The church was first constituted on the 16th of November, 1831 by Peter Eldridge and James S. Lunsford. It consisted of nine members, and was called Mount Paran. Three years after this the church withdrew from the Columbus Association, and was one of the original fourteen churches in 1833 that constituted the Bethel Association. In the year 1839 the name of the church was changed from Mount Paran to Walnut Grove. In the year 1840 the church agreed, by a bare majority, to withdraw from the Bethel Association as a Home Mission Society had been formed by it. As a matter of zeal and triumph of principle they named their newly organized church Benevolence. Thomas Coram, the first settler in the area donated five acres of land for the church and the cemetery.
Benevolence Church began with fourteen members, under the pastoral care of James Mathews. By the time of his death in 1847, there had been two hundred and fifty members added. By 1887, 700 members were added and nearly 500 persons baptized. According to William Norton, a former pastor, in 1879, “The church called its pastors annually after 1852, and had during nearly fifty years, fifteen different ones, and only one (W. L. Crawford) ever served it again after leaving. Only about six months during the war was the church without a pastor. A strict discipline has been maintained at all times with dancing, drunkenness, billiards, etc. condemned. In that year, the church had “…a little over one hundred members; and though the times are changed, yet they purpose to never be unmindful of the struggles of the past and the principles then so dear. The very name “Benevolence” shall ever be the watchword to rouse their fagging zeal and stir to faithfulness in filling the Master’s last command. Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.”
The present sanctuary was built at the turn of the century and its design and appearance is unique and quite noteworthy. The basic style is that of a corner steeple meeting house. However, its incorporation of eclectic elements reflects the rising popularity of the Victorian Chapel/Carpenter Gothic school during that era. The fanciful corner steeple is topped by four capped, steeply sloped, matching towers that surround a similar but larger steeple structure in the middle. That apex rises to its peak adorned with a globe and spire. This may be where the phrase “over the top” originated. Benevolence Baptist Church is a monument to the congregations prosperity, enthusiasm and high hopes for its future.
Yes indeed. A very proud history that has witnessed great changes in this remote part of Georgia for over 150 years and they are still doing Sunday services. Visitors always welcome. Thank you for supporting Historic Rural Churches of Georgia and helping us spread the word. Please be sure to sign up to receive new postings on featured churches.
This view from the rear of the church reveals several important design and decorative elements of Benevolence. One cannot help but notice the ceiling. Its shape reflects the use of the “trussed rafter” roof design… two equal inclined planes joined by a central level panel. All the weight is bourn by the rafters above but no beams have to be exposed. This allowed the use of flat laid, stained heart pine tongue and groove ceiling boards artfully displayed horizontally and in diagonally laid panels. The structural elements provide the chance to create the striking decorative element that this ceiling is. This combination of heart pine ceiling work, contrasting trim and gothic arched windows create a delightful and different ambiance and not what we have come to expect in churches this old. The creativity of the rural psyche is quite amazing.
Looking from the pulpit to the two entrance doors, we get a better feel for this compact and intimate sanctuary. There is not a bad seat in the house. The colorful huge Gothic stained windows provide an uplifting soft and inviting light throughout the space. What a source of spiritual comfort and pride old Benevolence has been to this remote agricultural area for decades. It is very evident that the congregations have always had a strong since of stewardship, pride and dignity rooted in decades past… very comforting in today’s world.
The simplistic and quiet dignity of these sanctuaries is sometimes overwhelming. This is such an image. What can you say?
There are 345 recorded interments in the cemetery with the oldest dated 1858. Two of the largest families represented are the Wards and the Knightons.
The cemetery contains an inordinate number of very high quality, cast iron grave enclosures. We see three(one in the foreground, two in the background) in this single photograph. The one in the foreground is very heavy, exquisitely cast and highly ornamented top-of-the line work… very expensive as well. The number and quality of these enclosures reflects the wealth of the congregation in the 19th century. The large marble monument in the foreground was also a sign of the deceased’s importance and prosperity. It is called a pulpit pedestal stone because of its shape and the inclusion of an open bible at the top, quite popular in its day. These funeral markers and the unique structure that is Benevolence Baptist speak to the prosperity of this once thriving agrarian village in the Georgia backwoods.
Private Richard Cornelius Harris fought with the “Muscogee Confederates” and lost an eye on May 5, 1864 at the Wilderness. He came back to a different world and lived for 34 more years and gave it the best he had. These old burying grounds are filled with these stories. Quite a common occurrence in a society that lost almost 18 per cent of its young males in just four short years.
Thank you for your service to this community for the last 180 years.
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