Celebrating 125 years in Gainesville

The congregation grew close through both joys and sorrows, such as when Gainesville was destroyed in April 1936 by the fifth-deadliest tornado in U.S. history.

[LEFT] The second Gainesville Church building, slightly modified by the Pentecostal church who bought it after it was sold in 1962.  The structure was demolished in 2008.  [RIGHT] A historical photo of W.A. McCutchen.

CELEBRATING 125 YEARS IN GAINESVILLE

by Josh Dobson

 

On Sept. 15, 2018, the Gainesville Church in Georgia celebrated its 125th year in ministry with a service dedicated to sharing the past historical achievements of the congregation and its vision for the future. 

Believe it or not, when the church decided to plan the special service, it had no trace of its history on record. Josh and Connie Dobson led an extensive research project that involved countless hours at the local libraries, online searches through Adventist archives, and even visits to some historical sites. As they began to uncover historical treasures, the Dobsons posted daily facts to social media and provided in the weekly announcements videos that featured the church’s past locations. The research culminated in a 13-minute documentary film that included photos of all five of the facilities where the Gainesville congregation has worshiped. A brick from the original Pine Street site was presented to the church during the celebration as a reminder of its evangelistic roots in the late 19th century. 

Gainesville was considered a mission field in the early 1890s, when the General Conference (GC) Committee gave the green light to enter into Georgia. After a few years of canvassing, the GC appointed a minister named W. A. McCutchen to start a series of tent meetings in Gainesville. In May 1893 the first tent meeting was held, and nightly attendance ranged from just a few to up to 300 attendees. When the message soon gained popularity, leaders in the other local churches began telling the community to stay away. Nonetheless, the church grew and was officially organized on Aug. 5, 1893. 

By November 1893, the first church on Pine Street was built and the first Adventist school in Georgia was established. However, both McCutchen and the school master would later be arrested for working on Sunday and charged with disorderly conduct before the school even opened. This case, which would eventually make its way to the Supreme Court before it was dismissed, is commonly referenced in religious liberty discussions even today. 

Despite the negative press, the Georgia Conference camp meeting was held in the city of Gainesville in August 1894. The city offered free electricity and water hookups for the event, which drew thousands of attendees. The local newspaper featured a lengthy article giving a favorable depiction of the “peculiar people” who were hosting the gathering. 

Following that camp meeting, the church would go through ups and downs in its membership and eventually would be forced to disband. However, Julia Ella Philmon, one of the first Adventist converts in Georgia, kept up the work in her own house. She organized a regular Sabbath School class that grew to more than 20 members, and that core group did an organizational “reboot” in March 1935 that was a success and grew to what is today’s Gainesville church family! 

The congregation grew close through both joys and sorrows, such as when Gainesville was destroyed in April 1936 by the fifth-deadliest tornado in U.S. history. The Adventist church building was blown six feet off its foundation and had to be rebuilt. The Dobsons assume that much of the church’s old records, dating back to 1893, were lost in this storm. 

The congregation’s mission was not thwarted, however, as the second Gainesville church was built on Pine Street in August 1936. Then, after holding several successful evangelistic campaigns, the congregation moved to a new A-frame building on Vine Street by April 1962. The congregation met there for several decades, building various additions in order to house Sabbath School classes and the Gainesville Christian School. In 1993 the congregation celebrated its 100th anniversary, and by 1997, a Dahlonega, Ga., mission had been established, which later would become the Chestatee Church. In 2007, church members voted to sell the Vine Street property and rent from Christ Lutheran Church until they moved in November 2010 into their present facility on Old Cornelia Highway. 

Under the current pastoral leadership of Juanfer Monsalve, the Gainesville Church continues the evangelistic efforts that were started by W. A. McCutchen. Please keep the congregation in your prayers as it seeks to spread the gospel to the city of Gainesville. 

 
This article was published in the Georgia-Cumberland Conference Communique in the Nov/Dec 2018 Issue. 

Josh Dobson serves as the Gainesville Church's secretary and Communications & Media Director.