Oak Grove Methodist

Screven County
Org 1876
Photography by John Kirkland

Almost Gone But Not Forgotten

Old Oak Grove Methodist is a haunting image of an old structure almost 100 years old that will not be with us much longer. She was a beauty and, as we document more of the rural African American churches across the state, we find that this basic twin tower design and variations of it are fairly common. According to a History of the South Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church 1866-1984, Oak Grove was organized under a brush arbor in 1876 with five members. According to the history, the sanctuary you see above was completed in 1919 and re-modeled in 1978. The history tells us there were 122 members in 1982. The church is still active in another location and we don’t know exactly when this structure was vacated.

The cemetery, visible on the right, contains graves prior to the 1919 completion date of the above sanctuary, which leads us to believe that there was another structure on or about this location and this church replaced it. Therefore the evolution of the site was probably the original brush arbor, to a log structure to the frame church above. The fact that the cemetery predates this church would support this original location being one of long standing. We also believe that the towers could have been added to an existing church in 1919 since the main part of the structure appears to be older than that and several of the graves in the cemetery predate 1919. Perhaps we can solve this architectural riddle at some point.

It took some time after the Civil War for blacks and whites to get to the present level of separation that was part of the post-war evolution. Prior to the war, the church embraced the black community spiritually, although in a totally segregated fashion. Therefore the slaves worshiped at the same alter as their masters and this was predominantly either Baptist or Methodist. Prior to the war, both denominations had split into northern and southern factions over the issue of slavery and it would be many years before they became “united” again. Meanwhile, the black churches began to form independently of the whites after the war. The fact that Oak Grove was formed in 1876 would make it one of the oldest African American Methodist congregations in the state. In these early days, it may have been as an AME (African Methodist Episcopal) or CME (Colored Methothist Episcopal) faction but it would not have been the United Methodist Church. That came much later.

Part of our mission at HRCGA is documentation of the old structures that will not be with us much longer. The old sanctuary above speaks to us with the quiet dignity of days gone by and the spirit of families trying to carve out their own identity in the aftermath of slavery and the Civil War. Old Oak Grove is almost gone but she will not be forgotten.

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