The story of Liberty Methodist Church reads like a great novel, with history, mystery, intrigue, a near death experience, a resurrection, and a great comeback. With all of this, the resilient church has stayed the course for over 200 years. A booklet on the church by Susan Douglas Anthony states, “The history of Liberty Methodist Church is largely a matter of speculation and family tradition, little of which can be proven”.
Liberty church was organized about 1775 by the Collins brothers, Samuel and Stephen, who had come from Cork County, Ireland prior to 1773. Samuel had a part in the Boston Tea Party and fled to Maryland to avoid possible arrest. He and his brother Stephen came under the influence of Bishop Francis Asbury, one of the founders of the United Methodist Church. Asbury later sent them to Georgia as Methodist missionaries. Bishop Asbury preached a sermon here in during his 1790 trip to the area.
Now part of the mystery begins. Settling south of Augusta the brothers started what became known as the “SC” church. Bishop Asbury’s journal in March of 1790 states that he traveled to the “SC church in Richmond County”. The church was probably named after Samuel Collins, but there is some speculation the name came from nearby Spirit Creek or possibly Stephen Collins. Historical information from the daughter of Samuel Collins, born Augusta 2, 1794, attributes the name to her father. Again, part of the mystery of the church.
The exact date of the construction of the first church is not known and it, like many churches of that time, was likely a log structure. A second structure was built on the current site and replaced the log cabin. Again, the construction date is not known. A deed dated January 9, 1804, describes the transfer of title of the property on which the present Liberty Church is situated. The description is followed by a statement, “Having a house of worship just built on it”. In view of this statement it is accepted that the current building was built prior to 1804.The antiquity of the present structure has been confirmed by architect Norman Askins. He dated it in the very early 1800’s.
According to a 2012 article from the Augusta Chronicle, “The earliest history of Liberty is vague, with most accounts – including the book A Lost Arcadia about the early history of Methodism in Georgia and The History of Old Liberty Church by Robert Rhodes – dating the founding to a few months after the official birth of the United Methodist Church in Baltimore in 1784. What is known is that the church was well established and recognized as the oldest in the state when the sanctuary building was erected in 1804. Francis Asbury, one of the founders of the United Methodist Church, gave a sermon in the log cabin that served as the church’s home in 1790. The church is recognized as not only the oldest Methodist church in Georgia, but the third oldest in the United States”.
In the 1960’s Liberty suffered from life threatening ailments. People were migrating from the rural life to urban areas. Worship was held only once or twice a month. Many of the supporters left the church. The current “plank church” fell into disrepair and services were moved to a small nearby building. The life and very existence of Liberty Methodist Church was in jeopardy. In 1979 Pastor Robert Taylor came on the scene. He had grown up nearby, first attended church here, and his parents are buried in the cemetery. Liberty had inspired him to enter the ministry.
Pastor Taylor’s ministry was coming to a close, his final task was to close the struggling Liberty church. The congregation was down to four people and the “plank church” building had not been used for years. Pastor Taylor retired, channeled his energies into Liberty, and found families and friends to repopulate the church. The sanctuary was rebuilt, but kept very original. There is a modest sound system and ceiling fans. The lighting is period based. A wide, oversized door still swings well on it’s hinges. As you enter the restored building you see the pews that are still separated in the middle. You are thankful for the originality of the church.
Today Liberty Methodist Church thrives and is well on it’s way to being here for many years into the future. A great story indeed.