Old Fellowship Baptist Church is a devout scripture-based Missionary Baptist Church nestled in Stilson, GA. Old Fellowship has stood as a ‘lighthouse' in the community for nearly 180 years and is one of the oldest Baptist churches in Bulloch County. Established in 1844, it is located at the corner of Mud Road and Highway 80 East, just east of Stilson in Southeast Bulloch County.
Inside the walls of the historic church, beautiful music plays from its organ each Sunday morning at the hands of Etta Anne Akins Groover, Old Fellowship's organist for for the last 55 years -- and still going STRONG!
Etta Anne said, “I'm a Georgia Girl from Statesboro. Born and raised in Statesboro as an Akins, attended and graduated from Georgia Teachers College, now Georgia Southern University.”
She learned to play piano and the organ there at college. In 1958, Etta Anne married Wilson Groover, a farmer and longtime resident of Stilson. The couple settled in Stilson, where Wilson was born and raised in the Old Fellowship Baptist Church. The Groover's had 4 children (1 girl and 3 boys), 4 grandchildren, and “no great-grands yet,” Etta Anne said smiling.
Shortly after Etta Anne and Wilson settled in, they began attending Old Fellowship together. Her mother-in-law Ida Groover played the piano, and soon after, Etta Anne was ‘recruited’ to join. Just a little joke between them.
They took turns playing every Sunday, and in 1968, an organ was donated. Soon after, Etta Anne became the full-time organist every Sunday and NEVER left the spot. She liked playing the hymns with the 15 person choir and learned new songs as time passed. She said smiling that she was NOT fond of any of those 7-11 contemporary songs -- you know, "with 7 words and 11 verses.”
A new organ was acquired in 2000, and now Etta Anne’s daughter, Susan Boddiford, plays the piano.
The church currently has about 100-125 members. Dr. Tony Pagliarullo is the current Pastor, and his wife Cyd is the Family and Discipleship Minister. She often has the little children, 3-5 years, in the front singing with Etta Anne playing. She just loves that. “We are a blessed church,” she shared.
Susan said, “My Daddy was a lifelong Farmer, as well as a 20-year County Commissioner. I would describe my Mama as a ‘selfless person who goes out of her way to serve her friends.’ She is highly respected, knowledgeable and wise.”
When Wilson Groover died in March 1994, Etta Anne and the family purchased the beautiful stained glass covering the baptistery in his memory. It totally brightens up the sanctuary and is a wonderful addition to the chapel.
On July 6, 2024, Etta Anne will be 90 years young. You would never know by how exceptionally active she is. She drives, plays Canasta with her life-long friend Edith Hutchison a Stilson native and fellow Old Fellowship member, who Etta Anne calls ‘Edie.’ (Edie is 99, and Etta Anne has known her since 1958.) Edith joins the players on occasion, and they love catching up on the days gone by. Etta Anne also plays Bridge and is involved with Sunday School, along with the other fellowship gatherings that ‘Old Fellowship’ has on the calendar.
And of course, you can still find her each Sunday playing the organ, alongside Susan on the piano. They have had NO substitutes yet!
John Groover, one of Etta Anne’s sons, summed her up perfectly saying, “Having our mother serve as the organist for the church and the accompanist for the choir since before I can remember meant that when my siblings and I were growing up, if the church doors were open, our family was typically in attendance. Sometimes, choir practice was held in our home when we were children. She is an example for her children and grandchildren of living her faith, sharing her time and talents with her church family and the broader community. We are all grateful for her positive example and for her and our father providing a solid foundation and continuing inspiration for our own journeys of faith.”
Meeting Etta Anne and the wonderful people at ‘Old Fellowship’ made for a truly delightful visit. Looking very forward to hearing her play the organ and enjoying an ‘Old Time Religion’ Senior Moment!