Hear this…> Here!
Hear this ... right... Here!
Exit 67 in GA I-95n To: US 17, Coastal Hwy, to S Newport, near Riceboro, GA
“In the woods to the right is a church that claims to be the smallest in America. It’s just beyond the El Cheapo Diner there.
Speaking of the size of churches, the surrounding wilderness bore witness to the creation of the largest of all American Church movements. In the 1730’s, the father of Evangelical Christianity found inspiration here in the wilds of Georgia. The Founder of the Methodist Faith, John Wesley’s life is the subject of hundreds biographies…
…But you will be hard-pressed to find anyone more knowledgeable than Reverend Dave Hanson about Wesley’s short time in Georgia especially his stint doing missionary work in the Sea Islands. Like John Wesley, Reverend Hanson himself served as a pastor in the Sea Islands. But, separated by almost three hundred years, the two had very different experiences.
Says Reverend Hanson, “John Wesley had a miserable time here.”
When John Wesley set sail from England to the Debtor’s Colony of Georgia, the future Evangelical was a man of quiet faith. Prior to Georgia, Wesley’s sermons were weary affairs, eliciting little more than yawns.
But then he got here and he fell in love. And that passion — un-sated it turns out -- may have impassioned him for inspiring speeches later in life.
Turns out, much of his New World troubles occurred on Saint Simons Island. There the Anglican minister wound up in the wrong corner of a love triangle.
Ironically, one of Wesley’s stated intentions in coming to the wilderness was to avoid temptations of the flesh. But Wesley soon found himself bewitched by one Sophie Hopkey, a fetching young Georgia Peach of just 18. But the 32-year-old Wesley was slow to move. A local smooth talker moved in and stole Sophie’s heart.
The lovelorn Wesley sought revenge by refusing communion to Sophie. In response, an arrest warrant was taken out charging Wesley with public embarrassment by banning Sophie from communion.
Wesley hightailed it back to Savannah where he jumped ship back to England. On the voyage, the ship sailed through storm after storm.
He prayed and prayed and seemed to find solace in the chaos of the malestrom which dramatic effects he began to seize upon to heighten the engagement of his bored parishners.
He returned to England a wanted man, heartbroken, but grateful to be alive. (Quick aside…Maybe 2 years in Georgia can do that to you!)
As in Georgia, a key aspect of Wesley's ministry was to preach outdoors.
He recognized the open-air services were successful in reaching poor folks. They were uncomfortable entering the middle class tidiness of most Anglican churches. Wesley travelled ceaselessly throughout the British Isles. His message resonated with the lower rungs of society.
Soon the poor gathered in the thousands at large outdoor venues to hear the rejuvenated preacher spread his passionate message.
“He was the Billy Graham of his day,” Hanson says.
All in all, despite his movement’s huge success in today’s United States, the man who would lay the foundation for Evangelicals was all too happy to leave America far behind.
So why not get off the next exit and check out the nation’s smallest church? It may not be Evangelical, but it is non-denominational. So like John Wesley, it welcomes everyone!
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