(405) 425-5070
Spanish moss hangs from the majestic oak trees in Savannah's Forsyth Park.
Insight
Photo by Erik Tryggestad

After two decades away, a busy and blessed Sunday in Savannah


SAVANNAH, Ga. — The unmistakable smell of paper mill mixed with salt marsh hit my nostrils as soon as I stepped out of the airport. After 22 years, I was back in Savannah. 

Gen. James Oglethorpe arrived here in 1733 with 120 passengers on a ship named the Anne. They established America’s 13th colony, Georgia, named after King George II.

Erik Tryggestad stands next to the parlor apartment he and Dan McGregor rented during their time in Savannah, Ga.

Erik Tryggestad stands next to the parlor apartment he and Dan McGregor rented during their time in Savannah, Ga. McGregor, then a master’s student at the Savannah College of Art and Design, is now a professor at Abilene Christian University in Texas.

It was to be a place for England’s working poor to get a new start — and a buffer against Florida. (Thankfully, my Bulldogs have been able to keep the Gators at bay in recent years.)

Savannah’s original charter gave folks the freedom to worship as they pleased. Rum, lawyers and slavery were illegal — at first, anyway.

I lived here less than three years, from 1999 to 2001, but they were dog years. I came from the Athens Banner-Herald to work for the state’s best newspaper, The Savannah Morning News, covering cops and crime. I got a taste of the very worst this beautiful city had to offer.

Members of the Parkway Church of Christ in Savannah, Ga., gather for Dan McGregor's art exhibition at the Savannah College of Art and Design. The group includes Erik Tryggestad, Jerry and Rachel Lamb with newborn Sarah, Wendy Dooldeniya, McGregor and Chanaka Dooldeniya.

Members of the Parkway Church of Christ in Savannah, Ga., gather for Dan McGregor’s art exhibition at the Savannah College of Art and Design. The group includes Erik Tryggestad, Jerry and Rachel Lamb with newborn Sarah, Wendy Dooldeniya, McGregor and Chanaka Dooldeniya.

Savannah had a then-record 42 homicides in 1999, fueled by poverty, drugs and gang life. Most were Black-on-Black crime in the public housing communities — prompting Savannah’s wealthy to shrug. Then a White tourist died in a botched robbery and a clamor arose for law and order, followed by a wave of racial tension.

With a police scanner hanging from my belt, I would hop into the black Ford Mustang of our crime photographer, Bob Morris, to get to the homicide du jour. We’d peel out of the parking lot and immediately get stuck behind a horse-drawn carriage giving tours of the old downtown. 

“Hurry up, horse!” Bob would yell as I muttered, “Tourists.”

Now I was the tourist. And boy, the city sure looked different. 

Spanish moss hangs from the majestic oak trees in Savannah's Forsyth Park.

Spanish moss hangs from the majestic oak trees in Savannah’s Forsyth Park.

I walked around Forsyth Park, just like I had countless times when Dan McGregor and I lived in an apartment on East Gaston Street in the historic district. The 165-year-old fountain is still there, and the Spanish moss hangs from the majestic oaks just like it always has. 

But somehow it was more beautiful, more serene than before.


Related: Wedding makes me thankful for the Lambs of God


The churches I visited on a busy Sunday seemed different, too. When I lived here, I was too focused on and frustrated by the lack of single females to appreciate the wonderful souls I encountered. 

A rundown of my visits: 

The first smiling face I saw as I walked through the door of the Parkway Church of Christ was Wesley Coxwell, age 92. He and his wife, Bernice, were stalwarts of the congregation, two of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Bernice passed away during my time with the Morning News, and I wrote a column about her unshakable faith. I didn’t realize I was preparing for a career in faith-based reporting. 

Wesley Coxwell, left, and Erik Tryggestad worship on Sunday with the Parkway Church of Christ.

Wesley Coxwell, left, and Erik Tryggestad worship on Sunday with the Parkway Church of Christ.

Minister John Ross let me speak during Bible class and deliver the sermon. I met Andrew Jones, young adults and college minister, and learned just a bit about his faith journey. Ben Katko, a deacon and news anchor for WSAV, told me how he became part of the church. (I’m so glad they’ve still got a local media guy!) The TV station covered “The Well,” a time during worship when kids go around the auditorium and collect funds for local needs. Look for more on that in the future. 

After two decades away, I was surprised by the number of people I knew — Vondean Williams, Calvin Hodges, Jon Cronin and more. And I was thrilled to see ethnic diversity in the church. 

@christianchronicle SAVANNAH, Ga. — The Parkway Church of Christ’s Sunday worship #savannahgeorgia #ashieldaboutme #churchofchrist #sundayworship ♬ original sound – The Christian Chronicle

• After brother Ross treated me to an exquisite lunch of low country boil (something I’ve missed dearly since leaving Savannah) I swung by the Liberty City Church of Christ just in time to catch minister Fred Hall before he and his wife, Barbara, headed out on vacation. The church had just wrapped up its ministry fair, which was designed to give its 150 members the chance to be a part of its outreach, marriage enrichment, sick and shut-in, and senior “Pillars of Faith” ministries, to name a few. 

Fred and Barbara Hall with their son, Kason, stand outside the building of the Liberty City Church of Christ.

Fred and Barbara Hall with their son, Kason, stand outside the building of the Liberty City Church of Christ.

The church is working hard to re-engage with its community after the isolation of the pandemic. The Halls are natives of Savannah and trained for ministry at Sunset International Bible Institute in Lubbock, Texas.

• I met another former roommate, Jerome Watson, and his wife, Nicole, for coffee. We reminisced about our days in the singles ministry at Savannah Christian Church (now Compassion Christian). Six months after I moved to Oklahoma I flew back to Savannah in 2002 to be in their wedding. This was my first visit back! 

Erik Tryggestad with Jerome and Nicole Watson at Gallery Espresso in downtown Savannah.

Erik Tryggestad with Jerome and Nicole Watson at Gallery Espresso in downtown Savannah.

• On Sunday night I attended Bible study with the Central Church of Christ. I was thrilled to see John McCain — not the late senator. This John McCain was (and still is) a never-miss-a-Sunday kind of guy.

John McCain, left, and Robert Ridgeway after Sunday night Bible study at the Central Church of Christ.

John McCain, left, and Robert Ridgeway after Sunday night Bible study at the Central Church of Christ.

I met Central’s new minister, Robert Ridgeway, who studied at Kentuckiana Bible College in Louisville, Ky., before the school closed in 2018. He led a discussion of “Church Reset: God’s Design for So Much More” by Jack Wilkie of Focus Press. The book discusses the movement of churches to an organizational structure with customers instead of congregants and plots a path for returning to discipleship and community. 

Central Church of Christ minister Robert Ridgeway and Erik Tryggestad have similar taste in sitcoms.

Central Church of Christ minister Robert Ridgeway and Erik Tryggestad have similar taste in sitcoms.

Ridgeway opened with a discussion of the word “Christian” itself, which comes from a Greek term meaning “little Christ.” It was meant as a jeer, and now it’s a label we wear proudly. It was a great reminder of our purpose as a tight-knit family of faith — not a country club or consumer-driven business.

We talked about the rich young ruler from Luke 18 and how living in community for Jesus requires discomfort. “Jesus coming here was stepping out of his comfort zone,” Ridgeway said. In the same way, “risking ourselves for someone caught in sin is holy.” He challenged us to look for practical ways we can show sacrificial love to people in our lives.

John Ross and Erik Tryggestad enjoy some great low country boil at the Savannah Seafood Shack.

Parkway Church of Christ minister John Ross and Erik Tryggestad enjoy some great low country boil at the Savannah Seafood Shack.

I guess that sense of community was the difference in my short time living in Savannah and my short visit here. The souls I encountered 22 years ago were guides on my way toward my life’s calling in Oklahoma. That’s where I met my wife, the place where my two girls were born, the place where I became a deacon and a lover of the Lord’s church worldwide.

The Morning News gave me invaluable training in the fundamentals of reporting — and an understanding of the social ills that underly the evil we see in our world.

The Morning News gave me invaluable training in the fundamentals of reporting — and an understanding of the social ills that underly the evil we see in our world. The lessons of Savannah heavily influence my work at The Christian Chronicle.

Erik Tryggestad stands on home plate at Grayson Stadium, home of the minor league Savannah Bananas.

Erik Tryggestad stands on home plate at Grayson Stadium, home of the minor league Savannah Bananas.

It was a such a joy to see those deeply rooted in Savannah — and those newly planted there — as God uses them to spread his light in the darkness. I pray that they bloom and flourish under the shade of the Spanish moss.

ERIK TRYGGESTAD is President and CEO of The Christian Chronicle. Contact [email protected], and follow him on Twitter @eriktryggestad.

Filed under: Athens Banner-Herald Churches of Christ faith heritage Insight Opinion Perspective Sunset International Bible Institute The Savannah Morning News Top Stories Views visiting churches

Don’t miss out on more stories like this.

Subscribe today to receive more inspiring articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox twice a month.

Did you enjoy this article?

Your donation helps us not only keep our quality of journalism high, but helps us continue to reach more people in the Churches of Christ community.

$
Personal Info

Dedicate this Donation

In Honor/Memory of Details

Card Notification Details

Credit Card Info
This is a secure SSL encrypted payment.
Billing Details

Donation Total: $3 One Time