of Debbie and Wayne along with text that highlights their remarkable, preservation success story.
This “welcome” sign was placed by the congregation during the incredible restoration project begun in 2014. It now greets any visitors, congregants or others who wish to enjoy this historic site. It is a sign that is testimony to the success of the Preservation efforts at Elko.
Here we are standing in front of the entryway door that sits at the foot of the belltower. The tower rises beautifully above the curved, Roman arch over this door and reaches the very high peak of the belfry. Congregants/visitors enter the sanctuary through this door and find themselves within the sanctuary. In the early days of restoration, this area and the tower were a shambles. “The steeple, full of wasps, was unsealed with cracks between the boards allowing the wasps free access into the church.”
The Holcombs and others went out of their way to repair, furnish, refurbish, and redecorate this old church in a totally authentic way. In this photo of the chancel, we see three antique Victorian chairs of the
period and no modern furniture or inappropriate decoration.
Here we have a photo of the particularly lovely and well taken care of upright grand piano that the Holcomb’s have procured for their Elko church. This is “of the period” and we expect well-used at the church for all types of events and services. Its presence is in keeping with the desire to keep the Elko experience as authentic as possible.
Here we have a photo of the entire sanctuary as it presents today. Given the damage they inherited, the Holcomb’s, congregation and other volunteers have produced the miracle we can see before us now!
We can see that the suspended ceiling has been totally restored, bringing a Cathedral-like atmosphere to the sanctuary. Over a dozen beautiful, vintage pews invite the church goers to come in, sit down and join in the service. There are a number of tall, 12 over 12 sashed, clear pained windows that allow a great deal of ambient light to flow into the sanctuary and illuminate the room. We can see the complex entry area at the right rear of the room where congregants enter and then turn left to enter the main aisle, an arrangement very popular in the late 19th, early 20th century period. This is a very authentic and lovely church.
Here is a close-up of 4 of the old pews in use at Elko. We are not sure of their provenance but certainly feel that they are authentic treasures. We do not know how old they are or whether they we part of the original pews at Elko. But we do know that they are lovely and well carved.
Here is a variety of church accessories and documents that reinforce the history and tradition of the old church. They reinforce the historical aspect of Elko Baptist.
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