Berlin, Georgia   Leave a comment

 

Above:  Berlin United Methodist Church

Late 1980s on the left

February 1987 on the right

Photographer = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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Recently I have been thinking about some places in which I grew up and in which I am glad to have ceased to live.  One such place is Vidette, Georgia, where my family and I lived from June 1980 to June 1982.  Berlin, Georgia, where my parents and I lived from June 1986 to June 1989, is another.

Colquitt County 1951

Above:  Colquitt County in Context, 1951

Scanned from Hammond’s Complete World Atlas (1951)

Berlin (with the stress on the first syllable) is a small town in southern Colquitt County, near the boundary with Brooks County.  I recall it as being a reactionary town of about 400 people.

In the late 1980s Berlin was an openly racist town stuck in a time warp in terms of mindsets.  My father’s letter to the Moultrie Observer, the local newspaper, in support of the then-new Martin Luther King, Jr., federal holiday contributed to our move in 1989.  Old white men and young white people used racial slurs openly, even in the presence of African Americans.  Berlin Baptist Church, with its openly racist, Communist-baiting pastor, was the major cultural institution in town.  (The minister was convinced that liberal columnist Mary McGrory  (1918-2004), who had been close politically to President John Fitzgerald Kennedy and earned a spot on President Richard Nixon’s infamous enemies list, was a Communist, card-carrying or otherwise.)  And, when cable television came to town, opposition to it was vigorous, to the point of one man pointing a loaded gun at the workers laying cable when they came to his property.  The stated reason for opposition was some of the programming on the premium channels, but opposition weakened considerably when news that a country music channel was part of the basic package spread.

Above:  The Parsonage, next to Berlin United Methodist Church, 1986-1987

Photographer = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

My father was the pastor of the Berlin-Wesley Chapel Charge.

Berlin Church Cornerstone

Above:  The Cornerstone of Berlin United Methodist Church

Photographer = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Berlin United Methodist Church, rebuilt in 1953, was next door to the rundown parsonage, renovated after we moved out.  The Berlin congregation was nearly functionally dead.  It had an adult Sunday School class, but little else.  The congregation had once been so active that it had sponsored a Boy Scouts troop, but those days were long past by 1986.  One Sunday School room was vacant, as if waiting for a class that never gathered there.  The other had become a storage room for boxes my family and I had no room for in the parsonage.

Wesley Chapel Church August 21, 1988

Above:  Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church, Berlin, Georgia, April 21, 1988

Photographer = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

I belonged to Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church, located a few miles outside of town.  My Sunday School class was there.

The two congregations functioned as one in most ways.  On the first and third Sundays one church hosted the morning and evening services; the other one did the same on the second and fourth Sundays.  The congregations also alternated hosting duties on fifth Sundays.  I have never seen that nice arrangement anywhere else.

Berlin United Methodist Church is no more; only Wesley Chapel remains.  The building of the former Berlin Church now hosts a Hispanic ministry within the denomination.

I was 13-16 years old at the time, so 1986-1989 were years replete with adolescent awkwardness.  Nevertheless, the schools in Moultrie were very good, and leaving for the inferior high school in Berrien County was a difficult transition for me.

I wonder if the town has become sufficiently progressive to move into the twentieth century in terms of its collective mindset.  I doubt it.

These memories remind me to thank God that I live in Athens-Clarke County.  I am a person born to live in a college or university town, where I am less likely to feel like an outcast and  am more likely to find people with whom to conduct an intelligent conversation.  In a college or university town I have more opportunities to grow intellectually and spiritually, given my temperament.

I know some of what I have, and thank God for it in the present tense, not in hindsight, with regret for having lost it.  I also thank God, with the benefit of hindsight, for a positive development at Berlin-Wesley Chapel.

There I began to choose how to participate in church activities; I began to say “no.”  For years parishioners at various congregations had been drafting me into church pageants and other activities.  At Wesley Chapel I had no choice but to accept a role in a terrible Christmas play.  The parishioner who had written the play seemed to like exposition and clunky dialogue.  Maybe she imagined herself to be a good playwright.  By the time of the creation of the youth choir, with its woeful musical selections, I had decided to refuse.  This created a diplomatic incident for my father, but, to his credit, he did not force me to participate in it.

Now I carry a strong aversion to people volunteering me for tasks.  Asking me if I will participate is not too difficult, is it?

I am active in my parish, St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia.  All the roles I fill are ones I want to perform, and enjoy doing.  One function (teacher of the lectionary class) is something I sought.  The others are roles I accepted when someone asked me.  Almost all of my functions (lectionary class teacher, lector scheduler, parish librarian, movie series coordinator) at St. Gregory the Great are those I could not taken on in the Berlin area, if I were to live there today, given the different ecclesiastical cultures.  Certainly I would not feel free, as I do in Athens, to speak my mind freely in Sunday School, lest I face an accusation of heresy, as I would in the Berlin area.

In 2018 I am where I belong.  Thank God for that.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 28, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF AMBROSE OF MILAN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; SAINT MONICA OF HIPPO, MOTHER IF SAINT AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO; AND SAINT AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF HIPPO REGIUS

THE FEAST OF DENIS WORTMAN, U.S. DUTCH REFORMED MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF LAURA S. COPERHAVER, U.S. LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER AND MISSIONARY LEADER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MOSES THE BLACK, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK, ABBOT, AND MARTYR

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