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Countdown to Savannah: Places of Worship

Jan (jgk)

In early 2007, we started our official Countdown to Savannah. Each Sunday, we posted a different topic about this special city where we met for our first Great Slow Travel Gathering in Spring 2008.

With 63 posts over 14+ months, we learned a lot about the many facets of this historic, hospitable and intriguing American city. Our weekly posts touched on Savannah's history, famous people, architecture, food, culture, surrounding area and much more. We hope this information acquaints you with Savannah, entices you to visit this historic city, and prepares you for a very memorable trip.

Fascinating History

I set out to do a quickie post, simply listing the places of worship in Savannah and I ran across this fascinating bit of history.

Savannah is home to the oldest African American church in North America! The First African Baptist Church of Savannah began in 1773 with what is referred to as, the Heroic Age of George Leile, the first pastor.

"I'm still grasping what it means to be the pastor of the oldest black church in America," says Pastor Tillman. "Our history lets us know that we are really obligated to do more than just sit here with all this rich history. We're called to do something that is going to make a difference."

The congregation is currently undertaking a massive renovation, which will include new facilities for visitors, uncovering the Savannah gray brick walls outside the sanctuary, and replacing the steeple that was blown off by a hurricane in 1892. This is in addition to the services the congregation provides for those who need food, shelter, and employment. When thinking of the challenges that lie ahead, PastorcTillman recalls: "In 1859, when construction began on this church, one of the ways that you could get out of slavery was to purchase your freedom," he explains. "But instead of purchasing the freedom of their children or their grandchildren, their husbands or wives, they built a sanctuary to God.

"After working all day in the fields, they came at night by lantern, by moonlight, by torches, or whatever they had," Pastor Tillman recounts. "The building was dedicated in 1861. Just two years later--not 200 years or 2,000 years--Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. I don't think that was just a coincidence." (excerpted from Southern Living)

Most moving, to me, about the church's history is its role in the Civil War time and the freeing of slaves. Holes in the sanctuary floor form a design meant to look like a tribal symbol. Instead, they were reallly air holes for a 4 foot crawl space where runaway slaves stopped to hide on their way to freedom on the Underground Railroad.

The Upstairs Balcony contains some of the original pews made by slaves; on the sides, the carved tribal symbols can still be found. Stained glass windows date back to 1885. The church was also home to the first Black Sunday School in North America, organized in 1826.

In his original plan for the city, General James Oglethorpe envisioned a place of worship on the sides of each of Savannah's squares. Today, squares in the historic district host a church or a synagogue and here is a link to a list of them: http://www.savannah.com/worship.cfm?subcategoryID=235&newUserLocation=1

Resources

All About Savannah: Links to many information pages about Savannah (where to eat, where to stay, places of interest, getting around town, and more)


Author: Read Jan's blog, "Keep your Feet in the Street"


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