A Plan for the Man Above
When times are bad in this part of the country, most people turn to God. During the darkest years in the beginning of the Great Depression things were bad, really bad. Even God, or should I say the getting of His message out, needed help to pay the preachers, keep the churches running, and keep students in schools. That's when the Baptist churches of Georgia came up with the idea of God's Acre, a plan to keep going through the darkness and into the light.
The idea for the God's acre plan was cultivated in the late 1920s and first implemented in the early 1930s. The plan of churches and individuals setting aside a small tract of land to cultivate crops for the good of the Lord spread across the state, reaching a pinnacle in 1932. Every Baptist Association across the state implemented its own plan to raise crops for the Lord.
The plan was designed "to dedicate a parcel of land to be planted, cultivated, and harvested for the extension of the Lord's kingdom on earth, the proceeds to be contributed through the local church for the support of both the church and of the Co-0perative Program, which included missionary, benevolent, and educational causes of the denomination," so said James W. Merritt.
In Laurens County, Dr. C. D. Graves, pastor of the First Baptist Church, Dublin, served as chairman of the local effort. Dr. Graves saw the plan as a way of keeping the churches of the Laurens County Baptist Association open during the economic chaos which plagued the entire country.
In an article in the February 18, 1932-edition of the Christian Index, Graves reported that during the winter, organizers solicited thirty-one members of the local association to secure their help for the 1932 crop year. The association also sought out and received commitments from local Baptist women to donate their hens' Sunday eggs to the church.
During the previous year, more than 332 Laurens countians cultivated plots on 165 acres of land and realized a profit of nearly $1300.00. Eggs produced on Sundays were sold by ten church women's groups for nearly $140.00 in profits.
The members of the Rentz, New Bethel, and Mt. Carmel churches took the program a step further. These churches built new sanctuaries with funds raised from their members' gardens. In the case of Mt. Carmel, the members grew crops to raise the money to rebuild their church after it was flattened by a 1929 tornado. The Baptists at Pleasant Hill and Snow Hill remodeled their churches as well. The members of Marie Baptist used their crop money to aid the Baptist Orphanage at Hapeville, Georgia.
From the beginning, the crop of choice planted in God's acres was cotton. M.H. Hogan, improvising and improving on the methods of Captain W.B. Rice - one of the county's foremost farming experts - wrote a pamphlet on improving agricultural production which was distributed to farmers all over the county.
In the fall of 1931, the Laurens Baptist Association asked each church to maintain at least two plots and for individual members to plant their own plots to secure greater profits for the Lord. Especially successful in the fall of 1931 was the cotton grown on the 12-acre plot of Bethlehem Baptist Church.
With early successes in the growing of Irish potatoes, Mrs. H.A. Knight's Sunday school class planted a small half-acre garden in 1930. The following year, the class tripled its plot and harvested 210 bushels of potatoes and a tidy profit of $81.50, an outstanding mark considering a dramatic drop in the price of the staple spuds. It was soon discovered that a crop of late tomatoes could be planted on the same ground after the potatoes were dug. The girls of Jefferson Street Baptist planted an acre of potatoes primarily for the seed, which was highly in demand by local farmers. Experimentation in farming methods increased under the plan. Mrs. Knight's boys planted one acre of lettuce.
In it's annual meeting in 1931, the Baptist Association encouraged more participation in the Sabbath egg program. County Demonstration Agent, J.F. Hart worked with churches to increase production. At Mount Carmel Church, near Dexter, twenty women agreed to save their Sunday eggs for the Lord, while thirty-eight male members agreed to plant a plot of ground. Not to be outdone, a dozen boys and girls agreed to raise a calf or a pig for the Lord.
Over in Dodge County, every church in the rural sections of the county agreed to participate in the plan. The program continued well into the latter part of the 1930s. Members of the Baptist Church in Adrian used their profits to build a parsonage in 1936.
Dr. Graves in promoting the program said, "We are under the severest financial depression - world wide. It may be long drawn out." Graves saw the improved farming methods as a way of helping both the economic and spiritual health of the county.
The beauty of the plan was that it allowed rural churches to raise funds for the church by doing what rural people did best. And, that was farming. In the process, the farmers were introduced to better farming methods which helped them produce and realize a higher profit, when any profit at all was critical to just existing.
At this time of the year when life long farmers and amateur gardeners are preparing their fields and gardens, I urge you to think back eight decades ago when, in times of economic tumult, the people of our county set aside a small part of their lands to benefit the work of the Lord from whom all blessings flow.