By Valerie Baldowski
Shiloh Baptist Church is preparing to celebrate more than a century of ministering to the community. On Dec. 7, the McDonough church will mark its 139th anniversary.
According to Rev. Edward W. Lee, the church's pastor, the celebration marks an important milestone. "It represents the long-term significance of the church in the community."
Originally called the Colored Baptist Church of McDonough, the church was founded by the Rev. Clark Gilmore in 1869.
The Rev. John Henry Moore was pastor from 1914-1918; followed by the Rev. R.L. Scruggs from 1918-1921; the Rev. Frank Pascall from 1921-1923; the Rev. W. S. Simmons from 1923-1929; the Rev. C. H. Holland from 1929-1944; the Rev. C. C. Cloud from 1945-1946; and the Rev. R. H. Milner from 1946-1974.
Lee took over as pastor in 1974. "This is my home church," says Lee. "I grew up in this church."
Shiloh was one of the first churches in McDonough established by former slaves. Its founding members worshipped in a brush arbor for six years before building their first wood-frame building in 1875, on land bought for $12.50. After a cyclone destroyed that building in 1879, the church rebuilt.
During its early years, Shiloh played a role in establishing the first public school for blacks in McDonough. The church has continued to grow over the years. Its old sanctuary only seated 350, but the size of the congregation eventually reached to between 1,700 and 1,900 members.
During his 35 years in the pulpit, Lee has observed massive growth. "All of us who have been in the community for a long time know that we have lost the atmosphere of what we used to call country," says the pastor. "It has had a great impact on the growth of our church."
Lee says that new residents have been moving to McDonough and Henry County, some from as far away as other countries. The church is working to reach out through its ministries to reach newcomers to the county.
Shiloh has established 20 ministries, including clothing, communication, counseling, couples, music, singles, men's, women's and youth ministries. The church also has a food bank which opens once a month. "We service anywhere from 80 to 90 families whenever we open up," he added.
Shiloh also has its "Grounds For Exchange" Capital Stewardship program to raise funds from its members to finance future building projects.
Lee says Shiloh's ministries are built on a foundation focusing on the family unit. "So as we continue to grow, we will not lose touch with families or individuals."
Lisa King, Communication Ministry chairperson and a member since 2005, describes herself as "one of the new members."
She acknowledges the progress Shiloh has made through the years."We have grown exponentially," says King. "It's awesome."
King says that Shiloh is a church having "generational ties" without excluding newcomers. "Sometimes people can get lost in a crowd in a larger church, but it doesn't happen at Shiloh."
When she moved into the area from New York four years ago, King says the church members welcomed her. "It really doesn't matter if you've been there 100 years or if you've been there two seconds. The church is there."
She says her committee supports the work of the other ministries and publicizes Shiloh to the community. "We need to let them know what we offer."
Other members also feel the church's welcoming support. Tony and Sheila Williams and their son, Malik, joined Shiloh in 2007. Williams says Lee is instrumental in supporting all members whenever they need help. "This pastor has an open-door policy. Once you get to know [him] and talk to him, he's nonjudgmental."
Phyllis McClure, who joined 46 years ago, is involved with the church's Mother's, Pastor's Aide and Missions ministries, as well as Shiloh's Anniversary Committee. She says there is no doubt that members of the congregation have a strong spiritual link. "The love that you feel here is just like a family."