This Month in SEC History: September 1966

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by Mike Stroud

A large number of churches have come and gone through the Southeast Conference’s doors throughout its nearly 58-year existence, most in the latter category. But the SEC has made tremendous efforts to establish new churches, and its first official effort kicked off just eight months after its began operations, in September 1966. In that month, the Bonanza United Church of Christ in Jonesboro, Georgia, 20 miles due south of Atlanta, was born when its pastor, the Rev. Floyd Carmack, moved with his family to a parsonage and a steering committee of Atlanta-area clergy and laypeople, including Conference Minister William Andes, began work.

The October 1966 Southeast News reported the following: “Mr. Carmack reported calls he had made on about fifty families in the community, finding much interest in the establishment of a church there … The possibility of obtaining hymnals from another church, and the need of a piano, typewriter, chairs, materials for Sunday School, and teachers was discussed. The beginning date for church worship service was set as Sunday, November 6th.”

By the end of the decade, well over 100 people were involved with the congregation, and it joined the now-defunct Georgia-South Carolina Association in 1968. After years of meeting in temporary quarters, Bonanza UCC, which took its name from the subdivision of its location which in turn was probably named after a popular television program of that time, constructed a building in 1974. In 1986, the church changed its name to Trinity UCC. For several more years, it remained active in Association and Conference affairs, such as hosting the 1983 Annual Conference Meeting.

Things changed, however, in the 1990s when Carmack retired after a 30-year pastorate. As might be expected, a loss of direction set in, and a series of non-UCC ordinands and licensed ministers led the congregation into alternative theological directions, particularly toward charismatic worship. This occurred simultaneously with dramatic demographic change in the church’s neighborhood, meaning that most if not all the original members had moved off or died, leaving a different constituency that the UCC apparently could not satisfy. In 2001, the church sadly withdrew from the denomination, but continues today as an independent, non-denominational Pentecostal congregation led by a female minister.

In the late 1970s, two other “spoke” church starts in the suburban ring around Interstate 285 were attempted; only one survives today. Today, the legacy of Bonanza/Trinity UCC lives on in the Southeast Conference’s determination and commission to bring an inclusive Christian message to corners of the South where it otherwise might never be heard.