Local still upset by church's new name

LAWRENCEVILLE - It has been a week since Hamilton Mill Baptist Church was formed from the membership of the former Hog Mountain Baptist Church.

But so far, time doesn't seem to ease the pain.

The church's pastor has refused to speak more about the issue, saying he's "tired of being run down" in the paper.

One member said she fears retribution if she discusses her feelings about the new name. And the president of Gwinnett's Historical Society said he's "real upset" about the decision to rechristen the 152-year-old church.

"I think changes like this devalue our heritage," Historical Society President Steve Starling said. Starling sent a letter to the Rev. Barney Williams on Nov. 30, urging him not to go forward with a plan to pick a new name for the historic congregation. Williams said he never received it - and that even if he had, it would not have changed his decision.

Charles Warbington, a 55-year church member who left in 1995, said the people he's been talking to about the change have been crying since it happened. Many have relatives buried in what they are still calling the Hog Mountain Baptist Church Cemetery, and many plan to be buried there themselves.

Claudette Miller, a church member, said her 86-year-old father made her promise that if he preceded her in death, his funeral would not be in the church.

Miller said she did not vote in a secret ballot that allowed church members to pick among five suggested names. Williams would not say how many people voted or what the margin of victory was.

While an answering machine still calls the congregation Hog Mountain Baptist Church, Miller said a sign with the Hamilton Mill name has already been erected.

For Warbington, the fact that the congregation picked the name of a prominent subdivision nearby only adds fuel to the fire.

"For an old church like that to be named after a new subdivision, I just don't get it," he said. "I just hate it."

Starling said that while Hamilton Mill was a historic name, it was insignificant when compared with Hog Mountain.

Hog Mountain, he said, predates Gwinnett County. The Hog Mountain House was the first hotel in the county, built in 1815. Gwinnett was not founded until 1818.

The church, which first met in 1854, is in a building that dates back to 1905.

Williams said previously that he wanted to change the name because hogs are looked down upon in the Bible. Other options for the name were Oak View Baptist Church, Fort Daniel Baptist Church, Mill Creek Baptist Church and Oak Hill Baptist Church. Members voted to change the church's name Nov. 19 in a 21-7 vote.

The new name won't be enough to attract new members, Starling said.

"It's up to the Lord, not up to marketing a new name," he said. "They might not have any luck growing until after they get a new minister."