19th century church life on display Saturday

by W. Winston Skinner

When the Civil War came to Coweta County, there was already a county with communities, families, schools, businesses – and churches.

The Coweta County Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee is shining the light on what life was like for local residents in the 1800s this month, which is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Brown’s Mill. That battle is the most significant Civil War battle fought in Coweta County.

Last weekend there was a focus on 19th century business life in Coweta County. This weekend, attention will turn to churches and religious life.

Coweta churches founded in the 1800s will have displays of memorabilia and history on the Court Square on Saturday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. On Sunday there will be a Sacred Harp Singing Convention at the historic courthouse from 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m. A covered dish dinner on the grounds is set for noon Sunday.

Coweta County has many active congregations today that were founded before 1900 – and several that were founded before the Civil War. In their histories are many unusual events and people.

Emory Chapel United Methodist Church, one of the county’s oldest congregations, is one of several that initially met in a brush arbor – a simple structure made from limbs and branches as pioneers gathered to worship.

“The first meeting place was about a mile south of the present location around 1830,” said Emory Chapel member Elaine Lee. “The church was moved to its present location in 1858.”

First Baptist Church of Moreland is considerably older than the town where it has been located for decades. The congregation began as Holly Springs Baptist Church, and the original cemetery is still located in a grove of trees between Moreland and Luthersville. The church moved to Moreland – and changed its name – when the railroad took the land where the original church building stood.

Concord Methodist, which began in a rural area, moved to Madras and became Jones Chapel. Jones Chapel had dwindled to a few families when it merged a few years ago with FaithCreek United Methodist Church, a church plant.

Three African-American churches – Newnan Chapel United Methodist, Elim Baptist and St. Peter’s Baptist – will be bringing displays. Newnan Chapel, which meets in the oldest standing church building in the city limits of Newnan, was founded by a missionary from England.

Liberty Christian Church, Mt. Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Haralson and White Oak Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church all have significance as historic congregations from denominations that have more churches in other parts of the country, but few in rural and smalltown Georgia.

Jan Bowyer and Carolyn Turner, who chair the Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee, have met with church representatives several times in recent months. At a meeting in February at Newnan Presbyterian Church, Bowyer asked the representatives to think about something: “What was it that made our ancestors and our early settlers in this county decide to settle here and to start a church?”

Getting ready for the event has been educational – and fun – for the history buffs putting together the church displays. Linda Thigpen has clearly enjoyed gathering the history of Providence Baptist, founded in 1835.

She contacted Carol Starnes, who is the great-great-granddaughter of F.J. Amis, pastor at Providence for a quarter century. “She brought me a picture of our original church at that location,” Thigpen marveled.

Some Providence members had heard about the old wooden church, but “no one even knew that picture existed,” Thigpen said. Starnes also shared an article, “Pastor Amis says goodbye to Providence,” written by Amis in 1925 and was published in The Christian Index, the Georgia Baptist Convention’s newspaper.

Also on display will be a red-and-white quilt top that a group of Providence’s women began – but did not finish – decades ago. “They sold the squares probably for a nickel or a dime,” Thigpen said. “That’s neat.”

Churches scheduled to bring displays are Macedonia Baptist, Newnan Presbyterian, Mt. Gilead United Methodist in Raymond, First Baptist of Newnan, First Methodist of Newnan, Emory Chapel Methodist, First Baptist of Moreland, Haralson Methodist, Cokes Chapel Methodist, Providence Baptist, White Oak Presbyterian, Turin Methodist, Mt. Pilgrim Lutheran, Bethlehem Baptist, Mt. Carmel Methodist, Jones Chapel/Faith Creek Methodist, Andrews Chapel Methodist, Moreland Methodist, Liberty Christian, Senoia Methodist, Newnan Chapel Methodist, Elim Baptist, St. Peter's Baptist and Central Baptist.

Sacred Harp music was popular in the 19th century, and enthusiasts are preserving its unique sound. Sacred harp, fa so la, shape note and long meter hymns will all be featured at the Sunday programs. “We’re going to focus on historic music,” Bowyer said.

“It’s going to be right downtown so people can come, bring their lawn chairs and listen to the beautiful old music of the 1800s,” she said.

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