Bethel Brick Methodist

Screven County
Org 1827
Photography by John Kirkland

In 1827 Reverend Payton Wade conveyed to seven trustees a deed to two and three-quarter acres of land to build a Methodist Episcopal Church to be known as “Brick Church”. This beautiful church is both the oldest Methodist church and the oldest church building in Screven County. Continuous services have been held since 1827. Slave labor from Lebanon Forest Plantation built the structure and the remarkable workmanship is a testament to their skills. The original building, now one hundred and eighty-nine years old, is still in great shape and continues to serve the congregation well.

Most churches of this era were “meeting houses constructed of hewn logs” or perhaps clapboard wooden siding. The brick construction actually gave the church its original name and still remains a part of the name today. Bethel Brick was located near many large plantations and, prior to the Civil War, there were more black members than white. The 1859 Annual Conference minutes showed 150 white members and 418 black members. The white members held Sunday morning worship services and the black members worshipped on Sunday afternoon.

Not a lot of history exists for this church. The first known record of the church being called “Bethel” was at a conference in Savannah in 1866. Behind the pulpit is a door that opens to the outside. Again no verified history on this unusual piece of architecture exists. The mystery of the original use just adds to the aura of the church. The setting for Bethel Brick Church is stately and serene. Huge trees with draping moss quickly give the eyes a sense of a history that is well preserved. A lake in the background adds to the peacefulness.

The cemetery is replete with massive headstones and rusted wrought and cast iron burial lot fencing. These are evidence of the wealth of those families. Alongside are simple stones, many worn through years of weather. As with many old churches in the South, the cemetery is the final resting place for several Civil War soldiers. One interment is that of a local constable who was murdered in 1900 while serving an arrest warrant. Two historical markers stand side by side along the quiet country road next to this church, another sign that history resides in this brick monument to longevity, craftsmanship, and perseverance.

But the real story of Bethel Brick is the story of the Maner and Wade families, who were some of the most successful planters in a Post Revolutionary War Georgia. Sam Maner was a revolutionary war veteran who moved across the Savannah River from South Carolina in 1812. He bought 2, 523 acres from George and Mary Williamson in Screven County and built a new home and plantation. He named it Lebanon Forest.

Around 1816, Samuel Maner passed away and Sarah, his daughter, and her husband, Reverend John Crawford, inherited the Georgia plantation. John Crawford passed away a few years after this. He and Sarah did not have any children. Sarah then married another Methodist preacher, the Rev. Peyton Lisby Wade. Sarah passed away without having any children and the Rev. Wade married her niece, Elizabeth Robert, twenty-two years his junior. Together they had eleven children and expanded their property to over 10,000 acres. At one time Rev. Wade enslaved as many as 500 people. The Wade family is well represented in the little cemetery beside the church. More of the family history is presented there.

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