You are looking at a church that has been in continuous service for well over 200 years at this same site. The church was organized in 1790, making it the oldest Methodist Church in Bulloch county, as well as one of the oldest churches in the Georgia backcountry in continuous use at the same site. Methodism had only been active for about twenty years in Georgia prior to the formation of the Union Society. The church was first organized in the home of Joshua Hodges, a Revolutionary War soldier and one of the original settlers. Joshua came into the Georgia backcountry with a large family from Martin County, North Carolina and this family would become active stewards of the church for generations.
According to several histories in the Methodist archives, the first structure on the site was a log meeting house built in 1792. In 1834, a new structure was erected and described as ‘a plank structure that rested on log pillards with a steep roof and four evenly spaced windows’. This building was then replaced in 1884 by the present structure with materials furnished by two brothers, Jim and Tim Davis, who operated a lumber mill in the area. All three of the churches were erected on the same site. According to Union tradition, some of the pews in the new building were used from the old 1834 sanctuary as well as some of the parts for the alter rail. A local farmer and carpenter, Robert W. Stringer, is credited with fashioning the altar rail and the remainder of the pews.
At the time of the Civil War, many of the church records were dispersed among the membership for safekeeping. Some of these records were placed with the Porter family and have survived. This part of Georgia was not dominated by large plantations at the time of the war but there were black members in the church. The 1844 rolls, for instance, show that there were five white males, fifteen females and five black members. In 1859, the roster shows only three white males, and nine black members. Union church would always remain a small church because of her location. There was no nearby town or community and the church was solely dependent on local families who farmed in the area, which makes her survival as a continuous sanctuary even more remarkable.
Sherman’s troops did move through the area during the March to the Sea and local tradition has it that the church was saved from any damage primarily because it has also used as a meeting house of The Free and Accepted Masons of Lodge Number 213. Union is one of the few surviving churches organized in the 18th century with continued service to the same community in the same location into the present time. For this reason, the church is a historical treasure and we are so grateful to the people who have served and maintained the little rural church now for over 200 years. Thank you for you service and your stewardship.
Times were relatively prosperous in Bulloch County when the Union United Methodist congregation chose to replace their 1834 structure with a fine, new church in 1884. Cotton was selling at high prices, the timber business was prospering, the Civil War's terrifying instability and the hard times of reconstruction were in the past… good times were perceived to be ahead. High Victorian and Carpenter Gothic was the style in churches. One look at the outward face of this church, with its fanciful decoration/ornamentation displayed above, reflects that this congregation was hopeful and ready to embrace the the new prosperity. Elaborate, carved brackets, some with acorn finials, are mixed with fretwork trim all of which rests upon and is supported by classical, square columns. They were proud of their church's storied heritage and raised a building that reflects that attitude.
Despite Union's outward appearance, its interior reflects and reveals the congregation's conservative and simple taste. There is minimal interior decoration/ornamentation, then and now. Also notice the mortised notches in the center of the pews. These pews date from the 1834 church and indicate that, when built, these congregants believed in the separation of men and women/children within the sanctuary. These pews remain a constant reminder to all of "the old ways and days."
This view of the chancel, altar and pulpit reflects the unostentatious principals reflected at Union United Methodist. The very simple pews in the background as well as some of the altar rail elements date from the 1834 church.
Imagine how large the longleaf pine tree had to be that produced the single board planks used to make these pews. The single-board widths seen above range from 18 inches to 24 inches. This indicates a trunk diameter as large as 48 inches… a pine tree size never to be seen again and not seen in the forests of Georgia since the 19th Century. We feel that simply making boards such as this available for people to to see, contemplate...and believe... today is a worthy mission.
Today, Union is an accessible, authentic link to the 18th century while maintaining relevance to its congregation in the 21st Century. The pulpit above looks out over chancel balusters, pews and physical structure from the 19th century. This is a blessed and special historic place which should remain for Georgia's citizens to experience for the centuries to come.
Here lies R. W. Whitaker, Company F, 3rd Ga Infantry - Wilkinson Rifles. Mr. Whitaker enlisted early in the war at the age of sixteen on Sept. 10, 1862. He then proceeded to fight in some of the most vicious battles of the war - Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, The Wilderness and Cold Harbor among others. He survived and surrendered with the 3rd Ga at Appomattox. He then made his way home to the Union Church community and began his life anew in a land that had been recently ravaged by Sherman's troops. He was nineteen years old. He married, had two sons and had outlived them all when died in 1930 at the age of 89. A hard, but unusually long life, in the Georgia backcountry.
As we discussed on the home page, the oldest grave in the cemetery is that of Joshua’s wife, Ann Raiford Hodges, who died in 1795. Of the 80 interments in the cemetery, 35 per cent of them are from the Hodges family – the most recent occurring in 2006. Thus the Hodges family has faithfully served this church located in a remote part of rural Georgia for over 200 years. Well done thou good and faithful servant - Matthew 25:23 .
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Nevils Creek Primitive Baptist Church also founded in 1790 in Bulloch County.