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Two hearts with one message: All souls matter

February 5, 2017 GMT

The donors of the property where the new sanctuary of Miller Grove Missionary Baptist Church sits were in attendance last Sunday for a special dedication service.

With the first Sunday of worship in the new building taking place more than 10 years ago, some might think, as mentioned by Miller Grove members during the dedication, that an official ceremony was slightly overdue. Yet, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect to honor members of the W.A. Hodges Sr. family.

First Lady Geraldine Tremble, wife of Reverend Harry Tremble, Jr., pastor of Miller Grove Missionary Baptist Church on Highway 24 East, explained how the service came about.

“Rev. Clinton Raymond, associate pastor, brought the idea [of the dedication program] to the Care Ministry,” he said. “We knew we needed to have a service, a program to thank the Hodges family. And with the country being the way it is, we knew we should do it now.”

The original Miller Grove Missionary Baptist Church was organized on August 12, 1885 by former black members of one of the few Baptist churches in Bulloch County. The founding members separated from that church when they were not allowed to sit with the white members. But similar to the “white” church, Miller Grove founders met and worshiped outdoors on pews placed under an arbor of bushes.

In 1900, with growth beyond the small band of faithful worshippers, the members bought a parcel of land from W.A. Hodges Sr. and built a log cabin church. Over the years, much changed at Miller Grove Missionary Baptist Church as the church grew to meet the needs of the expanding congregation.

Unchanging, however, was the faith and dedication of the members. When Reverend C. Frank Cobb recognized the need for a larger sanctuary for Miller Grove in 2001, members approached Fred Hodges, Jr., grandson of W.A. Hodges, Sr., with a request to purchase the adjacent property. Fred and his wife, Betty, lived just down the road from the church in the old Hodges homeplace.

Donating the property

Unsure of the actual owner of that part of the family property, Fred Hodges spoke with his sisters, Alice Hodges Prosser and Margaret Hodges Latzak, and the three studied land deeds. When it was determined that Latzak owned the property next to Miller Grove Missionary Baptist Church, she opted not to sell the property to the church. Instead, she donated it to them.

The congregation was ecstatic and thanked the Hodges family profusely when Latzak deeded the property on Dec. 31, 2002. Construction began on the new sanctuary, classrooms, baptismal pool and production room. Completed in 2006, the new section joins the older part of the church, which now serves as the fellowship hall.

During the dedication service Sunday, First Lady Tremble commented, “I once heard a pastor say that fellowship is just two fellows in a ship. So the Hodges family and the Miller Grove family are two fellows in a ship to fellowship together.”

Hence, the timing of the dedication ceremony on Sunday, according to Tremble. “We chose our colors, black, white and red, as a symbol of Miller Grove, the Hodges family, and the blood of Jesus, because we’re all one people of God.”

Reverend Raymond chose to title the program of dedication, “Two Hearts with One Message: All Souls Matter,” and said during the service, “We wanted to let the neighborhood know that we care. To care is to be equal. We wanted to let you know that we know that the body of Christ had a desire to let the world know that all souls matter.”

‘God has a plan’

Rev. Harry Tremble, Jr., pastor of Miller Grove since 2008, attended Miller Grove as a youngster and joined the church when he was 13.

Tremble said, “I remember leaving the church as a little boy going to Grandmama’s house, and we’d go by the Hodges home.

“God has a plan for everything,” Rev. Tremble said, speaking of the church’s expansion. “When God is in the midst, you’ve already won the battle. Everything will come out.

“God made ways for the new sanctuary. God can make a way for you. You may think you can’t see it. We need to put our trust in Him.”

Several members of the Hodges family were in attendance, including the three oldest members of the W.A. Hodges, Sr. family. Mrs. Alice Hodges Prosser, daughter of Fred W. Hodges, Sr., Mrs. Betty Hodges, wife of Fred W. Hodges Jr. and Mrs. Nona Hodges Foster, daughter of W.A. Hodges, Jr. were presented with certificates.

Betty Hodges, who turns 90 this summer, said about the celebration, “I have never been so thrilled and impressed in many, many years. Such a pleasure for us to be here with you today. We are delighted. I am just overcome.”

Nona Foster concurred: “This has been wonderful. When I drive past, it thrills me to see this church thriving.”

Ninety-four-year-old Alice Prosser agreed with her relatives and said, “We enjoyed that music.” And if anyone has an ear for music, it would be her, as she’s played the piano and organ for her church, just a little farther down Highway 24, for more than 40 years.

Just before presenting the plaques that will hang in the church, Deacon John Robinson said, “We’re here today to make a humble gratitude to this family for what they’ve done for us. From Miller Grove Missionary Baptist Church, thank-you for partnering with us.”

A wooden plaque for the foyer of the new sanctuary dedicates the building to the Hodges family for donating the land, and a metal plaque placed at the entry hall of the Educational Annex deems the building ‘Hodges Hall.’