A Tale Of Two Churches that are actually one and the same. Hephzibah Baptist Church and Hephzibah Southern Methodist Church in Richmond County are both beautiful and historic churches. The special part of the story is that they are the same building. The original church was Hephzibah Baptist, organized in September of 1863 in the middle of the Civil War. The area was then known as Brothersville and the church was known as Hephzibah Baptist church at Brothersville. The post Civil War years were difficult, as they were for everyone in the south, but the church persevered and prospered.
The local history tells us “The years following this war were sad and gloomy. An awful pall settled down upon the State. The minutes of our Associations and the State Convention, for years, bore evidence of the demoralization caused by the sad results of the war, in the churches and among Christians. The longest depression of business in United States History (1873—1879) followed soon after the war. Yet, under these difficulties this church prospered, and left a legacy that challenges the church to strive to attain its potential simper et ubique [always and everywhere]. Yes! The tragedy of war was felt by Hephzibah Baptist Church in the year of its founding, yet the church persevered through that war and through the years of Reconstruction. She never failed to open her doors”.
In 1888, it was decided that a new church should be built. Until that time the the church had met in the chapel of the Hephzibah Baptist School for 26 years. The church was built at a cost of $2,700, while the membership stood at 95 in 1894. The church you see above with the striking architecture has now been in service for over 130 years, although not at the same location. In 1968 the Baptist church had outgrown the building and the decision was made to sell it to the Southern Methodist Church. Incredibly, the entire building was moved intact approximately one and a half miles to the present location. The trip took two days to complete and the samctuary now lives on as Hephzibah Southern Methodist Church. We are so thankful that this striking sanctuary was saved with a relocation. She will now live on for many more generations.
We were not familiar with the Southern Methodist denomination, so we included the following from their website.
“By the time the General Conference met in 1844, sectional differences had become so acute that many days were spent in debate on these questions. When it became apparent that no compromise could be made, the Plan of Separation was adopted. By a vote of 135 to 18 this general conference agreed that the delegates representing slave-holding states might set up a separate general conference. By a vote of 139 to 17 it was agreed that any minister might choose whether he would remain in The Methodist Episcopal Church or align himself with the southern delegates. By a vote of 148 to 10, it was agreed that there should be an equitable division of all property belonging to the Church.
By agreement of the delegates from the southern states, the first General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South met in Louisville, Kentucky, on May 1, 1845. From that time until the meeting of the General Conference in Birmingham, Alabama, in May of 1938, this church made wonderful progress and numbered its members by the millions. The Birmingham General Conference in 1938 decided to enter into a union with the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Protestant Church. When the three were formally united in 1939, there were many in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South who refused to enter into the union because of the modernistic tendencies found in the United Church.
A layman’s organization for the preservation of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South was formed and culminated in a convocation in Columbia, South Carolina, on January 14, 1940, at which four hundred (400) representatives of the Church set up a provisional plan for preserving the Church. The courts granted to the United Church all properties and the control of the name, Methodist Episcopal Church, South.”
We recently came across this dramatic photo of the church actually being moved in 1968 by Braswell Brothers Housemovers from Swainsboro. Photo courtesy of Mike Braswell. You don't see something like this everyday.
This is an outside view of one of the three matching stained-glass, triptych, Gothic windows that adorn Hephzibah. These lovely windows provide one of the two striking architectural and decorative elements of this venerable and beloved landmark. The towering steeple is the other. The enormous size and height of Hephzibah’s steeple is unique among the wood frame, rural churches we normally see in Georgia.
Upon entering the church, the importance and dominance of its three triptych windows becomes quite clear. Each window is dramatically placed in the walls within a modified Groin Vault, in this case a Waving Groin Vault. This allows each Gothic Arched triptych to be fully exposed with all its ambient light flowing into and filling the sanctuary.
This is a view of the simple chancel, prayer rail, communion table, pulpit and apse. The church holds regular services, and on this day decorative lilies were in place to provide a welcoming site for the congregants.
This close-up of stained glass windows displays the many different colored, small pastel panes that create a warm and rosy, glowing ambient light within the church. The colorful Gothic motifs, Christian signs and emblems within each window also help to engender a welcoming and peaceful atmosphere within this lovely sanctuary.
Looking from the pulpit to the rear of the church, we see that there are two entryways from separate vestibules. A wide central aisle is flanked by side aisles making entry and exit easy. The simplicity and beauty of the sanctuary also becomes even more apparent in this view.
By allowing the Methodists to purchase, move and restore this lovely and historic building, the Baptists insured that this landmark would remain a significant part of the community. A beautiful piece of history was saved by the cooperation of the two denominations in 1968. It will now continue to be enjoyed for generations to come.
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This is a beautiful church.