A 103-year-old Georgia woman was banished from her church for a sin the pastor can’t forgive—she disagreed with how he preached.
Genora Hamm Biggs has attended Union Grove Baptist Church in Elberton since she was 11 years old. But last month, Rev. Tim Mattox sent a letter informing her she could no longer visit her lifelong parish “for any reason whatsoever.” The ouster has spurred a feud between the revered centenarian and other congregants in the tiny church.
“The church means everything to me,” Biggs told The Daily Beast via phone. “I’ve been there for 92 years. Everybody I talk with says they’ve never heard of anything like this, and neither have I.”
“I don’t plan to leave,” she added. “I’m here to stay.”
Biggs returned to church the following Sunday despite Mattox’s warning, only to have the police called on her.
Biggs and her grandson, Elliiott Dye, sat in the pews, refusing to move. “[Mattox] said, ‘If you don’t go, you’ll be escorted out.’ I still didn’t go,” Biggs said. “They turned out the lights while we were sitting there, so we got up and went out. After we left, they went back in.”
Officers didn’t take any action. “We’re not going over there and throwing a 103-year-old lady out of her church,” Elberton’s police chief later told the Athens Banner-Herald.
Mattox did not return messages left by The Daily Beast.
In his Aug. 2 letter to Biggs, Mattox claimed his flock took a vote on her ouster. “This letter is to inform you… any membership or associations that you have had with this church are now officially revoked,” he wrote, according to Fox 5 in Atlanta.
The dispute arises over Mattox’s “Sanctified Church”-style sermons. Dye told The Daily Beast that Mattox was hired a few years ago as a Baptist minister, but in recent months his services draw from the style and content of other denominations.
“It culminated here about three months ago when he invited members of a Sanctified church to our church,” Dye said. “We really saw then what he was about.”
Dye said Mattox fancies himself a “healer” and holds special services where he puts a hand on people with various afflictions to fix their problems through God.
“He dances, waves his hands, he uses a tambourine,” Dye said, adding that veteran members of the holy house—about 40 miles east of Athens—would rather see him resign and open his own Sanctified church.
Biggs said she disagreed with Mattox’s “style of preaching, moving around, moving his legs, falling on the floor. That’s not our style of service.”
Indeed, Biggs has been vocal in her demands that Mattox leave Union Grove. “He has been asked to resign, but he did not resign,” she conceded.
Despite local media attention surrounding the schism, the preacher’s standoff with the elderly churchgoer continues with no end in sight. Biggs claims Mattox refuses to return her calls and walks away when she approaches him with her walker.
Dye said the un-Christian behavior doesn’t stop there. He claims that when he took Biggs to a monthly church business meeting she’s attended for years, fellow members ran off.
“Now if she comes in the room, they go to another room,” Dye said. “She can walk very slowly but she can’t see very well, so I guide her. It made it impossible for her to participate. After they [moved] twice, I said, ‘Mama, that’s it. Let’s just go. We can’t keep chasing them.’”
Mattox’s sermons have also focused on “devils” and “nonbelievers” lately, and Team Biggs believes the pastor is referring to them. “They hate us there,” Dye told The Daily Beast. “They call us names. They make rude references to us.”
“They don’t point us out, but everyone in the church knows who the pastor is referring to,” he added. “The last three Sundays have been about the devil and what the devil is trying to do to the church.”
Glen Jackson, a deacon at Union Grove, would not comment on Biggs’s exile and told the Banner-Herald the dispute is “all a bunch of foolishness.”
When asked about Biggs’s 92-year membership, Jackson reportedly sniffed, “It don’t mean nothing.”