Roots of Faith from 1786
by Pastor Dan White
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Rev. Dan White
Pastor of North Columbia Church, Appling, GA
Pope’s Chapel sits on a dirt road in Wilkes County near the Broad River. You either have to be lost or purposefully find it to arrive at this idyllic, sacred site.
Pope’s Chapel had to close in 1988. Down to four active members and billed $10,000 per annum by the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church for appropriations and pastoral support, they could not meet their obligations. However, the church continues through their annual homecoming service which was held last Sunday, October 4. The chapel was packed with about 150 in attendance from far and wide including people from New York State and Florida. I had the honor of serving as the guest preacher for their service this year.
Pope’s Chapel was established in 1786, two years after the famous Christmas Conference of 1784 at Lovely Lane Chapel in Baltimore that established the Methodist Episcopal Church in America. Bishop Francis Asbury, the founder of American Methodism, sent three missionary elders to this thriving county where forty per cent of our state’s population resided.
One elder that Asbury appointed to Wilkes County almost destroyed the work before it got started. Rev. Beverly Allen stained the embryonic churches and the faith. When he visited Augusta on a business trip, he shot and killed Major Robert Forsyth on January 11, 1794, the first United States Marshall to be murdered. The Major was serving papers to arrest Allen for unpaid debt. Allen fled to Elbert County to escape the hangman’s noose but was arrested. Two hundred of his followers busted him out of jail. Allen then ran away to Logan County, Kentucky, which was called Rogues’ Harbor in those days and lived out the remainder of his life. Asbury wrote in his journal about this albatross for Georgia Methodists. “The poor Methodists must unjustly be put to the rack on [Allen’s] account.”
The two other missionary elders, Thomas Humphries and John Major, were as good as gold. Humphries established Pope’s Chapel in 1786 in the tobacco growing area of the Broad River. The church flourished. Asbury visited the church many times preaching to over a thousand people on one occasion.
The congregation’s influence continues today far and wide. Warren Fortson, now a retired attorney in Atlanta, had ancestors who established Pope’s Chapel. His activist faith helped calm a Civil Rights protest in Americus at great cost to him. As an attorney in Americus and working with then Governor Carl Sanders an Augustan, Fortson stated on August 4, 1965, his belief that the Americus community will only be able to reduce racial tension "by sitting down with a committee of white people and a committee of Negroes.” Tempers flared. The Sumter County African-Americans had become outraged. On July 20, four African-American women were arrested for standing in the "white" line to vote in a special election. By October 1965, Warren Fortson and his family had to abandon Americus under white racist death threats because of his involvement in creating a biracial committee. Fortson moved to Atlanta and continued to work for justice and the Civil Rights cause.
The Scripture says that faith without works is dead (James 2:26). The work of faith by the early Methodist pioneers like Francis Asbury, Thomas Humphries, John Major, and Henry Pope live on today through the lives of men and women like Warren Fortson whose roots spring from Pope’s Chapel Methodist Church.
Let us all be inspired by the great heritage of faith from this still prominent and influential church in spreading the spirit of Christian compassion and by doing good works springing from our faith.
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