Never mind the yellowed photos and dated exterior. The Tabernacle was never just a building or an old-time meeting place, fashioned on the country side of Tifton, Georgia.
Over the course of 50 years, this worship center became an anchor place of ministry in the South Georgia Church of God. This is where souls were saved, ministry calls were answered, baptism fire received – and generations of sons and daughters impacted for Christ.
Before 1972, North and South Georgia were one region. Camp meeting was one perennial road trip, bouncing around different locations for decades. It wasn’t until the South Georgia side of the state purchased the Old Tifton Country Club that they would have a permanent home to call their own – and on it, between a few leftover putting greens just past the fishing pond, the open-air Tabernacle immediately became the family room.
For the first 16 years, camp meetings and youth camps were held under the gnat-filled skies – the only air conditioning came in the form of a gentle breeze through the summer night. The lineup of preachers who filled the wooden pulpit reads off like a Mount Rushmore competition in the Church of God – Ray Hughes preached an entire week, crowning this campground the best of them all after fishing all morning; native son T.L. Lowery was always a beloved favorite in healing services. There were the Brock Brothers, Ronnie and Steve, the preaching and singing duo. There was Cecil Knight standing before a record crowd of 3,000 in 1977, South Georgia’s first camp meeting as its own region, with state overseer Robert Hart amening in his corner. By night’s end, the wooden altars would be drenched, equal parts sweat and tears with 80 saved and 62 filled with the Spirit.
The roof, carpet and padded seats came in 1989. Central air and heat wasn’t far behind. The fire kept falling just the same. More generals of the faith preached their way through crowds of up to 3,000 – Loran Livingston, father and son J. Frank and Raymond Culpepper, Paul Walker, Dennis McGuire, Floyd Lawhon, Lamar Vest, Mark Williams, Tim Hill … too many to remember, too powerful to ever forget.
And how about that local talent? You can still hear Pam Dawson, working the Hammond B3 Organ with Leslie Speakers, and Cheryl Hughes, pounding the Baldwin Grand Piano. Youth choirs filled the stage on weekend nights of camp meeting, 450 next-gen voices strong on the wall-to-wall risers. Sound systems were updated over the years, screens were replaced, one generation after another of musicians filed through. This is where today’s worship leaders and musicians discovered their callings during Teen Talent competitions.
All of this makes the April 21 fire that destroyed the structure so painful to watch, so hurtful to experience. But then, maybe the building of a new Tabernacle will give a new generation the chance to dig out the next foundation, and build on what God has done in the South Georgia Church of God for the next 50 years.
- By David White