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The Brotherhood at Vilulah


COLEMAN — Index readers would have to look far and wide to locate a more traditional Georgia Baptist congregation than they would find in Vilulah Baptist Church. For 145 years it has served as the backbone of the Vilulah community about 60 miles west of Albany.

The Brotherhood and Woman’s Missionary Union have been part of that backbone for as long as any can remember.

It’s small actions like that taken by the Vilulah Brotherhood on that dark night 42 years ago that underscores the need for such male ministry groups in churches of all sizes: groups that rally around those in need in the community and provide a Christian witness.

Terry Tobert, one of many farmers who call Vilulah their church home, remembers his father, Jack, taking him to Brotherhood and associational meetings when he was a young boy.

“Back then that’s about all there was going on in the county so it was exciting for me,” he says with a chuckle. A trip to Albany, a little over an hour away, was a once-a-month event and even more exciting.

“My dad and uncle, Herbert Blackburn, were leaders in reaching out to others in need in our community, and that’s where I learned those values. If a house burned they would help raise the money and actually help rebuild the home. They regularly went door-to-door to ask for funds to help others.

Terry Torbert

“As you get older you realize that your Dad was an even better man than what you gave him credit for,” he continues.

“Back in those days the Brotherhood had a pretty active card ministry to soldiers as well as our missionaries. They met once a month but they had a strong group, meeting for about three hours for Bible study.”

Tolbert’s father passed away in 1987; in September, just before the letter was received from Jack in South Carolina, the remaining two Brotherhood members who participated in sending the cards passed away.

When Jack Tolbert and Henry Blackburn and others wrote those notes to U.S. servicemen in 1970, the Brotherhood numbered about 15; now it is down to about a half-dozen and the church has dwindled to 50 members.

David Murphy

Bivocational pastor David Murphy, who has served the church since 1998, says there are increasingly fewer people in Randolph County due to the recession and residents moving elsewhere to seek employment. In fact, the city of Coleman was abolished by Georgia House Bill 1120 effective Jan. 1, 2007. Only 149 residents were recorded in the 2000 census.

Yet churches like Vilulah continue to play an important role.

“Our Brotherhood is important on so many different levels,” he explains.

Joe Westbury/Index

Vilulah bivocational pastor David Murphy, left, and Brotherhood member Terry Torbert read Jack’s letter of gratitude in the church sanctuary. Torbert’s father Jack and uncle Herbert Blackburn were among the men who sent the Christmas cards in 1970.

“It provides a sense of community for the men, an opportunity for Bible study and spiritual growth, and offers a channel for community outreach. The men regularly take up a collection for those in the community who are in need.

“In our little community the men will pull together to get groceries or cut an ill neighbor’s grass, cut up a downed tree after a storm. It’s really like a small version of Mayberry; we look after each other in the name of Christ.”

Murphy remembers well the day he pulled the letter from Jack from the church mailbox.

“When I saw it I thought it was from someone sending a memorial contribution in memory of someone who had passed away. But as I began to read it I was deeply touched, having served in the military myself.

“The letter made me real proud to know that the Brotherhood did something like that and made a difference in a stranger’s life. When you’re in the military far from home it really lifts your spirit to know that someone is thinking of you.

“As a soldier once, changing airplanes in St. Louis during the war, a fellow soldier and I were spit on by some protesters in the airport. This gesture by our Brotherhood affirmed Jack and others and let them know they were appreciated in the middle of a very unpopular war.

“I knew that our Brotherhood was a nice group of men but this lets you know they are nicer than nice. They could have said ‘We don’t know anyone serving over there, what difference will it make to send cards to strangers?’ Jack’s response is the answer to that question.

“I can’t tell you how much it has meant to our church and the entire community. Because we live in such an economically depressed area, something like that – a pat on the back – really boosts our spirits. I’ve shared the story many times and folks comment on how rare it is to get a reply like that.

“You know, I believe that if someone has impacted your life you need to thank them for it and let them know they made a difference in your life. It’s like sending flowers to someone before their funeral.

“Don’t wait too long; thank someone for the blessing they have been while you have the chance and while they can still hear it.”