Byne Memorial Baptist to celebrate 100 years

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY -- Walk into the front doors of Byne Memorial Baptist Church, and you'll notice several tables displaying photos and memorabilia detailing the church's 100-year-history.

That's just a taste of what's in store as the 2,300-member congregation prepares to celebrate its centennial anniversary Sunday.

According to anniversary chairperson Brenda Wasden, the celebration will feature guest speaker the Rev. Gerald Harris, editor of the Christian Index, the newspaper of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Also taking part in the service will be former Byne staff members.

"Mike Gravette, former pastor from 1992-2002, will give his testimony," Wasden, an 11-year Byne member, said. "Former minister of missions Keith Travis will read from Scripture."

The program will also include former Byne youth minister the Rev. Jim Pagans and Linda Baxter, former director of the church's children's program.

A contribution from a current member will also highlight Sunday's special worship service.

"Our special music will be an anniversary hymn written by Sylvia Lanier," Wasden said.

According to Byne minister of education the Rev. Charlie Brown, former staff members are expected to be joined by an undetermined number of former Byne members, as well as friends and family of current members of the church.

"We've sent invitations all over," said the pastor, who has served at Byne since 1991.

"We're just going to have a good, old-fashioned reunion," Wasden added.

The celebration marks Byne's founding, as documented in "History and Reminiscences of Dougherty County, Ga.: Compiled by Members of Thronateeska Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution."

"Byne Memorial Baptist Church was organized Jan. 24, 1910 to meet the needs of the fast-growing population in north Albany," an excerpt of the book states.

Some 33 charter members met in a chapel building at the corner of North Washington and Second streets those first days before what was then called Byneville Mission moved to a tent on the corner of Society and North Jackson streets.

According to "History and Reminiscences," a red, pressed-brick building was constructed on that same site after $20,000 was donated by the church's namesake, "Mrs. G.M. Byne and Miss Marilu Byne (Mrs. Byne's daughter) in 1910, as a memorial to their husband and father G.M. Byne."

As with Albany, itself, Byne continued to grow, moving to its current location on Ledo Road in 1997.

In its time, Byne has started mission churches in the community which would become Sunnyside Baptist Church and Tabernacle Baptist Church.

According to Dot Hautman, who has been a member of Byne for 65 years, the church has been an important part of her life.

"I met my husband there," the 82-year-old Albany native said. "We courted there. We got married there. We raised our three daughters there."

As with any church, some times have been better than others.

"We have ups and downs," Hautman said, explaining that some ministries have come and gone. "We had a bus ministry 30 years ago. It drove all over town and picked up children for church. Now we don't."

Ministries that have remained strong include Byne's 40-year-old deaf ministry and Byne Christian School, which was established in 1983.

"Byne (Christian School) was started because there were Christians in the church who saw the humanistic education system threatening the Christian values of children," said David Bess, the school's headmaster.

Today the school teaches 125 students.

According to the Rev. Matthew Nance, who has been pastor of Byne for about eight months, hearing students from the school, as well as the church's Child Development Center, is a daily pleasure.

"I get to look out my window and see children go by every day," said the church's 18th pastor.

In its 100-year history, mission work has been a strong thread in the fabric of Byne. According to Brown, such trips have taken church members to places like New York City, Mexico and Russia. But working in the Albany community has been a priority, too.

"We just donated a freezer to the Lord's Pantry," Brown said.

While Sunday will mark a time of looking back on Byne's history, Nance wants the church to also look ahead to the beginning of its next 100 years. Part of that has already begun, with Byne serving an untapped ethnic group.

"We have recently started a Vietnamese church," Nance said.

Just in its fourth month, the service has about 50 Vietnamese attending.

"There are about 250 in town altogether," the pastor said.

Nance said he hopes Sunday's anniversary will motivate Byne members to continue looking ahead.

"A new theme we've been talking about is 'A New Day'," the former missionary said.

That "new day" includes finding new ways to reach out to the community and using technology to remain viable.

"We have a new Web site," Nance said, "and most of our members are Internet-friendly."

Just to make sure, the pastor gives members a weekly nudge to become so.

"At the end of my column in our newsletter, I always write 'I'll see you on Facebook,' " Nance said.

Byne's anniversary worship service is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Sunday, followed by a lunch in the fellowship hall and a time of reflection on the church's history in the sanctuary at 1:30 p.m.