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FBC Georgiana finds new, dramatic setting for servicescomment (0)

April 15, 2004

By Anthony Wade

The Ga-Ana Theatre in Georgiana is not showing “The Passion of the Christ,” but it has radiated that same message ever since First Baptist Church, Georgiana, moved in.

Since occupying the theater in December, average church attendance has doubled, said Pastor Allen Stephenson. Sunday morning church attendance had dwindled to about 40 before the move.

Stephenson said one of the reasons for the growth is the intrigue and excitement of having church in the same theater where country music stars have performed.

Another reason is the growing excitement among the members that rekindled outreach efforts in their community.

Years of deteriorating structural conditions at First, Georgiana’s, 1922 church building necessitated the move, according to Stephenson. The building’s condition had affected church attendance because some of the people were fearful of entering.

The historic movie theater sits just across the railroad tracks and about three blocks away from the church building. “We can almost see the church from the theater,” Stephenson said.

“Within the next 60 days the [church] building will be demolished and we will grade the lot to the basement level. We will build a new building on the same spot,” Stephenson said.

According to Jerry Peak, a deacon at First, Georgiana, workers removed stained glass windows from the church building to restore them. The largest stained glass is of Jesus teaching children and the others depict various scenes from the life of Jesus. Peak said the windows will be reinstalled in the new building.

Meanwhile Peak said the congregation seems happy to be meeting in the theater.

“At first there was a lot of anxiety about going there — we didn’t know how it would be. But everyone has accepted it and we’ve had some very moving services there. The congregation realizes that it’s not the building but the people who make the church.”

Drawing a crowd

The church first thought about the 300-seat theater as a permanent meeting place last fall when it held a special community back-to-school rally there, Stephenson said.

“We had 260 kids there for a back-to-school emphasis and had 20 to 25 decisions. We knew then if we could work out something it would be a great thing,” he said.

In December the church was able to lease the building from its owner, J.C. Sims.

“I just thought it was the right thing to do,” Sims said. “They needed a place to go and we didn’t have anything going on Sundays or Wednesdays.”

Stephenson said Sims has been cooperative, even adding more lights for the congregation. “They’ve added more lights because it was hard for people to read their Bibles in the dim theater lighting, so that was a great help to us,” Stephenson said.

The theater is equipped with a grand piano and a state-of-the-art recording studio, which are available for the church to use. All of the worship services are recorded.

“It’s a wonderful teaching ministry — we’ve just finished the ‘40 Days of Purpose’ study and have made tapes of that available to people who couldn’t come,” Stephenson said.

Sims said the church can use the building for as long as they need to.

Even as the church has use of the building the theater continues to be the center of attraction in the town.

The town hosts the Hank Williams Festival each June, and the theater is part of that celebration. Throughout the year the theater promotes old time country music and traditional southern gospel music.

Other times people just come by to see the theater and sing impromptu on the same stage where Hank [Williams Sr.] sang, Sims said.

“Two years ago we had a bluegrass band from Japan come by — I think they were the only bluegrass band in Japan — seven of ’em. Only one spoke English but they all sang Hank Williams songs just right,” Sims said.

Local and out-of-town groups sometimes record there.

Among local groups are J.C.’s Pure Country Band and J.C.’s Pure Gospel Band. “The same folks are in both bands — just different music,” Sims said with a chuckle.

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