The South Georgia Conference’s Historical Moments

6/13/2016

During the 2016 Annual Conference session – the 150th session of the South Georgia Conference – retired pastor Rev. Dave Hanson, a well-known Wesleyan historian, shared his love and knowledge of the South Georgia Conference with attendees via six Historical Moments. These Historical Moments took us on a journey of history and faith and helped remind us that, “there is no limit to what God can do when the Methodists of South Georgia get united behind a worthy project.”

By Rev. Dave Hanson

Historical Moment #1

It was 1866 – 150 years ago. The Civil War had just ended. Georgia was in shambles. The Georgia Conference of the Southern Methodist Church, meeting in Americus, voted to divide into two Conferences.

The D.S.s were to decide where the line between the two conferences was to be drawn. North Georgia leaders drew the line giving North Georgia two-thirds of the state. South Georgia leaders drew the line giving South Georgia two-thirds of the state. A compromise was reached drawing the line pretty much where it is today.

The next year the first session of the South Georgia Conference was held at Trinity Church in Savannah.

It was the first time lay people were included in the Annual Conference. It was the first time districts were considered important units. That early Conference voted to build a high school in each of the 10 districts. Public education ended in the sixth grade and education was sorely needed. The Methodist’s of South Georgia rose to the challenge. Soon 10 high schools were educating youth across South Georgia. The first such school in all of Southern Methodism was built in the Brunswick District at Spring Hill, Ga.

Later, public education included high school and most of these Methodist schools were turned over to the state, but some went on to become colleges like Young Harris and Reinhardt.

But South Georgia Methodists continued their educational ministries by strengthening of colleges at Andrew, Wesleyan, and Emory. That interest continues today with vital ministries in all the colleges in Georgia reaching thousands of students with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

There is no limit to what God can do when the Methodist of South Georgia get united behind a worthy project.

When I consider the work done with college students in the past and today I want to yell like those students on the bus which toured Georgia visiting Methodist ministries across the state in 1975. Near the end of that tour the bus began to rock as the young people yelled, “We are Methodists, couldn’t be prouder! If you can’t hear us we’ll yell a little louder. Hey!”

This has been a historical moment.
 
Historical Moment #2

It was the turn of the century – 1900. South Georgia Methodists were working to spread scriptural holiness across the state by revivals, camp meetings, and personal evangelism.

A need was seen, the Methodists of South Georgia united behind a worthy idea, and the Orphans Home was built in Macon.

A need was seen, the Methodist of South Georgia united behind a worthy idea, and the Candler Hospital came into being in Savannah.

But the major effort of this era was Sunday schools. The conference, united behind a worthy idea, set aside four full-time workers to help local churches start and strengthen their Sunday school programs. There were specialists in the area of adult work, children’s work, youth work including the Epworth League, plus a separate worker to strengthen rural Sunday schools. The conference developed district directors in each area of ministry. Over 100 volunteers were working across South Georgia leading workshops, Christian Workers School and Lab School.

Because the Methodist of South Georgia united behind a worthy idea, South Georgia lead the entire nation in Sunday school growth in 1944.

There is no limit to what God can do when Methodists of South Georgia get united behind a worthy project.

This has been a historical moment.
 
Historical Moment #3

The year was 1946, just after the Second World War. The nation was recovering from the war effort. The South Georgia Conference was growing, building new churches, expanding in many ways.

South Georgia Methodists united behind a worthy idea – rural ministry! A young pastor on the Baxley Circuit, G. Ross Freeman, was selected “Rural Minister of the Year” by “Progressive Farmer Magazine.” He became South Georgia’s Director of Town and Country Work.

Rural Ministry was honored and celebrated across the Conference.

Local churches observed Soil Conservation Sunday and Rural Life Sunday.

Experimental Larger Parishes were established giving rural churches trained pastors and staff.

The Minimum Salary Fund gave financial support to rural churches.

Supported by the United Methodist Women, Church and Community Workers scattered across the Conference giving outstanding leadership to Town and Country Ministries. The goal was to have at least one in each district. 31 such workers, many of them U.S.-2 Missionaries, worked in rural parishes in South Georgia.

At Annual Conference each year recognition and awards were presented to those rural circuits and churches which did outstanding work for Christ. Rural Ministry came alive in South Georgia.

There is no limit to what God can do when Methodists of South Georgia get united behind a worthy project.

This has been a Historical Moment.
 
Historical Moment #4

The year was 1949. Churches were growing. Evangelism was strong. Camping had become very important in South Georgia. We had led the nation in establishing retreats for senior citizens, intermediate (junior high), senior high youth, and children. These events were held at Camp Dooley, Juniper, and at Wesleyan College.

The Methodists of South Georgia united behind a worthy idea – building a Conference retreat center! The perfect site was found at Gascoigne Bluff on beautiful, historic St. Simons Island. Bishop Moore and several laymen signed personal notes with the bank and purchased the property. Thus, Epworth By The Sea was born.

Today, our Conference Center and the Arthur J. Moore Museum are the envy of other Annual Conferences. Bishop Moore said, “Epworth By The Sea is the crowning achievement of my ministry in Georgia.” It was then, and is today, a sacred place for worship, study and Christian fellowship.

Yes, indeed, Epworth By The Sea is a great place to be!

Today, when you drive through the gates of Epworth and see the beautiful expanse of lawns, buildings, and happy people, I believe you will realize afresh that there is no limit to what God can do when Methodists of South Georgia get united behind a worthy project.

This has been a Historical Moment.
 
Historical Moment #5

The time was 1960 – 1980. Civil Rights. Hippies, Jesus Freaks. During this tumultuous time the Methodists of South Georgia united behind a worthy idea – youth ministry! Not ministry to youth, not ministry for youth, ministry with youth.

Several factors came together to enable South Georgia Methodism to develop one of the most outstanding youth ministries of the entire UMC.

  1. Epworth By The Sea, that great place to be, was a great place for you to gather from across South Georgia for exciting youth events. And they came by the thousands.
  2. A youth ministry infrastructure inherited from the Epworth League days with sub-district, district, and conference planning units. Each district had a Director of Senior High and a Director of Junior High Ministries.
  3. The Conference Council of Youth Ministry was composed of youth and adults from each District and each local church guided a vast array of youth-oriented events including the Youth Annual Conference, Senior Assembly, youth weekends, camps, leadership events, and trips.
  4. An army of youth and adult workers with youth across the conference who gave of themselves in service for Christ.
  5. The Summer Vocational Internship Program which trained and placed college student in local churches for the summer months. Giving rise to numerous churches hiring full-time youth ministers.
  6. Traveling teams of youth who crossed South Georgia: music groups, interpretive dance groups, drama teams. Plus travel groups and work teams who went to Europe, Israel, Hawaii, Costa Rica, Puerto Rica, New York, and Washington D.C., canoeing across the Okefenokee Swamp, and Appalachian Trail Hikes.
  7. There was a weekly radio program, “The Place,” on WGIG, in Brunswick.
  8. A youth newspaper, “Gateways for Youth”
  9. Great publicity including billboards across the state
  10. The great South Georgia Conference even elected outstanding young people to General and Jurisdictional Conferences.
  11. During this era South Georgia had four leaders serving on the national United Methodist Council on Youth Ministry.
There is no limit to what God can do when Methodists of South Georgia get united behind a worthy project.

This has been a Historical Moment.
 
Historical Moment #6

In our recent history there have been numerous times when the Methodists of South Georgia united behind worthy ideas.

The merger of the South Georgia and the Savannah District of the former African-American Georgia Conference was a big accomplishment. We united to fund pensions for “worn our preachers.” We united to became an Episcopal Area with our own Bishop. He was a Looney Bishop, but he was our very own! Our institutions expanded with multiple campuses of Magnolia Manor, The Methodist Home, and Wesley Glen Ministries. Epworth By The Sea expanded.

A small congregation in Macon was named one of the great churches of America by “Guidepost Magazine.” It was the “Church of the Exceptional,” which was later to become a part of Wesley Glen, our ministry to exceptional people.

A few years ago, South Georgia again led the entire denomination by establishing an organization for retired ministers – The Eagles.

Today, new and revitalized congregations have become a much-needed focus. Great new churches have been birthed and older congregations given a new life. And now, praise God, we have another worthy goal of increasing attendance 10 percent.

Our history is rich. We can change with that group of young people who traveled across South Georgia visiting the church at work who wound up chanting, “We are Methodist, couldn’t be prouder. If you can’t hear us we’ll yell a little louder…”

Our future is bright because there is no limit to what God can do when Methodists of South Georgia get united behind a worthy project.

This has been a Historical Moment.