Bethesda UMC Church History
P1020378

Bethesda United Methodist Church

 

Bethesda United Methodist Church has a long and rich history.  From humble beginnings as a camp meeting site for local farmers, through periods of rapid growth in the fast growing suburbs of Atlanta, to its campus today with seven permanent buildings, for over 175 years, Bethesda has been a place of worship for people in central Gwinnett county.     The following excerpts are all taken from A History of Bethesda United Methodist Church by Deann P. Hinson.

Beginnings

"... during the 1820's a son of this family, Jesse Boring, with his brother Isaac and friend Stephen Cruce, started a Methodist Campground on the site that is now Bethesda Methodist Church.  In 1827 they organized a church at the campground.  This original structure was built of rough-cut poles with brush for a roof, and was called Boring's Campground.  There are references in the histories of old county families which state that those families attended church at Boring's Campground as early as 1824.  The campground which had seen so many revivals was moved in 1933.  It is still located at the site to which it was moved at that time, a 50 acre plot just outside Lawrenceville, and is now known as the Lawrenceville Methodist Campground.  It is still in use."

Worship Services

"As you sit in your pew at Bethesda now, picture in your mind the log church that the people worshipped in during those early days.  Then services were frequently attended only by the people in the community.  They would pray together, read the Bible, and sing hymns.  They had no minister, no piano or organ and no church treasury. When a preacher did come to the area, he would be invited to speak here.  People would load their wagons with family, friends, and food and there would be a revival, with preaching, singing, prayer and dinner on the ground.  This log church played an important part in the lives of the people living in this community for many years."

Cemetery

"During Bethesda's first hundred years there were many people buried in her cemetery who never attended services at the church.  It was the custom of the time for all the people in a community surrounding a church to use its cemetery.  There are graves of at least 18 men who served in the Confederate Army buried there.  There are also graves toward the back edge of the cemetery that are simply marked with stones.  These, so the stories have been passed down in the church, are the graves of Indians who were still in this area, and slaves.  There are 131 such rough unmarked stones in the cemetery."
Chapel Building
Old Chapel

This photograph of the Bethesda chapel is framed and hanging in the church office.

"By 1874 Bethesda church had grown from a brush arbor campground to a log cabin to a frame building. During the 1920's, Bethesda was still a white board building with plain glass windows and two doors at each end of the building.  There were wooden columns marching down the center of the church to the altar.  The pulpit was lighted by a kerosene lamp on a stand and the church was heated by a wood burning stove that sat in the center.  Mr. J.F. Hogan carried firewood to the church for this stove and got a fire going early each Sunday.  The men all sat on the right side of the church and the women and children all sat on the left."

Improvements to the Chapel

"The summer of 1939 Reverend J.D. Swagerty came to Bethesda, finding its structure almost exactly the same as when it was constructed in 1874.  There had been two Sunday School rooms built on the rear of the church, with a chancel between them.  Some doors had been moved.  At this time a vestibule was built at the west end of the church and memorial windows were added.  Also during this time Mr. Jim Hogan and Mr. Roger Couey underpinned the church.  Mrs. Polly Branan and Mrs. Vinie Lowry chaired a committee to petition Georgia Power to bring power lines from Highway 29 to the church so that Bethesda could finally have electric lights.  At this time also, the heating system was modernized.  The "modern" heating system was space heaters using propane gas for fuel. The fellowship hall, kitchen and bathrooms, with five Sunday School rooms above them were built and connected to the back of the 1874 church building in 1957. In late 1961 and early 1962 the sanctuary was renovated.  The building was bricked and a porch and the steeple were added."

First Parsonage

"One hundred and twenty-five years into its history as a church, in 1952, Bethesda built a parsonage [now used as church office] and received into it the Reverend Richard Wiggins and his family.  George Lowry was chairman of the Board of Stewards.  Under his direction, with the help of Alvin Thompson, the stewards and trustees did almost all of the actual construction of the parsonage.  The wood used for the framework of this parsonage was donated by Micky and Margie Franklin and was cut from trees on the lot on which they lived across the street from the cemetery."

First Full-time Pastor

1966 Bulletin Cover

This bulletin is from 1966. It was found recently by Wayne Davis while he was refinishing the old podium from the Chapel.

1966 Bulletin Interior

A lot has changed at Bethesda over the years, but many things stay the same. There's even a Family Night Supper on Wednesday, just like today.

"During 1962 and 1963 the Official Board members at Bethesda were repeatedly meeting with the District Superintendant and others in the Conference to see if there were measures the church could take to meet all the requirements needed to have a full-time pastor of her own.  Finally, this was achieved, and on February 13, 1964 Bethesda officially requested a change in status from student pastors supplied by Emory University to a full time pastoral program.  It may seem hard to believe, but the church had been in existence for 137 years before it had a regular ministerial program."

Education Building

"Every group and every person in the church worked very hard to help see to it that the Education Building was completed, and it was finished and in use in 1967."

Second Parsonage and Pavilion

"In 1974 Bethesda started three projects that have really meant a lot in the lives of her people. That year saw the building of the softball field, the pavilion and a second parsonage.  The beautiful, modern parsonage is a warm, comfortable home for the ministers.  The softball field which was named for I.W. (Red) Williams sees a lot of happy people for much more than softball games, and the pavilion is host to many happy hours for the church and the community."
P1020261

Stained Glass in Sanctuary

Deeann's book ends in 1986,  just as the larger sanctuary and fellowship hall are being built.  Today, we enjoy traditional worship services in the beautiful, spacious sanctuary, complete with stained glass windows depicting the stages of Jesus' life.  Our Wednesday night suppers benefit from the large commercial kitchen adjacent to the inviting fellowship hall.  As someone who joined the church after this building was completed, it is hard for me to imagine what Bethesda was like before it was there.  I can't even fathom how it must have felt to rush to church on a cold Sunday morning in order to secure a seat near the wood stove in the middle of the little wooden church in a quiet farm community in Gwinnett County. What are your favorite memories of our church's history?
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