Church rarely figured in Antonio Davis's life at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Ga. And religion had little impact on his decision to transfer to Augusta's Paine College, a school with strong ties to Methodism.
"(But) my mom liked that," said the 23-year-old senior from Conyers, Ga.
The spiritual atmosphere and the smaller campus have made a difference, he said. "Here you get to know just about everybody. Your friends care more about you. They go to church and they want to make sure that you are there, too."
Paine, academic home to some 872 students, is across 15th Street from the Medical College of Georgia, between Laney Walker Boulevard and Central Avenue.
The school, the area's only church-related, post-secondary school, offers a four-year liberal arts program.
Haygood-Holsey Hall with its clock tower dominates the 54-acre campus. It is named for Bishop Lucius H. Holsey, the former slave who struggled to keep Paine Institute alive after it was born out of Reconstruction in 1883; and Atticus Haygood, then president of Emory College, who shared Bishop Holsey's vision.
Paine has not had an easy history, said Dr. Gerald Smith, a professor of English and chair of the humanities department. "And Holsey would be the first to say it if he were here."
The founder of Paine paid people on the streets of Augusta to attend the school at one time, said Dr. Smith.
Bishop Holsey took his name from James Holsey, his master and father, who died when Lucius was 6.
When he was a teen-ager, he saved rags and when he had about 30 pounds sold them to buy books -- a Bible, a copy of Milton's Paradise Lost, a dictionary and two spellers. He taught himself to read and write by fire light at night and to spell by day while doing his chores.
He farmed after the Civil War and practiced preaching on a pine stump in the woods. "It was noise that moved the multitudes, held the public ear, and like magic, swayed the public heart," he wrote. The efforts paid off and he became an effective preacher.
Bishop Holsey realized that education was essential if the freed slaves were going to get anywhere and that a school would need help to bring that about. He got help from the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.
The fact that Paine was founded as a joint venture of blacks and whites bordered on the miraculous, said Dr. Smith, who is an ordained United Methodist minister. He regards teaching at the college both a calling and a ministry, he said. "Having been here 21 years, I am more and more convinced of that."
Today, there are about 10 faculty members who are ordained.
Paine requires students to take two religion courses, Essentials of the Christian Faith and Religions of the World.
The Rev. Jerry Poole, campus minister, teaches the Essentials course and also teaches Old Testament and New Testament to the religion and philosophy majors.
As campus minister, he is available to the students, administration and faculty, he said. "I don't always have the answers but I've got an enormous set of ears."
Students attend a weekly assembly with a devotional at Gilbert-Lambuth Chapel on Wednesdays. Services for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and Religious Emphasis Week in the spring focus on the spiritual, but most other gatherings include an update on campus activities, he said.
A few students attend a Bible study Sunday mornings. "We don't want to be in competition with the local church. Plus Trinity (Christian Methodist Episcopal Church) is using our facilities," he said.
The Rev. J. Ronzell Maness, pastor of Trinity, is also an alumnus of Paine and teaches the Essentials and World Religion courses. "As a black pastor, I know that the students who come to church on Sundays are often treated to dinner after services. I've invited them to my home, especially ministerial students," he said.
Shavondra Averette, a 20-year-old senior from Savannah, attends Beulah Grove Baptist Church. "I have a Baptist background. The (Baptist Student Union) offered a welcome. I visited and have been going ever since," she said.
Paine allowed her to mature in her faith, she said. "I was able to know that God had put me here for a reason. Some things you get from home, some things you get away. My faith has increased enough that I know God will deliver me, especially at midterms."
The students hold common beliefs, among them that prayer changes things, she said. "Although if you don't study...it doesn't change much."
Virginia Norton covers religion for The Augusta Chronicle. She can be reached at (706) 823-3336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.