For 200 years, Ways Baptist Church has stood on a grassy hill above Brushy Creek in northeast Jefferson County and served as a doorway between the hard-worked row crops of rural Stellaville and a glittering heavenly reward.
Older than the scattered nearby homes and even the trees that shade them, Ways Baptist was organized in 1817 by Revolutionary War veterans and the sons of the men who fought alongside them.
“It’s amazing to me that a church can come through the Civil War, survive and be there to this day, still active,” said Rev. Wayne Turpin, Ways’ pastor. “They have held together for such a lengthy amount of time. They came through first the Civil War, then two world wars. They lost a lot of members in those events, and they stayed together.”
The white clapboard wooden church has about 50 active members, but Turpin said that when it celebrates its bicentennial anniversary on Sunday, Aug. 6, he expects standing room only.
“We’ve already had 230 people respond,” Turpin said. “We’re like woo-baby. To me that says a lot about the church itself, that we have all these people who have been a part of the church at one time and want to come back and share in this event. It’s really great to see this response.”
The anniversary service is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. with Turpin leading the morning service. He said that the Rev. Tim Batchelor, the director of missions for the Hephzibah and Kilpatrick Associations and two former Ways Baptist pastors, the Revs. Dan White and Jerry E. Cole, will be a part of the service.
The Rev. Alan Folsom, the Georgia Baptist Convention state missionary, will make a presentation on behalf of the convention.
Music will be provided by Serrell K. Zeigler, F. Vincent McNair and Karleen Chalker.
“It’s going to be crowded, but we think we can get 250 into the service,” Turpin said.
Sunday will also begin the church’s annual revival with services held at 7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, Aug. 7-9, and dinner Wednesday at 6 p.m.
Turpin, who has served as pastor since 2003, said he is excited to welcome so many people to the church grounds and spiritual family he has come to love.
“This is the most harmonious group of people I’ve had the pleasure to work with,” Turpin said. “It’s been a joy to serve there with such a loving and supportive group.”
The church’s first deacon and an original member, John Way, donated the land where the first church was built. Originally known as Darcy’s Meeting House, the log structure was renamed Ways Meeting House and became a constituted body on Aug. 16, 1817. Other original members and deacons were Elam Young, Moses Brinson Sr., Moses Brinson Jr., Noah Smith and Joshua T. Jordan.
The sanctuary where services are held today, built by William Donovan in 1851 at a cost of $2,500, was actually the third structure built.
“Ways Baptist has always had a commitment to missions and spreading the Gospel,” Turpin said. “Even before I got there, the church was supporting a missionary family.”
From 2003 to 2010, Ways Baptist sponsored this family through the International Mission Board, contributing $36,238 annually during that time.
“It was very impressive that they could support this family for a number of years who served in … Ukraine and then in South Africa and now they’re back in … Ukraine,” Turpin said.
The church continues to contribute twice annually to that family.
A few years ago, church members renovated the spring-fed outdoor stone-and-concrete baptismal pool that was built in 1877 on the edge of the church’s property. Church documents record the first members baptized there. The pool is still used today for its original purpose.
Across Campground Road sits the church’s cemetery, with tombstones dating back to the 1800s, including the grave sites of several Civil War soldiers. The 6-acre cemetery is maintained using an endowment fund set up for that purpose by four former members, Martha Taylor, Alice Robert Burkett, George S. Averett and Fannie Smith.
In 1868, Ways Baptist Church organized a school on adjoining property. At the time, it was the only high school in the county outside of Louisville, the county seat.
The Rev. W.L. Kilpatrick, who served as chairman of Mercer University’s trustees and led Ways Baptist’s congregation from 1866 to 1891, brought in some of the state’s most respected educators of the era, including professor V.T. Sanford, of Mercer’s Sanford family.
The church ran the school for 76 years, until 1944 when the population in that corner of the county had mostly moved to other areas.
A Georgia Historical Society marker recognizing the church and former school was placed and dedicated on the grounds in October 2004.
Turpin said he invites the community to come out and help celebrate the anniversary at the church and come back any Sunday for its regular services.
Sunday school is at 10 a.m. and Sunday worship at 11 a.m.