An Alliance of Friends

by Amy Smith
(Original story at: Austin Chronicle on September 21, 2001)

A Baptist church, a Transcendental Meditation colony, and a Hindu temple are all landmarks within a few miles of one another along a stretch of roadway that cuts across the rolling countryside of northern Hays County. It’s peaceful here, but not as peaceful, certainly, as it was when Rae Smith was growing up in the Thirties. She learned the three R’s in the one-room wooden schoolhouse that served on Sundays as the Friendship Baptist Church. Back then, Bear Creek, a natural spring, ran year-round alongside the church, and parishioners would stand on the grassy banks singing, “We Shall Gather at the River” when one of their own was baptized in the clear, cold water. The creek is dry now, dammed by new subdivisions further upstream, and the Rev. Sam Shurtleff — Brother Sam, as he is called — relies on old-fashioned tap water to baptize folks, indoors, in a newer version of the church built in the late Sixties.

Like her spiritual neighbors, Smith, also lives along FM 1826, on the same land her father worked from morning to night. She is a lifelong member of Friendship Baptist. Until about 10 years ago, Smith could sit on her front porch without having to raise her voice to be heard above the constant whoosh of pickups and Suburbans. Even property-rights advocates like Smith long for the rural hominess that existed before a Central Texas explosion of growth began pock-marking the hilly landscape[….

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