DAWSONVILLE — The congregation at High Shoals Baptist Church had an unexpected visitor as members arrived for their recent revival.
"A [big] rattlesnake with 14 rattlers was right beside the front door," said Harold Evans. "It about scared our visiting pastor to death. But he did give us all a fine sermon that night afterwards.
"We had a great revival. We had a full house every night except Tuesday, when it rained."
Perched about two miles north of Amicalola Falls in Dawson County, the church is by all accounts primitive, with water pumped in from a nearby spring for the outhouse.
"We have gas lanterns all around the parking lot to make sure no one steps on a snake or something when we're leaving," Evans said.
Wild critters are pretty commonplace around the church, which sits just outside the Chattahoochee National Forest and is accessible only by a one-lane gravel road.
"The funny part is that a day later an even bigger rattlesnake got away," Evans said. "We've seen bears, copperheads, rattlers. We're not that concerned about them up there. We know they're there."
The congregation also knows how dangerous the critters can be.
"If that rattlesnake had bitten one of the kids," he said, trailing off.
According to Evans, the snake was killed to protect "our kids and the church. And we'd do it again."
One of Dawson County's oldest churches, High Shoals was established in June 1879. It remained vibrant until the 1930s, when the U.S. government began purchasing mountain land to create the national forest.
It wasn't until the 1970s that local families, some of whom were descendants of the founders, got together to re-establish High Shoals Baptist Church.
"That was in 1975. Flem Vaughters and Billy Welch really got it all going again," Evans said. "And I started going in the late 1970s."
The church has about 60 active members who attend services on the third and fifth Sundays of the month.
"We love the place. There's no noise, no traffic. It's perfectly peaceful and quiet," Evans said.
And the doors are always open for visitors.
"We never lock the doors. We don't have to," he said.
Evans recalled the recent discovery of a $50 bill left in a Bible at the church.
"That's the kind of the place it is," he said.