The local history tells us that Friendship Baptist is the first and the oldest Baptist church in Thomas County. It was located in the southern part of the county, about two or three miles south of the present town of Metcalfe, off Roddenberry Road on what is now Friendship Church Road. The first church, constructed of logs, was replaced after a few years with a frame structure. A cemetery was also laid out beside the church.
With the completion of the railroad to the little village of Metcalfe in 1888, the congregation determined that a new church building should be erected in the town and, in 1889, James S. Lilly gave land for the new building. The location of the church, on the east side of the railroad, was on the opposite side from the Methodist church, which was being constructed almost simultaneously. It was said that the Friendship Baptist church members “gave liberally of their substance” for the building, according to a Times Enterprise article of the day. The construction chief chosen was Mr. W. J. E. Hinson, a local builder who had constructed several homes in the area and also was in the process of building the Methodist Church.
Although the congregation was moving into the town of Metcalfe, the old Friendship church cemetery remained the burial ground for the original members of that church as well as other rural Metcalfe residents. Families continued their worship in the rural church until the Metcalfe building was completed, with Rev. T. W. White, “the devoted pastor” whose “eloquence for his Master, and his zeal for the welfare of his congregation bears abundant fruit” (same article). By 1900, in its new location in the village of Metcalfe, the church had grown to 510 members – 250 males and 260 females.
The aforementioned history is typical of what is usually recorded regarding the origins of the church. However, we are fortunate that some minutes of the church (as early as 1881) have been preserved and they reveal a much deeper aspect of these early parishioners and the life they led. A cursory look at the minutes here will show the role of the church in maintaining the community standards of acceptable behavior and more importantly, determining unacceptable behavior. Sinful conduct would be reported to the church elders, who would appoint a committee to look into it, and guilty congregants were then given several chances to cease said behavior. Failure to do so would result in excommunication and social banishment. Common forms of sin in the latter part of the 19th century would be the usual…..adultery, drinking spirits and unspecified examples of “unchristian behavior”. However, even at this late date, the sin that seemed to illicit the most severe response was that of ……..dancing. Thanks to Andy Rudd for making these minutes available.
The striking exterior, introductory shot of this handsome church presents a structure that would not look out of place in a New England Town Square. The sanctuary interior is more in keeping with the styles, design and tastes of the upper and middle class citizens of Metcalf at the dawn of the 20th century. The community at that time was a growing, prosperous railroad town. Here we have a view of the entry vestibule which remains much as it was when the church was built. It is not elaborate but is certainly welcoming. Its arched opening reflects the similar motif seen in the nave.
This photograph taken from the rear of the nave reveals an interior architectural design found in many of Georgia’s 19th century rural churches. The long rectangular room features tall, sashed four over four, wood framed windows. The suspended truss ceiling design allows for the ceiling to slant inward above the walls creating a cathedral-like sanctuary atmosphere. This structural design also eliminated the need for interior columns giving everyone present unobstructed view of the raised chancel. One decorative feature represents a growing tradition in the late 1800’s. The chancel is framed by a lovely proscenium arch.
In this closeup, we see that the chancel itself is traditionally raised. A design feature at Friendship called for the raising of the apse as well. We see that the proscenium arch curves over the apse entry creating a sense of depth and mystery behind the pulpit.
Friendship has an engaged and enthusiastic congregation. They recognize the historical and religious importance of their church. Its building and grounds are in remarkable condition given their age. Everywhere you look, their effective stewardship is in evidence.
Here we see signs of the meticulous care taken to insure the sanctuary interior is well maintained. The original pews are still in place and attractive despite their having been on duty for over 125 years and thousands of services. The original window frames with their warm finish are also still in place and as handsome and beautiful as the day they were installed.
This the Roddenberry family plot, containing twenty three of the 115 interments in the cemetery. The Roddenberry family is well known as the founders of the syrup company, W. B. Roddenberry, that was domiciled in Cairo. The business was started in 1862 by Seaborn Anderson Roddenberry, a physician who found the syrup business to be more suitable for him than medicine. The original Roddenberry cemetery is located not too far away in a remote and wooded location.
The picturesque and historic little village of Metcalfe is a suitable location for this architectural treasure that has served the local community for 125 years. It is maintained with loving care and respect for that history. We salute you for your stewardship of this wonderful part of Georgia history.
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