In 1788 a group of Christian citizens in Wilkes County, Ga came together in the home of Jesse Spratlin, located three miles to the west, for the purpose of constituting a Baptist church. The church was first named Hutton’s Fork Baptist Church for a nearby creek. Due to the loss of the first record book (1788-1804) it is not known how long the church met in Mr. Spratlin’s home or when it was moved to the present site. The Georgia Baptist Association records show that, at the association meeting in 1788, Jeremiah Reeves and James Spratlin were delegates from Hutton’s Fork, so it is almost certain that they were two of the charter members of this church. It also shows that for the year 1788, Sardis had 30 members by baptism and five received by letter with a total of 63 members which would indicate that there were probably 28 charter members.
Jesse Mercer, who was instrumental in the founding of Mercer University, was the first pastor of this church, beginning his service there in 1789. His father, Silas Mercer, had been the pastor at the original Hutton’s Fork church. Rev. Mercer and his son Jesse were some of the very earliest pioneers of the Baptist faith in Georgia. Jesse Mercer’s home church was in Powelton, a few miles away in Hancock County. Powelton Baptist, organized in 1786, is the oldest Baptist church structure in the state. It was the site of the formation of the Georgia Baptist Association in 1822 and still holds services.
Sometime between 1795 and 1797 the name was changed to Sardis Baptist Church. The local history tells us that the original church was located about 100 yards east of the present church building. It served the congregation until 1835 when the present structure was built. It was 40 feet wide by 60 feet long and featured two doors with a partition running the length of the church to separate the men from the women and children….a common practice at the time. The men entered through the right hand door and the ladies to the left. Many improvements have been made over the years but the basic structure is intact after serving the congregation for over 175 years.
The history tells us that in 1857, an addition was added to the church for “the benefit of the negroes” and the pulpit was moved to accommodate it. It further tells us the addition was removed in 1877 since “most of the negroes had withdrawn their membership and moved to churches of their own”. In 1871 stoves and lights were purchased, serving the church until 1929 when gas lighting was installed. It was not until 1939 that the church was electrified. In 1914, the two front doors were closed off and a new double door was added to the center of the entrance. The porch was added in 1950. In the early days converts were baptized in the creek behind the church. In 1858 a “suitable pool” was dug. A new pool and dressing room were added in 1872.
Sardis can easily be described as a beautiful example of “functional originality”. The wooden walls with their assorted sizes of wood, the high wooden ceilings, the tall windows with wavy glass, all evoke the beauty of the past. The customary closed off wood stove pipe openings are there as for further reminders of days gone by. In the midst of this great history a dedicated congregation meets at Sardis and keeps the building, the history, and the legacy alive. Sardis has a proud congregation that has been serving the community for over 225 years. Sardis was the home of many prominent Georgia families, including the Callaway family who were present in many aspects of Georgia history. There are 58 Callaway interments in the cemetery.