LAWRENCEVILLE - The pastor of Hog Mountain Baptist Church said he did not receive a letter sent by the county historical society urging him not to change the church's name, but even if he had, it would not influence his decision.
"The church is a sovereign body of its own," the Rev. Barney Williams said. "As far as I'm concerned, they have no influence on us."
The letter, written by Gwinnett Historical Society President Steven Starling and faxed to the Gwinnett Daily Post, was dated Nov. 30. Starling did not return messages seeking more information about the letter.
In it, he asked Williams and members of the 152-year-old church to reconsider changing its name, saying that Hog Mountain was one of the first settled areas of the county.
"The historic name Hog Mountain and the Baptist Church there are such a rich part of our counties (sic) history," he wrote. "We would hate to see such a vital part of the county history taken away with the changing of your churches (sic) name."
But Williams said the church's name isn't the business of the historical society or anyone other than church members.
"They have nothing to do with changing the name," he said. "They can't stop it, but they'd sure like to."
Members voted to change the church's name Nov. 19 in a 21-7 vote. Options for the new name, which will be decided Sunday, are Oak View Baptist Church, Fort Daniel Baptist Church, Hamilton Mill Baptist Church, Mill Creek Baptist Church and Oak Hill Baptist Church.
Williams said he expects about 40 of the congregation's 75 members to vote on a new name.
The pastor said he thinks the name will bring more members into the congregation. The fact that hogs are associated with sin in the Bible led him to consider the change, which has been discussed for five years. Williams has been a pastor there for 10 years, following a previous stint in the 1960s.
Erline Anderson, who joined Hog Mountain Baptist Church when she was 14 but left the congregation in 1964 or 1965, said she doesn't think the name should be changed. Anderson is 75 and said her parents, sister and husband are all buried in the church's cemetery.
After running into Williams at the grocery store, Anderson said she's convinced that the pastor has run off many long-time members.
"He won't let anybody say anything," she said. "He's got everybody scared."
Anderson said Williams told her he didn't care about the feelings of those people who had family members buried in the cemetery or the deceased themselves because they are already dead. Earlier this year, the church tried to sell some land that abuts the cemetery for a shopping center. That deal fell through, despite Williams' support, because county commissioners were unwilling to encroach upon the 1840s burial ground.
He said that experience made him no fan of the historical society, but wasn't the reason for the change.
"I'm not really in love with them," Williams said. "But that has nothing to do with changing the name."