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An indomitable group that is perennially young


SOCIAL CIRCLE — Barbara McPeak is a member of First Baptist Church in Social Circle, but like most Christians her faith began to take shape when she was only a child.

McPeak grew up under the pastorate of Dr. L.E. Smith at Atlanta’s Park Avenue Baptist Church. Her family started attending the church in 1943 when she was only four years old. Smith was pastor of the church located across from Grant Park for almost forty years – from 1927 to 1966.

The Loyal Friends Club at Lou’s Diner are Jean Wilson, Peggy Stephens, Helen Castleberry, Joan Hollingsworth, Barbara McPeak, Norma Wunderlick, Susan O’Kelley, Geri White, Jean Brooks.

“He was a kind, soft-spoken man and truly a man of God,” recalls McPeak. “I have always said he (Smith) was the most Christlike person I ever knew. He was loved by all members and especially the young people.”

Although the Park Avenue church has struggled to maintain a viable ministry in recent years, McPeak insists the church is once again becoming a lighthouse to the community. The church has endured the exodus of many of the older, stalwart members, but in recent years the community and church have enjoyed an influx of many young professionals.

Park Avenue has a homecoming the first Sunday in June each year and it was at one of those homecomings in the late 1970s that several people who had been a part of the church’s youth group in the 50s decided to set a time to get together. Interestingly enough, the group has been getting together twice a year for three decades.

Homecoming provides the perfect opportunity for the group to gather and worship and fellowship, but the 1950s-era youth group also gathers with their spouses at the church or in someone’s home on the first Saturday of each December.

McPeak declares, “Back in our days in the youth department we had youth prayer meeting on Wednesday night. We filled the choir loft and sang for the Sunday evening services. We had youth fellowships after the Sunday evening services. We were the ‘youth group’ and so that is how we still refer to ourselves.

“Our girls’ Sunday School teacher when we were in the 11th and 12th grades was Betty Jo Curry Morris. At that time we thought of her as much older, but in reality she was only about seven years our senior. She had graduated from Bessie Tift College and was married, but she was a wonderful teacher and mentor. She still meets with our ‘youth group’ and we look at her as our age. She and her husband, Mark, are very dear to our group.”

Since the Park Avenue “youth group” was formed some of the members or spouses have gone on to be with the Lord, but the other members stay in touch and faithfully minister to each other in times of sickness or bereavement.

“It is a blessing to stay in touch and see how everyone has matured in the Lord,” McPeak explained. “Everyone in the group serves the Lord in one way or another in the churches where they are members. I just praise the Lord for our precious memories of growing up with godly leaders who took the time to love us and listen to us and guide us in His ways.”

It appears that the inspiration for this 1950s youth group came from their parents. McPeak remarked, “An extension of our youth group is the Loyal Friends Club of Park Avenue Baptist Church. This name continues a tradition initiated by some of our mothers who formed the original Loyal Friends Club of Park Avenue.

“Sometime in the late 1940s the Sunday School Board of the SBC asked that churches age-grade their Sunday School classes. Many of our mothers were in the same class, but not the same age. They really didn’t want to break up their class, but did so, because they wanted to set a good example.”

So, the ladies embraced the age-graded mandate for the Sunday School, but formed the Loyal Friends Club composed of the old class members. They met twice a year until the last few members of the club died.

McPeak added, “They had fun, fellowship, and a deep love for each other. What an example they set for their daughters to keep in touch with old friends.

“As daughters, we grew up and watched the love and fellowship of our dear mothers grow deeper as they shared God’s love with one another and with others.”

In more recent years McPeak and this extended group of her former Sunday School classmates have taken some long trips together – to Myrtle Beach, Florida, and the mountains. She stated, “We celebrate birthdays quarterly. We have such wonderful times together; and when we get together we just pick up right where we left off at the last outing.

“What great memories we have growing up together with each other, and with godly families in a wonderful Christ-centered church.”