Little Church With A Big Heart
Freeman Memorial celebrates a century
When members of Freeman Memorial United Methodist Church gather tomorrow, they will be celebrating a century of change.
The church began as East Newnan Methodist Church, affiliated with the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. The denominational body became a part of the United Methodist Church years ago, and the textile mill company that gave rise to East Newnan went through numerous changes.
“The Methodist church used to be strong when the mill was really going,” said Jim Hearn, the church’s longtime pastor. While the mill itself is no more, the little Methodist church continues to worship and serve.
The congregation met in the village school, then for decades in a building shared with the East Newnan Baptist congregation. The current building was constructed in 1961 and named for R.W. Freeman, president of the Newnan Cotton Mills. East Newnan Methodist Church got its start when a group met on the third Sunday in August 1913 at a home on Jones Street in East Newnan. Freeman was among those taking an active role in seeing the church was organized.
Little information is available about the church’s founding pastor, S. D. Cremean, but it seems likely he is Stephen Decatur Cremean, who was born in 1877 in Allen County, Ohio. He and his wife, Mary Wilhelmina “Mina,” came to Tallapoosa when their daughter, Falescia Elvera, who was born in 1903, was a small child.
Records show S. D. Cremean witnessing deeds and performing a wedding — as a justice of the peace — in Haralson County in 1909. Perhaps his experiences as a public servant led him to consider the ministry.
He apparently was new to pastoring when East Newnan Methodist was formed in 1913. A newspaper article about the North Georgia Conference in 1915 includes Cremean in a list of ministers in “the second year class” — halfway through a trial period.
In the early 1900s, Methodist ministers typically served more than one congregation. Cremean apparently was serving at Jones Chapel — now FaithCreek — at Madras in 1914 when he was one of three pastors taking part in the funeral service for John Thomas Brown, a longtime member there.
S.D. Cremean died in 1934. His wife survived until 1942, reportedly buying and running a 100-acre farm at Juliette in her widowhood.
Cremean was succeeded at East Newnan by a more experienced pastor, T.M. Elliott. Elliott had earlier served First Methodist in Villa Rica where a brick Gothic church was built during his ministry in 1905-1906.
East Newnan was growing as the church came to be, and the congregation began meeting at East Newnan School when it was completed in 1915. Then in 1928, a union church building was constructed for use by the Baptists and Methodists. During the era when the two churches met together, many offices were shared by both churches. “My understanding was it was one big group,” Hearn said.
Wilma Higgins Wright, who grew up in East Newnan, recalled that the Sunday school superintendent might be of either denomination, and Sunday school classes were comprised of members from both churches. At one time, an evening class for young people combined both Baptist Training Union and Methodist Youth Fellowship elements.
The Methodists and Baptists each had a pastor, but — as was typical in Georgia in those days — they preached at a particular church only twice a month. The Methodist pastor preached in East Newnan on the first and third Sundays, and the Baptist preacher on the second and fourth.
The two congregations did have their own treasurers, and the two groups split the cost of many bills — including those for gas and electricity.
“Everybody went to Sunday school. You just went to church,” Wright remembered.
Polk County native Gilbert Steadham was pastor at East Newnan from 1948-1953. During that time, he also was pastor to the Methodists in Moreland and got to know young Lewis Grizzard, who grew up to be a famed writer and humorist. Grizzard dedicated one of his books to Steadham, and Steadham was among those officiating at Grizzard’s funeral at Moreland Methodist in 1994.
Lucien Larche, who was the Methodist preacher at East Newnan from 1953-56, was remembered as particularly popular and effective — bringing new members into the church and starting, with his wife, Marce, a youth choir.
“We loved him,” Wright said. Larche was particularly skilled at bringing young people into the church.
On Nov. 13, 1960, the Methodists sold their share in the union church property to East Newnan Baptist for $8,500. The Newnan Cotton Mills Foundation gave a lot for the Methodist church. Ground was broken in March 1961.
“Donald Brill was the pastor at that time,” Hearn said. Taking part in groundbreaking services were Mr. and Mrs. John Walker, the church’s newest members; Roy Calhoun and Ethel Lewis, longest members; Dr. John Tate, the district superintendent; and Brill.
When Hearn came to the church 32 years ago, Freeman Memorial had services Sunday morning and evening, as well as MYF and a regular choir practice. “We were averaging 40-50 in church on Sunday morning,” he remembered.
Hearn’s tenure is unusually long among Methodists, but he and the Freeman congregation have a strong bond and a sure level of comfort.
“I’m here. I wanted to stay. I’d work for nothing,” he said.
There have been many changes. “All that original membership except for two people are dead,” Hearn noted. There are 60 members attending now — all of them individuals who joined under Hearn’s pastoral leadership. “They’re just like family to me,” he reflected.
Though attendance, membership and programs are fewer than in the past, the church members are still working and planning for tomorrow. “We are a small church, but we are wanting to grow,” the pastor said.
The church has a spacious building with plenty of room for Sunday school classes and other programs.
“We’ve got an organ that sits up there. We haven’t had anybody to play in six or seven years,” Hearn said. Members hope God will send someone there way who will play the organ again.
There are plans to start at new Bible study. “We’ve studied several books of the Bible,” Hearn noted.
Hearn also wants the church to come up with a mission statement.
Freeman’s centennial celebration will be held Sunday at 11 a.m. Winston Skinner, local historian and pastor, will bring the message. Skinner is also assistant news editor of The Newnan Times-Herald.
A covered dish meal will follow the service.
Freeman Memorial has long had a nickname: “The Little Church With the Big Heart.” The church’s members feel the truth of the moniker.
Julia O’Neal was “going to a Baptist church around the corner,” she said. She and Hearn are cousins, and O’Neal found something she was seeking at Freeman Memorial.
“I always feel like God led me here. The first Sunday I was here, they opened up their arms,” she said.
Hazel Barber put it more simply, saying, “I just love the church.”