Valerie Shipp and her husband Pastor Christopher Shipp of Bald Rock Baptist Church.
The first shots at Ft. Sumter had just signaled the start of America's Civil War when, on a Georgia plantation, a group of slaves gathered under a brush arbor and prayerfully began what would become Rockdale County's first black congregation.
In November, Bald Rock Baptist Church will celebrate its 150th anniversary with a day of praying, singing, preaching and fellowship as today's congregation remembers those founding members of long ago.
Bald Rock Baptist will celebrate its sesquicentennial on Sunday, Nov. 13, with a morning worship service at 11, followed by dinner in the church fellowship hall. The church will again gather at 3 p.m. for an afternoon of remembering the past, enjoying special music and for a special message. The Rev. Michael Denton of Fairfield Baptist Church in DeKalb County will be the featured preacher and his church choir will bring the special music. The combined choirs of Bald Rock Baptist Church will also offer special music for the day.
In addition, guests will be recognized during the afternoon program and a proclamation from the City of Conyers will be presented for the anniversary occasion. The church will also honor its oldest member, Clara Sims, who is a lifelong member of Bald Rock and will celebrate her 100th birthday this year.
"She's still just as spiffy as ever," said Valerie Shipp, the wife of Bald Rock Baptist Pastor Christopher Shipp. "If you saw her, you'd think she was in her 60s."
Rev. Shipp has led the church as senior pastor for 14 years, and Mrs. Shipp works by his side as associate minister. They are the parents of Christian Shipp.
Rev. Shipp joined Macedonia Baptist Church at the age of 9, growing in his Christian faith and becoming a Sunday school teacher and youth leader. He was also ordained as a deacon in his home church. He sang in the youth and senior choir and became choir director. He learned to play the piano and developed a great love for gospel music, playing for several choirs and founding the Rockdale Community Choir, Newton County Community Choir, Gwinnett County Community Choir and True Praise Ensemble.
He was called into the ministry 30 years ago under the leadership of Pastor George Frank Gude at his home church. Shipp was called as an assistant pastor at Early Hope Baptist and was then called to pastor Raymond Hill Baptist Church in Snellville. In 1997, he was called to pastor Bald Rock Baptist Church.
Rev. Shipp has developed a theme of purpose that comes from Matthew 5:1-20, which he has titled "Learning the Word and Lighting the World!" It teaches Christians how to bring change to the world through the word of God by "learning, teaching and living" according to the Bible.
Mrs. Shipp's ministerial training includes Bible courses at Bald Rock, conferences and classes at Beulah Heights Bible College and a bachelor's degree in biblical studies from Andersonville Seminary. She serves as director of youth ministry, a Sunday school teacher, Bible study teacher and sings in the gospel and combined choirs at Bald Rock Baptist Church.
"I am excited about the celebration and it's been a great 150 years," said Rev. Shipp. "The church members have a heart for fellowship and I hope and pray that we are able to continue the legacy and beyond."
Rev. Shipp said the church is growing and while it is not what he calls a "fast growth," he is "satisfied with the rate of growth," he said, and enjoys leading a congregation that affords him the opportunity to do a "personal one-on-one ministry."
Bald Rock Baptist Church members held their first worship services in a brush arbor under the leadership of Rev. Charles Tuggle. Church history states that it is believed that the plantation on which Bald Rock Church was located served as a place of worship for those slaves that shared the same last name as their masters. As early as 1883, Bald Rock was one of the area's first churches to hold church school. The original Bald Rock Church structure is located on Costley Mill Road at the Georgia International Horse Park and is now a historic site.
Bald Rock Baptist Church has been at its current location at 2284 Old Covington Road in Conyers since 1994. The present structure was built mostly by the men of the church led by Rev. Jack Maultsby, pastor at that time, along with Robert Rome, Frank Swift, Albert Banks, Willie Banks, Rufus Bigby, John Cox, V. Giles, Rufus Henderson, John H. Penn, Freddie Ross, Junior Robinson, Rufus Roseberry, A.R. Shaw, E.J. Shaw and S. Strung.
The church still has descendants from the early years worshipping and working for the Lord at Bald Rock, including members from the following families: Andrews, Baker, Banks, Easley, Henderson, Ross, Mitchell, Penn, Rome, Roseberry, Robinson, Shaw and Swift.
Beth Sexton is a freelance writer based in Snellville. If you have a story idea, email Karen Rohr, features editor, at email@example.com.