Maurice Thomas and Interim Pastor Rev. Jack Tatum look on as the crowning touch of the steeple is attached!
On October 4, 1987, with Rev. Tatum as pastor and Brother Robert Snead as minister of music in charge, the congregation occupied the new facility. These men were retired from very responsible churches and denominational positions, and Grace was most fortunate to have them as leaders in its beginning. As the church moved into its beautiful, very adequate, new building valued at $700, 00.00, it was noted that the loan at Bank of Toccoa now amounted to only $250,000.00 With the exit by letter of members under watch care and others less stable during the pressure and stress of relocating, the church roll carried only 220 members at the end of 1987. The Sunday school average attendance had dropped to 110 each Sunday, and the annual budget was $140, 00.00. Landscaping, and grading by Harry Camden, and erection of a copper steeple, gift of Dr. Carmen Burns, fifty feet above the roof were completed by March 1988, just 4 years after the church’s beginning.
On May 1, 1988, Rev. Jack Tatum led in the dedication with appropriate ceremony of the church facility of unsurpassed beauty and adequacy. Fitting the congregation into its new plant was Grace’s most welcomed challenge. By summer of 1988 there was an area for the playground activities, paved parking spaces, and even shaded picnic tables. The fellowship hall, kitchen, music room, office suite, nursery and children’s section were furnished and in use in the Christian education wing.
Under Pastor Tatum’s leadership (1987-1989) the “Deacon’s Family Ministry” program was initiated by Chairman Don Dickinson. The church’s media library was developed under Mrs. Anne Thomas’s direction and the senior’s “Saints Alive” monthly fellowship was begun with Marion Sisk as president. Rev. Tatum deserved profound gratitude for his vision and leadership in launching Grace in an effective ministry in these areas.
Dr. Paul Moore was called as pastor on December 9, 1989, and Brother Tatum led in the church’s installation of the Moores. Brother Moore, dedicated and experienced, was an appropriate successor for the able ministry of Rev. Tatum.
Brother Moore came when the church was experiencing steady growth in membership and in Sunday school attendance (125 average). At the bank, the building indebtedness had been reduced to $100,000.00, and the annual budget was about $150,000.00. All facets of the church program were functioning well. In August, 1992, our beloved Pastor, Paul Moore, was called away to serve a Baptist Church in Greenville, S.C. For almost a year thereafter, the church engaged the services of supply ministers in Sunday worship. Bob Snead, minister of music, was elected to the office of church manager during the interim pastorates. When he resigned form Grace Baptist Church in September 1993, Bob had served since 1984 as minister of music lending dignity and stability and a legacy of great music along with help from his wife Shirley to Grace Baptist Church.
In June 1993, the church called as Pastor Rev. Greg Smith who was assistant pastor of Dunwoody Baptist Church in Atlanta. During his tenure of one year and nine months, Grace purchased under leadership of W. C. Clary, three acres of land from James Moore to serve as a buffer zone against the encroaching industrial developments near by. Several significant initiatives were launched during Rev. Smith’s tenure at Grace: adoption of the slogan, “The Church that Cares Enough to Give Itself Away,” A Discipleship Training Program on Wednesday evening which was well attended, “Developing Our Mission” was a title for the 1993-1994 proposed budget, Orientation Class for new members was begun, a “Staff Development Team Plan” was adopted, and plans by building chairman , Charles Whitworth, for additional education space were adopted by the church.
During the year , 1994, there were significant and interesting developments: Grace foundation plans were inaugurated with surplus funds; “Toccoa Fest” at the school stadium attracted a huge crowd of young people from several churches; By-Laws were updated; Christy Sanders was approved for a Grace Scholarship and as a candidate for admission to the Southern Baptist Seminary; “ Our Mission” ( name of our annual budget) proposed was $ 276,595.00; and indebtedness at the bank was reported to be reduced to $33,000.00 . On December 4, 1994, David Jones, Minister of Music, resigned to pursue further education at the University of Georgia, and Loretta Fleming, music teacher at the local middle school, was employed part time as Music Director at Grace Baptist Church. Joy Straner was organist and Anne Caudell was pianist for some years.
During the year 1995, Grace Baptist Church experienced phenomenal activity for Kingdom Advance: Building plans were made , there were 41 additions to the church membership, including 11 for baptism and watch care, Sunday School averaged 180 in attendance per Sunday, interest increased in all program organization, the “Continuous Witnessing Training Class” participants won new church members, and “Discipleship Training Group” curricula superceded the traditional Baptist Training Union on Sunday evenings prior to evening worship.
In May 1995, Pastor Greg Smith resigned to accept a call to serve North Phoenix Baptist Church in Arizona. On May 14, 1995, Steve Pruitt, a member in Ebenezer Baptist Church was employed full time as Minister of Youth. In April of 1995, Dwayne Benfield, a retired minister, was hired as “Minister of Pastoral Care” during the interim between Pastors. During this period, the church pulpit was served by several very able interim and supply ministers: prominent among them were: Reverends Odiam, Piper, Patterson, Hensley, and Tatum.
Bryan Race and B.K. McDonald and two or three other members of Grace Baptist Church were approved for Baptist Seminary enrollment and awarded financial scholarships. Mrs. Anne Thomas, Librarian, who established the church Library in 1991 resigned after 9 years and was made “Librarian Emeritus.” In May 1995, a study of van transportation ministry for seniors and children was begun and eventually in February, 1996, further study resulted in the purchases of 2 used vans for the church ministry. The vans were put into use transporting attendants to Sunday School and worship activities as well as to functions of interest away from the church. By January 1995, plans for building additional education space were begun under the chairmanship of Charles Whitworth. In May 1995, the church elected Jim Bellamy as moderator of all business conferences. At this writing, Jim has served very well for 10 years. During the quarter of January, February, March, there were 19 new members added to the church and other evidences of spiritual growth were noted.
In July, 1995, the traditional W.M.U. and Brotherhood organizations were replaced by Women’s and Men’s Ministry Groups in the By-laws. Dr. Butch Franklin, of Conyers First Baptist, was called to serve as pastor on August 17, 1995. By May, 1995, Charles Whitworth, the building chairman, had made thorough plans for enlarging the building space for Christian education. It was apparent by overwhelming majority vote that the church was ready to implement his surprise plans, when a motion was made and carried in Conference to wait until $200,000.00 of the approximately $400,000.00 needed was contributed toward the building fund. R.D. Smith led the church to conduct a yard sale in the summer of 1996 and the proceeds of some $2000.00 were to be given to the building fund.
Membership in Grace Baptist Church struck a plateau of 400 to 500 members in 1995 that persisted for ten years. At the same time, Sunday School average attendance has ranged between 100 and 125. The 1995 – 1996 adopted budget of $299,770.00 seems to have set the approximate pattern for each year to date.
It had been stated by Pastor Smith in church council that, “We are loosing our history. A History Committee is needed to help preserve it.” Consequently in Conference, on April 14, 1996, a History Committee was elected with Rev. Maurice Thomas as chairman. Rev. Thomas, a retired minister and charter member, had written the various church documents such as: the Constitution and By-laws, the Church Policies, the preamble to the formation of the church in its beginning, the rotation system of the deaconship ,etc, and had served as a Sunday School Teacher as well as Trustee. He had written brief histories for the special needs of the church and for the history of Stephens County.