In a community whose very name reminds us to continue, gratitude is a tradition. Hopeful is an unincorporated area of ââMitchell County, made up of rolling farmland and old buildings full of memories. It was named after the Hopeful Baptist Church, which is – and itself serves – as the center of the community founded in the late 1800s. The church is the central gathering place, as much of it of the approximately 250 people who live here are members. There are also not many other large buildings that are not barns or warehouses. Hopeful has no restaurants, no stores. There is a peanut business, a youth camp, farms handed down from generation to generation.
Every year, a few days before Thanksgiving, the church holds a gathering where people share what they are grateful for. A similar discussion ensued during the potluck in the stock exchange room.
âOur gratitude is important to us because it reminds us to be thankful for the blessings that God has bestowed on us,â said Pastor Clay Cloud.
“We are all grateful,” said Jan Oliver, 81, “to be able to return to this church.” She has attended church most of her life and it has given her life to pray again with her neighbors and family.
Like many places of worship, Hopeful Baptist Church went virtual for many months during the pandemic.
At first it seemed okay to watch from home. But internet service can be spotty in Hopeful. Cloud would be in the middle of an important point, preaching at the empty sanctuary, and his flock would see him freezing.
âSuddenly that little circle starts,â Baggs said, mimicking the international symbol for buffering with his index finger.
The church’s return to in-person services – there is still a live broadcast, now with improved internet – has brought relief and joy. With the number of COVIDs slowing, restrictions have eased statewide. Earlier this month, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms lifted the city’s indoor mask mandate. School closures are less frequent. Sporting events are back. The Braves won the World Series, giving the state a long-awaited victory.
The other night, Baggs’ son’s 7 and 8-year-old football team finished their season. It was a crushing loss followed by tears in the eyes of the boys and their coach.
âBut we are done with years 10 and 2,â Baggs said.
Sometimes the blessing is on the bright side.
Sitting on his sunny farm, Ralph Davis, 79, said he was grateful for “life itself”.
It was not a clear answer. Davis’s health is in decline. He had COVID and he still lacks the smell and taste. Recently, a Savannah steakhouse worker had to keep him from choking on a piece of meat. Davis, who had been scared and turned purple at the time, now told the story with a laugh.
âIt’s something to be thankful for,â said Davis.
Davis, like others in Hopeful, put the place and its people at the top of his list. One of his ancestors helped move the original Hopeful Baptist Church to Burke County after, according to legend, noticing the beauty of the area as he passed to get his brother out of jail in another county.
Reggie Bostick, 67, a farmer who also sits on the Mitchell County Commission, said he had traveled and found there were great people everywhere. But these are the people he chooses.
âEveryone loves everyone,â he said.
Bostick remembers the hardships they went through together: floods, fires, storms, deaths. The community helped transport him and his family in 2006 when his son, Reggie Cleve Bostick Jr., 22, died in a truck crash.
The son was completing his degree in Agribusiness at the University of Georgia. He intended to return home and become a farmer alongside his father.
Elder Reggie now sees other fathers and sons working together on the family farms in Hopeful, sitting together in Hopeful Baptist Church. He suffers from not being able to have that part of the life he wanted. But as he watches he is thankful for what other fathers have.
âI am so grateful,â Bostick said. “This community, I think, is blessed.”
– Journalist Scott Trubey contributed to this article.