Members of LaFayette Presbyterian Church commemorated the sanctuary's long and storied history this month with the dedication of two new historical markers near the property.
The plaques, which cost $2,500 each, were dedicated on Aug. 12 as part of an anniversary celebration for the church, which, at 182 years old, stands as the oldest church building in LaFayette.
The first marker, placed in front of the building, tells the story of LaFayette Presbyterian Church's 1836 origin, details its renovations throughout the years and recounts its use as a field hospital during the Civil War.
David Boyle, president of the Walker County Historical Society, said the markers and anniversary celebration were especially meaningful this year following the recent collapse of a building on the square that once served as the Marsh General Store, also built in 1836.
"The loss of that historic building sort of made us all realize we've got to preserve our history while we've got it because you could lose historic buildings and you could lose historic information," he said.
Richard Carlton, who sits on the church's board of trustees, said he hopes the markers make people feel a little less intimidated to take a step inside the sanctuary.
"The Presbyterians have a reputation of being very, very conservative but our church is a very welcoming church, a very inclusive church," said Carlton, pointing to the plaque, which shows that the church had African-American members back in the 1800s, which he said was rare in the Civil War era.
The second marker is located across the street and serves to commemorate the formation of Presbyterian Memorial Park. The pocket park was established in 2011 as a gift from the church to the community as part of the house of worship's 175th anniversary celebration.
Boyle said the marker is important because it informs passersby that the park was developed as a joint effort between the church, the city and the county, highlighting the power of collaboration.
"It's a good example of public-private partnership in that the city still pays for the electricity to power the lights in it, and the city helped us with the installation of the marker," he said.
In addition to pedestrian lighting, redbud trees, benches and a stained glass sculpture, the small park is home to a recently installed mini food pantry stocked with easily cooked items like noodles, as well as nonperishables like canned goods. The birdhouse-sized pantry, refilled multiple times a week by the church, is frequented by young parents in the community who are struggling to make enough to support a family, said Boyle.
"Their income is just not enough to carry them all the way through the month with adequate food," he explained. "It's a systemic problem right now throughout the country, but in Georgia, specifically, where wages are low, you can have people employed full time who still need help."
Church members believe the newly placed marker will serve as a ministry because many who use the pantry or just visit the park for leisure don't know about the church's involvement in the recreational area.
"We just want people to know that we are here and we do welcome them and they can find peace," Carlton said. "Just coming through our doors, they can find peace."
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