By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great local journalism.
175 years of spirit
Mt. Tabor Baptist set to mark milestone
Church Anniversary 9 es
Mt. Tabor member Margie Howell, part of five generations attending the church, sits in a pew. - photo by Emily Saunders
Atop a rocky, quiet hill in northern Forsyth County, the Scriptures and the surnames mostly stayed the same for the past 175 years.

Since Aug. 22, 1833, generations of souls have been saved at Mt. Tabor Baptist Church, a place where the wind in the trees sounds sweet as song sung off the pages of a tattered Baptist Hymnal.

Next Sunday, the 400-member congregation will mark the century and three quarters milestone with an old timers day celebration, baptisms in an old-time pool, a special service and dinner on the grounds.

“It’s Old Timers Day so we’re encouraging people to dress in period clothing, suspenders and overalls,” said Mt. Tabor member Pam Shiry. “It’d be nice to see somebody come up in a horse and buggy.”

The church — more than likely named for the biblical Mt. Tabor where prophetess Deborah and Israelite general Barak defeated Canaanite ruler Sisera — is the first and oldest constituted Baptist church in the county.

One of Mt. Tabor’s sister churches, Liberty Baptist in Dawson County, was founded a day earlier on Aug. 21, 1833, and is marking its 175th anniversary today.

Mt. Tabor’s history, like any storied old country church, is as colorful and fascinating as a stained glass window.
So are its current members.

Some of them sit in pews where seats were selected, or inherited, long ago. Some, like 79-year-old Margie Howell, who’s been attending Mt. Tabor for a little more than 10 years, “moved their letters” from another church.

“We’re more family than lots of other churches are,” Howell said. “We try to be more family to each other.”

Many Mt. Tabor members have been baptized, married and comforted by fellow believers in times of mourning and loss.

Others, like Preston Worley, the church’s oldest and longest serving deacon, began hearing sermons here while they were still in the womb.

Worley, 67, a natural storyteller with a smooth baritone, said he’s been coming to Mt. Tabor “since before I was born.”

“My mother and dad attended here, same church all those years.”

Still others, like Shiry and her mother Lois Yarbrough, are part of a multi-generational Mt. Tabor congregation.

Yarbrough, 84, a petite, sharp country woman, is the matriarch of five generations attending Mt. Tabor.

“I’m just looking forward to being alive and being here to enjoy [next Sunday],” Yarbrough said.

Shiry, 51, is a living answer to a church trivia question. “I was baptized with a pool full of Angels,” she said.

Instead of descending on wings, the Angels she speaks of probably came to church walking in wingtips.

In 1965, Shiry, saved and baptized as a 9-year-old at Mt. Tabor, was immersed with several members of the Angel family.

Her own Mt. Tabor history aside, Shiry said “it’s the Indian stories that people are most interested in  … it’s hard to tell which is fact and which is fable.”

Both Mt. Tabor and Liberty Baptist were established by Revs. Jeremiah Reeves and William Manning, missionaries sent to north Georgia in the 1830s to form churches at a time when Cherokee Indians still occupied much of what was then considered frontier land.

Reeves and Manning also founded Ararat Baptist Church in Canton on Aug. 23, 1833. It later became known as First Baptist Church at Canton.

The days since the brethren set the bylaws have been rich in tales, some of which are collected in “Stepping Out on Faith,” a church history book written by Mt. Tabor members Mitchell and Wanda Collins.

Legend has it that the Cherokee buried gold and other valuables in the area before they were swept westward on the Trail of Tears around 1835.

People have been scouring the area ever since, church members say, with little luck.

“There’s some gold found around here somewhere, they say,” Yarbrough recalled. “But I was never fortunate enough to find any.”

The only ones who might have come close were a group of Indians who returned to camp on Mt. Tabor grounds in the early 1900s.

Several Cherokee men spent several days venturing deep into the nearby woods.

Mt. Tabor’s most notable gold strike occurred not on church grounds, but in two other places — one near and one on the other side of the country.

A freedman named Daniel Riley purchased his freedom from slavery with gold he found panning around Franklin Gold Mine near the Forsyth-Cherokee county line.

In 1849, Riley and his family headed to California at the height of the Gold Rush. Then after striking it rich, Riley returned to Georgia a very wealthy man.

He is buried in the old Mt. Tabor Cemetery, along with both slaves not as fortunate as Riley was and Confederate soldiers.

Any modern-day gold prospectors at Mt. Tabor may encounter obstacles laid long before the foundations of any of the church’s three past buildings and the current sanctuary, built in 1998.

Just beneath the clay, shovels and pickaxes would clink against obstacles laid with the foundations of the earth.

“We think the guy that donated all this land to the church donated it because it wasn’t fit to farm,” Mitchell Collins said. “This place is covered in rock.”

Collins’ father Doug preached at the funeral of Forsyth County native Alvin “Junior” Samples of “Hee-Haw” fame in 1983, before coming to serve as Mt. Tabor’s pastor from 1984-87.

Between brushes with Indians, brushes with gold, brushes with fame, even brushes with some thieves who tried to steal the church organ in the late 1960s or early 1970s, one thing is the same today as it was 175 years ago.

“We have a lot of spirit in this church,” said Linda Chambers, 62, who’s been attending Mt. Tabor Baptist Church all of her life.

“A lot of good old fashioned spirit.”