|Southeastern Evangelistic Groups History Doc. (Rev. Robert J. Denney)
In 1729 two young men in England, John and Charles Wesley, joined with other like-minded students at Oxford and formed a society known as the “Holy Club.” This society met on a regular basis to read the Greek New Testament and to study classic literature. What they found was that they could not be saved without holiness, following after it, and inciting others to do the same. On the evening of May 24, 1738, John Wesley’s celebrated “heart-warming” experience took place at a religious society on Aldersgate Street in London, an experience Charles had previously found. While listening to Luther’s description of the change, which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, he says: “I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust Christ alone for salvation; an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
The associations formed by the Wesley's and their followers, called societies, and members remained members of the Church of England. The first Methodist Society was organized in 1739 when eight or ten people, who appeared to be convinced of sin, earnestly groaned for redemption. From this group the numbers increased daily. We can condense the early Methodist doctrinal emphasis to three headings:
- All can be saved.
- All can know they are saved.
- Persons and nations can be saved from the power of sin.
By the 1760s the movement found its way to North America through two lay preachers’ ministry who had been converted to Christ under Methodist preaching in their native Ireland. In 1760 or 1761 Robert Strawbridge brought Methodism to Maryland, and Philip Embury brought it to New York in 1766. Another local preacher, Thomas Webb, a captain in the British Army, joined Embury and began preaching the same message.
In 1769 John Wesley sent Richard Broadman and Joseph Pilmore to America, and in 1771 he sent Francis Asbury, who became the most memorable and influential man in American Methodism. Wesley ordained Thomas Coke and gave him authority to exercise the bishop’s office. Coke came to America and ordained Asbury.
The first Annual Conference of the American Methodists was held in Philadelphia in 1773. The business was simple. The preachers present agreed to abide by the doctrines of John Wesley. At that time there were ten preachers, six circuits, and 1,160 members. During a one-year period, 1777 to 1778, eighteen hundred souls were added to the societies. By the end of the Revolutionary War, American Methodism had 83 preachers, 64 stations and circuits, and 14,988 members.
When the United States won independence, American Methodists, most of whom had been members of the Church of England, were according to the declaration of John Wesley, “totally disentangled both with the state and the English hierarchy.” He added: “They are now at full liberty to follow the Scriptures and the primitive church, and we judge it best that they should stand fast in that liberty wherewith God has so strangely made them free.” The new church was named the Methodist Episcopal Church. By the middle of the nineteenth century the Methodist Episcopal Church split into the North Church and the South Church. These two groups remained separate until they reunited again, along with the Methodist Protestants, in 1939.
Toward the end of the 19th century, a powerful revival, called the “Second Great Awakening” or “The Holiness Movement,” swept through America. One form of worship to come out of that revival was the camp meeting. These meetings, sometimes called “sacramental seasons,” drew large crowds and contributed significantly to the growth of Methodism and elevated the morality of communities. Hundreds of camp meetings developed across America. These revivals existed on into the twentieth century. Many continue today.
It was in the winter of 1931 that controversy broke out in the MEC South in Macon,Georgia. Dances began to be held in the church’s basement. Many already felt that the MEC South was becoming too liberal and had been working from within to make changes. For some, the dancing was the last straw and they left the church. The reunion of the Northern and the Southern churches, in 1939, created a schism in the Methodist Church. A large number of churches in the southeast left the Methodist Church to form the Southern Methodists. This new group was lead by former bishops Collins Denny and Warren A. Chandler. Unfortunately many, like those who left the MEC in Macon in 1931, never joined the new group.
It was at this time in history that the Southeastern Evangelical Group began to take root. At a revival in the First Street MEC South in Macon, Georgia, S.F. Andrews accepted Christ as his Savior and went on to Sanctification. He felt the call to preach and became a Lay Preacher and an Evangelist. He went wherever he could share the Gospel. Revivals broke out all over Georgia, and where there was no church, brush arbors were built. Revivals would often last for weeks on end. Ministers would take turns running these revivals to keep them going.
In the summer of 1932, a group began to meet under a bush arbor in the yard of Clara Bass, living in the home known as the Jim Andrews place on the Old Marion road. Clara came back to this community when she was 29 years of age with three children. She was concerned that there was no place for her to take her children for religious services. Consequently, she opened her doors to the young people of the community and formed a Young Peoples Evangelistic Club. Other homes began to open up to this club, and prayer meetings were held. Bill Parker was the club’s president, and one of the leaders was Rev. Fails Andrews, a brother of Clara.
The cottage prayer meetings were held in the spring of 1932 and as interest grew the people of the community felt the need for a revival. There was no place to hold a revival so Clara suggested building a bush arbor and said it could be built in her yard. Britt O’Neal, better known as “Uncle Britt,” agreed to show the men in the community how to build a bush arbor. The people of color were also welcome to the revival, and many were won to Christ. In a great revival held in August 1932, led by Fails Andrews, souls were born into the kingdom of God. By September a Sunday school started and members of the Evangelistic club were doing the revival preaching.
As summer turned into fall, everyone realized that the bush arbor was not suitable for services during winter, and they decided to build a church. Uncle Britt donated land, and the first meeting collected $200. Men and women from the community and friends of the church came to build the church, which was dedicated on November 6, 1932and named Union Chapel. Many changes have occurred over the years, but Union Chapel remains the oldest church in the Southeastern Evangelistic Groups.
On April 16, 1944Rev. E.M.Shelton, the former pastor of the Montpelier Ave. Nazarene Church in Macon, Georgia, organized the South Macon Evangelistic Tabernacle. The organizational meeting was held at the house of Mr. And Mrs. C.T. Moss with seven people present. The church was chartered under the Southeastern Evangelistic groups, and in 1948 the name was changed to Macon Evangelistic Church.
Rev. Shelton resigned as pastor due to his position at Hart’s Mortuary. Rev. W.W. Cambell took over pastoring the small flock. Permission was granted and the church services were held in the Pendleton Homes Community Building, which was used as a day nursery. Meetings were held there for three years (1947-1950). It was during this time that Rev. Cambell was forced to resign, do to his heath, and Rev. Rabun O. Smith began to pastor. Under Rabun’s leadership, two lots on Lackey Drive were purchased for $500 each. The last chapel at the old camp wheeler was purchased for $800 and moved to the lot on Lacey Drive. New pews were made because the old ones had already been sold.
In September 1948 Rev Smith was moved to Union Chapel and Rev. Roy Oliver, his wife Kate, and son Phil moved from Americus,Georgia to pastor the church in Macon. The church in Americus was also a Southeastern Evangelistic church, although today it is a Nazarene Church. Under Rev. Oliver’s leadership, the chapel was completed and the first service was held on September 18, 1950. The sermon at that first service was, “Where there is no vision, the people parish.”
Dr. Joe S. Andrews and his wife Wilma Jean came to pastor the church in September of 1953 and remained there for over four decades. In 1967 a new sanctuary was added to the original church. Church members with Dr. Andrews did most of the work on the sanctuary. Towards the end of the 70s, 25 acres were purchased just off of Interstate 75 south, and a new church was built along with a school.
Another remarkable event that takes place at Macon Evangelistic church is the “He Touched Me” play that takes place every Easter season. The play, developed by Joe and Wilma Andrews, was designed to share what it was like during Christ’s passion. Tens of thousands of people have seen this play and many lives have been changed because of it.Today Macon Evangelistic Church remains an important fixture to the community of Macon,Georgia and is now under the leadership of Rev. Gary Berrier. The future remains bright for Macon E.
The story of Union Chapel and Macon Evangelistic Church could be the story for many of the churches that belonged to the Association. S.F. Andrews became nationally known and conducted revivals that stretched from Texas to Indiana to Maryland and to Florida. A trailer was purchased and large tents were hauled from one revival to another. One of those tent revivals was held in woods on Como Road in Jay County, Indiana. From this revival the Indiana Holiness Camp was born and lives have been change for years. When the sanctuary for the camp was built, the Summers family donated most of the wood used for the rafters and their son, John K. Summers, is now a minister in the Association. Often when a revival broke up the people in the community, like Union Chapel, stayed together. Churches, camp meetings, and missions were established all over the country. While conducting tent meetings in Texas, S.F. Andrews came into contact with another evangelist by the name of J.H. Hamblen, who became a founding member of The Evangelical Methodist Church. At the time Hamblen was pastoring some of the largest Methodist churches in the south. Other evangelists joined forces with S.F. Andrews and the movement grew. Some of the early ministers include: Rev. M.J. Wood, Rev. Jimmy Fuller, Rev. Acie Roquemore and Rev. Frank Chapman. In 1940 the Southeastern Evangelical Group came together when S.F. Andrews and Folks Huzford, a judge from Homerville,Georgia, set up a Federal Charter known as The Southeastern Evangelistic Groups Inc. Many of the churches, camps, and missions, which formed during the decade before the charter, joined the new Association. This movement was never an effort to form a denomination. It was meant to be an Association of churches who were like minded and were held together by a congregational-connectional system of government. Local churches own their property and call their pastors. A congregational-connectional system does not operate entirely on the local level. Government power and authority in the Association are not established by a local church, but by local churches (plural) acting and voting through their delegates at the Annual Conference level. Decisions made at the local church conference are binding only on the local congregation and do not obligate any other church of conference. A local church is free to join or to leave the Southeastern Evangelistic Groups as it wishes.
The movement continued to grow throughout the 40s, 50s, and 60s as S.F. Andrews, the first President, led the group for more then 30 years. Upon the death of Andrews, his son, Dr. Joe Andrews, took over the Presidency and served into the 1990s. The association was blessed to have over 55 years of leadership under two men. Over the past 20 years the Association has been lead by Rev. Frank Chapman, Rev. Harry Dull, Dr. David Whitner, Rev. David Roland and currently by Rev. Claude Creel. Over the years churches have come and gone but there are a few foundations that seem to always be around, like Union Chapel. Another foundation is Walter Sark, who has been the Secretary of the Association from its beginning and made it possible for me to put most of this history together. I tip my hat to Walter Sark, Secretary of the Southeastern Evangelistic Groups for over 71 years.