Story by Kathryn Schiliro • Photos by Angelina Bellebuono
ast Thursday, in the burning, mid-afternoon sun, more than 50 people gathered at the steps of the Morgan County Courthouse. Milling about, talking in small groups, most tried to make their way into the shade provided by the structure's shadow.
Sweat accumulating on the collective brow, they bowed their heads, closed their eyes and prayed. In doing so, their voices joined others' across the nation in lifting their praise, thanks and requests up to the heavens.
Weeks before, in Madison, Wis., Judge Barbara Crabb of the United States District Court ruled the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional. The ruling was brought on by a lawsuit filed by Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF)—a group of atheists and agnostics, with a membership of 14,000-plus—that claimed the annual holiday violated the separation of church and state.
Part of her ruling, according to the FFRF Web site, Crabb found, "'The same law that prohibits the government from declaring a National Day of Prayer also prohibits it from declaring a National Day of Blasphemy'...Congress may no more declare a National Day of Prayer than it 'may encourage citizens to fast during the month of Ramadan, attend a synagogue, purify themselves in a sweat lodge or practice rune magic.'"
Despite this, President Obama signed the annual proclamation—which dates back to 1952 and President Harry S. Truman—declaring the National Day of Prayer as the first Thursday in May.
And in Madison, the observance of National Prayer Day on May 6—the first Thursday in May—went on unaffected, as though no one ever thought to do otherwise.
Six Grammy Awards and two Dove Awards line the shelves of Bostwick native Arthur Roland’s Atlanta office. Not bad for someone who began by singing gospel as a child with his sisters on the weekends. Having a cup of green tea the other morning at Perk Avenue, Roland reflected on his life in the music industry since leaving Morgan County.
“I just loved the music and it took me to the places I needed to go. It always opened the next door I needed to walk through.”
In his 46 years, music has opened many doors for Roland. Part of that history included recording and performing with internationally acclaimed gospel group the Blind Boys of Alabama. “There have been many times in my life I have stopped and looked around and thought how did I get from a young boy in Madison, Georgia to here?” He has performed at the White House for Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and saw his mentors, the Blind Boys, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “Then to be at the Grammy Awards and to look around to see everyone. You just can’t believe you are there.”
As a young child, Roland taught himself how to play many instruments including guitar, drums and piano. He played football and ran track at Morgan County High School. Yet, a large part of his childhood was spent touring the gospel circuit with The Roland Family. The gospel music community is a small and connected one. During this time, he became good friends with the Blind Boys manager and signed on to play guitar for the group in the mid-1980s.
By Kathryn McBroom
This year, Morgan County has a new event to add to its busy holiday calendar.
“Candlelight Christmas: A Hometown Celebration of Song” will be held on Tuesday, Dec. 22 at 7 p.m. at Madison’s Church of the Advent. Admission is free.
Organizer Rachel Sterrenberg will be a featured soprano. Other special guests will include local classical guitarist Rylan Smith, the Lake Oconee Community Choir and Rev. Gary Arnold of the Lake Oconee Community Church.
According to Sterrenberg, the concert will consist of “sacred music,” and will include a variety of styles including Old English, classic modern standards and more recent holiday music.
After talking with her parents and friends over the summer, Sterrenberg decided to organize the event to provide another Christmas concert in Madison, in addition to the one already presented by the Madison-Morgan Cultural Center. Sterrenberg says it will be a more informal concert and will give Morgan County citizens “an opportunity to see talented local musicians.”
Sterrenberg, a Morgan County native, is pretty talented herself. She is currently studying music at the University of Kentucky, a winner of the Alltech Undergraduate Opera Scholarship competition during her senior year of high school.
“Music has been a passion for me since I can remember. I started piano lessons at age five,” Sterrenberg said.
She added, “I have sung in church since around age 10, but didn't start classical voice training until I started high school, studying under Dr. Stephanie Tingler at UGA.”
By Kathryn Schiliro
Photos by Angelina Bellebuono
Art by Katie Davis
It was founded in a rustic log cabin on Sept. 18, 1809. According to a 96-year history by clerk Thomas S. Burney, "A few of Christ's disciples, realizing the need of a church home, assembled there on the date specified and in New Testament form, constituted such a home and called it Antioch."
With that, Antioch Baptist Church was born.
And Sunday, the church celebrated its 200-year anniversary and more than 200 people were in attendance. "The church was packed," Esther Curry, member of Antioch Baptist, said.
The festivities came complete with resolutions from both Morgan County and the State of Georgia, read by Commissioner Ellen Warren and state Representative Doug Holt, respectively; remarks by state Senators Johnny Grant and John Douglas; the presentation of a plaque by Dr. J. Robert White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention; and the unveiling of a bicentennial monument.
Sunday, however, just marks a page in the church's rich history.
Initially established at Walton's Mill, two miles south of its current location, the church moved in 1845. The current sanctuary was completed in 1956; it took two years to complete, and much of the building materials were taken from the original structure, according to Antioch Baptist member Aubrey Moon. In addition, a new steeple was erected in 1966.
Antioch Baptist was the site of the beginning of the "Great Revival of 1827," a result of the preaching of Adiel Sherwood.
A Story exclusively published for the Morgan County Citizen Website in conjunction with
By Meg Ferrante | Photos by Angelina Bellebuono
The Mother’s Day brunch at St. James Catholic Church in Madison was just starting to break up when a stranger entered the social hall. He was covered from head to toe in grime. He almost looked like he’d been in a fire.
There were some murmured whispers. A few people jumped to get him some food. But one man sat down with him. Prayed over his meal and offered to listen as the stranger, in clear agony, clutched his head and shared his story. Homeless and hungry, the stranger had hitchhiked from Maryland and was waiting for a ride to Texas where he hoped to start his life over. He was ashamed to be there, ashamed to be asking for help, but he didn't know where else to turn.
As the last few families scrambled off to pamper their mothers, one man reached out to touch this stranger’s arm, let him know he had time. All day if necessary. In fact, just weeks away from giving himself to God as a Catholic priest, Tim Gallagher just happened to have a lifetime.
A lifetime ago, Tim Gallagher was a tight end for the Morgan County Bulldogs, chasing girls and trying to fit in just like the rest of his classmates. He joined the Army because he didn't want his parents to have to pay for college. He served in Operation Desert Storm and then attended the University of Georgia like so many of his friends. He had a career as a physical therapist, did volunteer work building houses in Mexico and was looking forward to marriage and a family.
A bit adrift in his Christian identity, Gallagher was involved with a Protestant missionary group and not even going to Catholic Church all the time. Then something happened. Not a lightning strike or a miracle. More like a slow-growing seed that began to bear fruit. Or the pieces of a complicated puzzle falling into place.