Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Tour and Church Service at the First African Baptist Church

This is the First African Baptist Church, the oldest black church in North America. The first pastor was George Leile in 1777. They worshipped in four different locations before moving to this one which originally had a wooden structure. A group of slaves donated their savings amounting to $1500, which they could have used to buy their freedom, in order to buy the land and building materials to construct the present day church on this site.

Work on this building began in 1855. What is amazing is that the slaves worked on the plantations all day before leaving at night to travel to this location and work by lamp light to complete the church. The plantations weren't exactly close by, so they often walked long distances to get to the church. Now that is faith!

This is the first building constructed of brick and owned by blacks in the State of Georgia. This church has a lot of history, playing a part in the Underground Railroad, so we decided to take a guided tour.

Look at this magnificent sky!



We went with Lorie and Flemming and Barb and Ed...

At first we were told we could not take pictures in the church, but then our tour guide said we could as long as there were people in the picture. They had some sort of issue on the internet with people who taken pictures. Not sure what that was about, but I tried to comply...

The ceiling is in the design of a "Nine Patch Quilt" which represents that the church was a safe house for slaves. Nine patch quilts were often left outside on clothes lines and served as a map and guide informing slaves where to go next in their travels. Who knew?

The beautiful stained glass windows show the second to seventh pastors of the church.



The organ and the pews in the balcony are original to the church. The organ doesn't work and a group of SCAD students are making it a project to restore it. Our tour guide was excellent showing such enthusiasm for his church and his faith.

These pews in the balcony are the original ones built by the slaves. They have no nails or screws and are considered to be very valuable today. The ones on the main floor were installed in the early 1900s.

There is great admiration and love for Martin Luther King and also for Barrack Obama.

Here is an example of a quilt that would have been left out to mark the way for any slaves who were escaping.

And this is the guide explaining the symbols. The plantation owners wouldn't have thought anything of these quilts. There were also many meanings in the songs they sang for those who could interpret them.

These holes in the floor provided ventilation to the slaves hiding below in the four foot high space. I cannot imagine the heat down there. The holes are in the shape of an African prayer symbol which means "Flash of the Spirits" and represents birth, life, death and rebirth. Our guide explained that visitors from Africa have wept at seeing this as they understood immediately what it meant.

During the period of the Underground Railroad when the blacks were questioned about the holes in the floor, they were able to say that it was just an African symbol, rather than giving away the true meaning of the ventilation holes.

The exit to the tunnel remains unknown. After leaving the church, the slaves would try to make their way as far north as possible.

We loved the tour so much, we decided to attend the church service a few Sundays later. We were greeted with hugs and handshakes and absolute warmth. What a church!

The parking lot near the church is used as a revenue generator for the church during the week. We had parked there the night before and spoke with the parking attendant about the church. The next morning he saw us and came right over and shook hands with each of us with a sincere "y'all made it!" These people are beyond generous and kind.

Four people were baptized the day we attended church, all of them adults. They are completely submerged in the baptismal pool, which is also original to the church. We were ushered up to the front by several ladies who insisted we have a view of the baptism and many people moved aside to give us a better view. This was immediately following...

video

In this church, if you want to stand up and clap, you do. If you want to stand up and shout Amen, you do that too...whatever and whenever the mood takes you. I wanted so badly to have a video of the beautiful choir singing but was trying not to act too touristy. This is just a small snippet.

video

The service lasted over two hours. It was long, but certainly not boring. Amen! What an amazing experience!

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