BREWER: Celebrating two centuries of service at Jackson UMC

J. Michael Brewer

Several years before there was a Jackson or a Butts County, a pioneer family settled in the area of what is now the Jackson City Cemetery and planted the seeds of what would later become a church. Mary Williams Buttrill probably never dreamed that she would someday be credited with starting a church, nor that she would also come to be known as the “Mother of Methodism” in Butts County.

In this part of Georgia, in 1818, survival was the most important thing, and caring for the living needs of her family was probably foremost in her mind, but Mary also believed that without the spiritual needs being met, one could quickly find themselves losing their way. Mary set out to change this.

A log building was soon built for worship, and Mary, who was known to be an “exhorter” of the Gospel, often held gatherings of her family and any persons who wanted to attend, regardless of who they were. Mary followed the theological teachings of Methodism and of its founder, John Wesley, and in the absence of any ordained clergy, became the community’s first spiritual leader. From these humble beginnings, the First Methodist Church of Jackson was born and for 200 years since, has served the needs of its parishioners, the community and the world wherever it could.

Four houses of worship have been home to the Methodists of Jackson since then: first, the log cabin worship house, followed by churches constructed on the present church site in 1846, 1884 and 1924. The current church building, built of brick in the Gothic revival style, was dedicated by Bishop Warren A. Candler. For the last 94 years, the congregation of the big brick church on East Third Street, which became a United Methodist Church in 1968, has strived to equip its members to be in ministry to others while emphasizing service, worship, fellowship and outreach to all who seek it. Being a city church, it was important to our congregation to stay close to the heart of downtown Jackson and today is one of the few churches left close to the downtown square.

This year, we have celebrated our bicentennial joyfully, not just among ourselves as members of the church but externally too, reaching out to our community to celebrate with us. We want people to be involved in our part of the story that is Jackson and Butts County, because just as much as the story of a town is about its people, such a book would be incomplete without the churches that have also been a part of that story.

We dug through our archives, studying hundreds of pictures and documents, including the membership rolls of the church dating back into the 1800s. We discovered that names from those pages often coincided with those of streets around town, assuring us that while our leaders drove the progress of the community even then, that they too found the church to be their place to recharge their spiritual batteries and to renew their vision for Jackson. Many of these documents were displayed for the first time this year, including construction documents for the current church, orders for the original stained glass windows and the contract for the installation of the beautiful Austin pipe organ that has played weekly since 1949.

Many pastors have served over the past 200 years, my grandfather being one of them, and we have been delighted to have three of them come back and celebrate with us. Phil DeMore, Jim Cantrell and Alice Rogers were all a big part of the fabric of our church and town during their many years of ministry at Jackson UMC and we have been blessed by their past leadership, just as we are today by our current pastor, Chris Shurtz.

We’ve also held a car show in recent weeks that amazed us by the number of people it drew to our church, and in the coming weeks we will have a Christian comedy and music show open to the community, featuring Matt Duren and Scott Davis. A service on the grounds, featuring old-style Wesleyan worship is also planned, and the year will end with a choir from Uganda to wrap up our celebration year.

Jackson United Methodist Church is more than a building and the people who worship there; rather, it is and has been a tremendous part of Butts County’s spiritual history since pioneer times when our community was still a wilderness. While it may be much larger and different today, it has never strayed from the seeds that Mary Buttrill planted 200 years ago, calling on us from the past, “To Serve the Present Age” and to grow disciples of Christ for the future.

J. Michael Brewer is chairman of the Jackson United Methodist Church Bicentennial Committee.

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