St. Marys United Methodist Church
Est. 1799 106 E. Conyers St., St. Marys, GA 31558

St. Marys United Methodist Church

Text provided by Mrs. Eloise Bailey Thompson.  Pictures supplied by Mr. Derek McAleer of the St. Marys UMC.  Photo to left:  Old Sanctuary.

The story of Methodism begins early in the history of St. Marys, founded in 1787, when George Clark was sent in 1799 to "to preach and if possible to form a circuit."  The nearby country was then described as "sparsely settled with poor people... all scattered through the forest without religion and education..."

Later the same year, John Garvin was appointed to settlements along the St. Marys and Satilla rivers.  This young Englishman, who had just come from the wilds of Africa as a missionary to the Georgia-Spanish Florida frontier, reported fourteen members after a year's work.

St. Marys Methodist records go back no further than 1839, but somewhere in the town, perhaps the town hall, Methodist were meeting before their first church was built in 1812.  This was on a 200 x 200 lot from Public Square 9 that was deeded to church trustees by city officials.

The original church was described as "a plain wooden building" with slatted-back benches for pews.  "The entrance was by two doors at the south end.  The one at the right was for females and the other for males, as the opposite sexes were not allowed to sit together."

In the 1830's, James Osgood Andrew, the first native-born Methodist Bishop, visited St. Marys.  He wrote that he found St. Marys to be "the poorest spot he had yet encountered and certainly if poverty of soil be any sign of health, St. Marys must be one of the healthiest spots in the land."

These were the years when Methodist preachers' salaries were around sixty-four dollars annually.  Bishop Andrew said of the men who dared to enter the ministry, "If our poverty were our purity, some of us ought to be purified ere long..."Inside the St. Marys United Methodist Church

By 1841, the Sabbath School had an enrollment of sixty-four scholars and eleven teachers with three hundred volumes in the church library.  Church records show not only new enrollments, but also removal of members.  Although an 1849 writer believed that St. Marys inhabitants have a high reputation for morals and intelligence, members of the St. Marys Methodist Church were being expelled for reasons as varied as profanity, general immorality, lying, intemperance, and adultery.

In 1850, the Sunday School was reported to be "in tolerable good condition."  However, four years later, services were suspended "in consequence of the fearful pestilence of yellow fever."

Church officials recorded in 1856 that a new building was needed because "the one we now worship in is so thoroughly rotten as to be beyond repair."  The older one was replaced sometime between then and September of 1858.  Builders S.L. Burns and John Peal placed a lien on "the new Methodist Episcopal Church and the premises on which it is erected for material and labor valued at $695."  This is the building still used as a chapel by the St. Marys United Methodist Church.

From 1863 to 1865, public buildings in St. Marys were closed by order of Federal military authorities.  Church records state that "St. Marys was in possession of the enemy during the war, the church was closed and the flock scattered."

After services resumed in 1866, "The Methodist Sabbath School is now in prosperous condition," but a personal letter written that year tells of a planned revival with the hopes "it will result in some good to this place, we all need waking up."

By 1872, church members were able to pay $75 for a cabinet organ, and the preacher was receiving $250 annually (with board).  Although membership had grown to eighty-five members, four years later Pastor Benjamin Key felt that "the church can never be what it ought to be until the members are all of one heart and mind."

Changes to the sanctuary came in 1892 with the removal of the balcony and installation of gaslights.  Choir space was provided and the building repainted. In addition, a porch and chimney were added sometime in this period.New St. Marys United Methodist Church

During the 1900s, the town of St. Marys experienced economic growth that caused church membership changes with a number of new families moving in.  In these years, a transition in the mood of church reports is seen from the concern for the spiritual needs of the membership to an emphasis on the physical plant of the church.  Yet the church's work continued to move forward through the following decades.  On October 27, 1909, Arthur J. Moore received his license to preach while serving as assistant to St. Marys pastor John W. Simmons.  After he became Bishop, Arthur Moore credited Pastor Simmons with many of the ideals and convictions that remained with him throughout his great life as his ministry eventually extended worldwide.

The Reverend Bird Yarbrough was pastor in St. Marys during a difficult time - the closing years of an economic depression, another rapid population growth with the opening of a paper mill, and wartime concerns with many young men departing for military service.  His tenure, 1939-1945, also saw many church rolls change, extensive renovation to the sanctuary, addition of a lighted cross honoring loyal servicemen, and memorial gifts of Hammond organ and chimes.

Inside New St. Marys United Methodist ChurchModern buildings joined the historical buildings with the construction of a new brick parsonage in 1958.  This new parsonage was dedicated as the Signora Bachlott Memorial.  The following year, an education building housing classrooms, a study, kitchen, and social hall was completed to replace an older frame structure built in the 1930's.  The new sanctuary, which had a seating capacity of 360, opened on September 11, 1966.

In 1981, St. Marys United Methodist Church was recognized as a Historical Site in Methodism when documentation proved that the St. Marys church was the tie between Georgia and Florida Methodism.  This dated to 1822 when Elijah Sinclair was appointed to serve both St. Marys and Amelia Island.  He established the first Methodist appointment in Florida only a year after this Spanish territory was [rest of paragraph is missing--Amy Hedrick].

In November of 1995, 572 members were enrolled in the St. Marys United Methodist Church.  However, membership is fluid with the names on records changing with time.  But as one pastor of the last century reported, "Our good members are still faithful and the worthless ones have not improved any that we can see," but "all things considered, we report the state of the church tolerably good."

Photos copyrighted (c) the St. Marys United Methodist Church.  History write-up copyrighted (c) by Eloise Thompson. All copyrighted 1997-2001.

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