.The History of Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church
During the Spring of 1865, a group of black farmers met with the Rev. Lewis Price, a white minister, to form a church in eastern Tattnall County. This church today is the Historical Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church located in West Bryan County about one fourth mile off highway 280 in Groveland, GA,
The black farmers and Rev. Price met under a busy arbor in the "Area" section of Tattnall County, later becoming a part of Liberty and Bryan counties, and, since 1941, the Fort Stewart military complex. This expansion of military activities and land holdings at Fort Stewart resulted in the displacement of many families from their ancestral home sites and rich farm land in several counties of Georgia. The Civil war had just ended, Atlanta had burned. General Sherman had taken Savannah, Atlanta University had been established and five years before the meeting of the General Missionary
Baptist Convention of Georgia in Augusta. The Rev. Price held regular worship services, under brush arbors, with the farmers until he left the area in 1867. Open worship by those of the Negro race was not allowed at this time, therefore, meetings were held in secrecy and moved each time to a different location on the farm. The preacher was paid by the black farmers with labor such as cutting the preachers timber.
In 1867, Rev. Garrison Frasier, the pastor of Cross Roads Baptist Church, organized Jerusalem Baptist Church and the Rev. R Williams was called as pastor. Mr. Miles Moody, a white landowner,and former slave holder encountered the black worshipers under the grape arbor on his property and donated land in Tattnall County upon which to build the first house of worship. The log cabin church was completed in 1867 and was used until 1912 to offer shelter for the worshipers during these very turbulent times in the history of Georgia and the United States. In 1914 the church property became part of the new county of Evans.
Rev. Williams left the church in 1872. The church had a succession of seven other ministers until early in 1887 when Rev. S. N. Walker (1887-1930) was called to serve as pastor. Ministers received no salary, but were paid in services and farm products. The first Board of Deacons for Jerusalem Baptist Church were the prominent Negro farmers of that time namely, Samuel Boggs, M. C. Cassedy, Francis Geiger, Moses and Joseph Johnson, Edward Levant and Cyrus Moody.
Rev. S. N. Walker was called to Jerusalem as pastor in 1887 and along with the surviving founders and other churchmen, formed a committee in 1887 to build a new church. The committee charged with raising $2,000.00 included W. L., A. D., and D. L. Bacon; C. B., and R. L. Baker; R. G., T. F., and T. S. Ball; F. C. Geiger, Joseph, A. D. and S. M. Johnson, and C. D. Mack. The new wood frame church building measured 40 by 60 feet, with a porch and two doors in front, one on the left for men and one on the right for ladies. Once inside, the church came together with a pulpit in the center of the back. The choir stand was on the men’s side and a door which the preacher used was in the back of the church. Ministers did not receive a salary. They were paid in services and farm products, whatever the farmers had was donated to the church and the preacher.
When Rev. Walker died, the Rev. Lockett was pastor for about a year and then he left. The church called the Rev. N. C. Conner (1931-1949). Rev. Conner, the founder of Conners Temple Baptist Church in Savannah, was paid $25.00 per month, provided he attended conference on Saturday and ministered for the church on Sunday. The Pastoral Day was the 2nd Sunday in the month. Members paid sixty cents per month, or worked their dues off doing work to maintain the church. The membership was few in number, no more than 50 members, who had to travel miles on foot, horseback, wagon or buggy to get to the church.
The first Sunday School was organized and Houston Johnson was the first Superintendent. Rev. Conner ordained fourteen Deacons. They were Dave Carroll, Willie Bacon, Charlie Stafford, George Ball, Vernell Cassidy, J. D. and J. C. Ware, Charlie Baker, Thomas Johnson, Sevendell Bacon, Julius Hines Sr., Lelan Garrison, Eddie Garrison and Rozzie Johnson.
In 1941, Fort Stewart and the federal government came in and told the congregation that their land was to become a part of the Camp Stewart Military Reservation. All of the families had to move and find new places to love. The government didn't give the "Area" residents long to relocate, so this period was very stressful for the people, both black and white. The people of the "Area" mostly moved into the surrounding counties of Chatham, Bryan, Evans, Tattnall, Bulloch, Candler, Long and other parts of Liberty counties. Many chose not to remain in the vicinity but joined the migration to seek jobs and a better way of life for themselves and their families in the "North".
During this period of transition, the membership and pastor of Jerusalem Baptist Church ran into a variety of obstacles, they had to move the church but they had no land. They immediately began looking for land outside of the Reservation on which to erect a new building or move the old one. It was decided that they would hold worship in the old Salem Church building (no longer being used) until they could find some land to move the Jerusalem church building. Rev. Conner preached in the Old Salem Church as pastor of Jerusalem because among all the confusion they had not been able to have services in the Jerusalem Church.
Mr. Wayne Brewton, a White Bryan Countian who also lost his home to the federal government, knew the members of Jerusalem and had acquired some land across the railroad tracks in Groveland and agreed to sell the rights of some 20 acres of land to the church. The church purchased this land, and in 1942 moved the old church building from the Reservation, across Canoochee River to Groveland in Bryan County. Rev. Conner was able to keep much of the membership together drawing members from the surrounding counties to worship on the second Sunday of each month. This job completed, Rev. Conner died in 1949.
During the next six years, the Rev. W.M. Hall of Macon traveled to Groveland as pastor, until in l956 when the Rev. W. W. Whitehead, Pastor of Conners temple in Savannah was called to lead the church.
Rev. Whitehead led the first major renovations of the l912 church building. Those renovations were so extensive that some of them were not completed until years later. During his 18 year pastorate, the Rev.Whitehead ordained 13 deacons: Julius HInes Jr., Ezekiel Baker, James Clanton, Chester Johnson, Ulysses Bacon, Leone Boggs, Josephus Clanton, Archie Garrison, James Hines Jr. Claude Johnson, William Stafford, Robert Bacon and W. Hardin Ball. Rev. Whitehead died in l974.
The Rev. Benny Brinson was pastor at Jerusalem for a short period and then in May, 1975, the church called the Rev. Lorenzo Perry McNeal, a student in the ministry of Rev. Whitehead and a native of Evans County. Rev. McNeal had been a pastor for 15 years when he became the first native born minister to serve as pastor of Jerusalem.
Rev. Lorenzo Perry McNeal was pastor for 15 years (the last two at Jerusalem while Rev. Whitehead was ill) before becoming the 1st native born minister to serve at Jerusalem. Under Pastor McNeal's leadership, the church was renovated twice, brick veneer was added on the exterior walls, new classrooms were built, a fellowship hall was built, bathrooms were added, a pastor's study with a bathroom was added, indoor pool, wall to wall carpet, new light fixtures, a marquee at the church entrance of the road location, and intercom system was installed and the church became handicap accessible.
Jerusalem has been blessed with many wonderful gifts throughout the years. Some of the gifts include a new steeple, security system, two pianos, church marquee, a water cooler, a new industrial kitchen stove, a new industrial kitchen stove, a new industrial fryer, hood, and fan. Also we received new painting in the interior of the church and the donation of a new van.
After the government purchased the land on which the first Jerusalem church was located, it was 43 years before the members of the church had the opportunity to visit the cemetery. In 1985, the church had the first memorial services at the cemetery.