Knowing your own history, or the history of your culture, is important because it helps us to know who we are while molding the future. Being familiar with what went on before gives us the ability to not only learn from past mistakes, but from the successes as well.
The History of Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church
.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 Fraser, 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.
Jerusalem is a full time church. On the first, third, and fourth Sunday, church service begins at 7:30 am followed by a full course breakfast and Sunday School. Second Sunday services begin with Sunday School at 9:45 a followed by regular church services at 10:00 AM. Joint Fellowship with Historic Mt. Pleasant and Macedonia Baptist Church is held every 5th Sunday at 9:00 am beginning with Sunday School followed by worship services and dinner.
The following Deacons were ordained by Pastor McNeal: Dea. Daniel Moody, the late Dea. Hezron Williams, the late Dea. Gurney Bacon, the late Dea. Rayford Bacon, the late Dea. Kenneth Bacon,Dea. Larry Garrison, Dea. Benny Boggs, Dea. James Jones, Dea. Albert Roberson, Dea. Leon Carr, the late Dea. Ronnie Bacon, Dea. Barry Baker, the late Dea. Wilson Golden, Dea. Isaiah Oxendine, Dea. Barto Benjamin, Dea. Carl Jones, Dea. Thornell Coney, the late Dea. Edwin Derry, and Dea. Tony Smith.
In August 2006, Rev. Victor Brewton and his family, Missionary Donna Brewton and their six children, Jeremy, Sean, Jasmine, Victor Jr. Matthew, and Jordan joined Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church. He was licensed in November 2006 and was named Associate Pastor.
In 2006, Jerusalem purchased a welcome and resource center. From 2000-2012 Ms. Felicia Prince served as Pianist. In 2007, Mr. David Sharpe joined Jerusalem and served as the minister of music. In 2008, Jerusalem published their first website.
In the year 2009, Jerusalem Resource Center was changed to the Groveland Stairways to Help Inc.Community Center This facility includes a meeting/all purpose room, reception room, computer room, game room, kitchen, and a wrap around porch, Also, during the year 2009, our church was blessed to have our new members join the pulpit. Joining the church was Rev. Timothy Freeman, Rev. Gregory Stafford, Rev. James Howard and Rev. Cassandra Finley.
In October 2011, our beloved Pastor, Dr. McNeal developed Lung Cancer. He struggled for many months but continued to be upbeat and his love for the Lord was even stronger. God called him home March 16, 2012. Pastor McNeal served Jerusalem for 40+ years. HIs legacy will live forever. In June 2012 the first scholarship in honor of Pastor McNeal was given to Keith Middleton. Banecia Baker received the 2nd scholarship in 2013.
Rev. Victor C. Brewton was called to lead the church in July 2013. Rev. Brewton was installed as our 16th pastor at Jerusalem. Rev. Brewton began making many positive changes for the church. Bible Study was changed to Tuesday nights along with quarterly business meetings. The Finance committee was redesigned to include three financial secretaries, Renee Baker, Gwen Bacon-Jones and Jushara Coples. The Deacon Board was given extra assignments and plans for a new Education Building was underway in honor of Pastor McNeal. The church has undergone major structural changes including interior painting, new carpet, new pews, pulpit furniture, exterior painting, parking lot pavement. We are in the process of adding beautification to the parking lot. A new 22 passenger van was also purchased.
Along with the above changes the church received a new motto: "Serving the Lord in Excellence, for an Excellent God deserves an Excellent Praise." We thank God for new leadership and we will continue to Serve the Lord, the Community, and the People with Excellence.