By Alice C. Newgen, Reporter
Religion comes in many forms with varying degrees of commitment. Individuals have different belief systems that can cause conflicting viewpoints among family members and friends. Some people take religion with a nonchalant attitude. Others go to extreme depths searching for the truth of God.
The Bible is the Word of God that has been the most read book for generations. There are many interpretations that have created numerous sects and denominations. Faith healing is an important element in certain groups. Miraculous healings have been reported and confirmed in instances while other times divine healing has not saved individuals. The combined belief of healing by faith and the benefit of a physician is adhered to by many religious circles.
David Cady, author of three books, including “Religion of Fear,” goes deep into a particular group that was started by Charlie “C.T.” Pratt in 1917. Three generations of the Pratt family guided their church members through a gradual transition that inspired some while causing confusion and dismay in others.
The Church of God of the Union Assembly, a Pentecostal sect, as described by some individuals, is the main emphasis in “Religion of Fear.” Cady, a former Dalton High School science teacher, provides investigative information on the subject that he garnered from church assembly minutes, records, deeds, and hundreds of interviews with members and former members.
Known as the Pratt Church by locals, its beginnings go back to a charismatic leader with dedicated followers. In time, C.T. Pratt’s fourth son, Jesse, takes over the reigns of approximately 15,000 members. He stresses total obedience, according to the book. Things change after his mysterious death at the age of fifty-six in Cady’s account.
Included in the description of “Religion of Fear” it says, “this event triggered a succession crisis in the Pratt family ranks as Jesse’s wife fostered her son Jesse Junior’s rise to power and spurned other heirs presumptive to the Church. Jesse turned out to be a tormented leader who drove his followers to the brink of poverty with an uncompromising demand that they give their all to God, and to him. The church’s fortune squandered and its future under threat, Jesse Junior’s mother was finally forced to have her favored son removed and defrocked. For all its troubling twists and turns, Cady’s chronicle ends with a minor miracle, as Jesse’s younger brother Charlie T. Pratt III, takes over leadership and manages to expel the oppressive air of the church and hold the community together in the process.”
In the book it talks about some of the strict guidelines that men and women who attended the church had to follow in daily life. Men and women were not allowed to swim together. They could not attend movies, read novels, play board games, or watch television when they were first sold.
Members were forbidden to take any type of medicine or see a doctor. They could see a dentist or chiropractor when necessary. Pregnant women were not permitted to have a doctor’s assistance when their time came to deliver their baby.
C.T. And Minnie Pratt’s daughters, Flora Hughes and Leola Crider, along with Dimple Sneed, delivered most of the members’ babies that were born in north Georgia and surrounding areas. The church maternity ward was located in Spring Place in the old Spring Place School building that is currently for sale. The church also had apartments that had been converted into a maternity ward.
Mentioned in the book is a recollection of Johnnie Haney Butler, an expectant mother who came to the maternity center to give birth.
According to Cady’s book, she said, “Sister Hughes left the room. In a moment she walked back into the room with an axe in her hand. ‘What is that for,’ I asked. ‘This is to put under your bed to cut the after-birth pains in half.’ Sister Hughes stuck the axe underneath my bed and I wondered how these people could be so superstitious.”
Another woman named Jesse Bee was taken to the Spring Place maternity ward to give birth to a boy, according to Cady’s book. She already had three girls and a son. She had felt flushed and dizzy prior to getting to the church maternity ward. Her hands and feet were swollen. After delivering her baby all seemed well for a few hours. Then, Jesse went into convulsions. Flora Hughes and others prayed for Jesse but to no avail. More convulsions weakened the mother. She fell into a coma and died. According to the written account if she had been treated by a physician or a registered midwife they would have recognized the symptoms as preeclampsia weeks before and possibly saved her life.
The Church of God Union Assembly continues to play a role in various communities today. It is not as well known as it was years ago.
“This church, even though it was centered in this area had fifty-four churches in nineteen states in its height in 1995,” said Cady.” Now, they have about forty churches in twelve states. Now they believe in doctors and women can cut their hair, wear shorts, and go swimming in bathing suits. Before that they had to take safety pins and pin their dresses to go.”
Cady says he has put eight years into researching and working on his book.
He said, “C.T. Charlie Thomas started this in Dalton and Murray County. Actually it started in Center, Georgia, which is now White, Georgia. They moved here in 1921. The main headquarters has always been in Dalton. It still is in Dalton. I found in the 1940 census, even though his main church was there, C.T lived in Murray County.”
According to Cady, members would give what they had to the church and older women whose husbands had passed away would give the church their farms and live in the Spring Place building on one side with the maternity ward on the other side.
His research revealed what life was like in the early days of this church. The book gives a more in-depth history of the Pratt family and the church they started and how members dedicated their lives to a specific set of beliefs.
“Religion of Fear” is in its second printing and will be available on Amazon.com and various bookstores in the area.