On the first Sunday of October at noon every year, my family shares the time-honored tradition of attending homecoming and dinner on the grounds at Richland Baptist Church, known fondly to the locals as “Old Richland.” Since the 1800s, family and friends have gathered among the Middle Georgia pines of Twiggs County to worship and fellowship. The service is reverent, the food is plentiful and the people are like coming home.
A landmark on the National Register of Historic Places, Richland Baptist Church was built on Oct. 5, 1811 and began with four male and eight female members. Situated down a long gravel road, the large-frame, white wooden church is constructed with a wide front porch and four columns that stretch across the front of the building. Complete with two aisles on the inside and three sections of long wooden church pews, the tall windows, dressed with black shutters, reach nearly to the rooftop. The wooden floors creak with rich history, and the chime of a metal church bell — three times — still signals the beginning of service.
True to the original time period, the church has no modern day amenities; outhouses serve as restrooms.
There is no sound system, but truth be told, microphones and speakers aren’t missed; the acoustics in the expansive room produce some of the most beautiful sounds my ears have ever heard.
When the congregation lifts their voices in unison to sing classic hymns, and the harmonies fill the air, there’s a powerful sense of place, the belief we all share in faith and truth echoing in the melodies. The familiar songs, “I’ll Fly Away,” “I Saw the Light” and “Amazing Grace” are written on our hearts, memorized from our youth and, like a freely flowing river, run through our veins.
Once the service is over, everyone piles out of the church and onto the grounds, forming two lines down either side of a 40-foot cement table filled with every Southern covered dish you could imagine. Heaping baskets of fried chicken, pork tenderloin, barbecue, Brunswick stew, buttermilk biscuits, casseroles, congealed salads and a variety of cakes, pies and cobblers fill our plates in true Baptist fashion.
Much like the music that bears witness to my upbringing, the foodways of a land are never more proud than dinner on the grounds. The banquet table in all its glory is the song of the South, the anthem of farmers, the prized recipes of generations gone before us.
Today, Old Richland is managed by Richland Restoration League, a volunteer committee formed to ensure the upkeep of the building and the grounds. Services are held only three times yearly, for homecoming and a special fundraising event during Christmastime. Though the locals now meet every Sunday at New Richland, a small country church just a few miles away (with such modern luxuries as air conditioning and running water) we all look forward to that special fall day when the doors open at Old Richland once more and the church bells call us home.
Rebekah Faulk Lingenfelser is a private chef and the author of the best-selling memoir “Some Kinda Good.” Featured in Forbes, on Food Network and ABC, she writes about Southern, coastal cuisine, locally sourced and in season.
Connect with her on social media by liking Some Kinda Good on Facebook, or follow @SKGFoodBlog on Instagram and Twitter. To learn more, visit RebekahLingenfelser.com.