THE NEW METHODIST CHURCH
Keeping Up With the Baptists
Competition is a good thing. In the race to have the biggest sanctuary in the Emerald City, the Methodists won. The Methodists built their first brick church in 1894, some 14 years before the Baptists completed their bigger and better church. Not to be out done and to be the biggest church in Dublin, the Methodist immediately launched a building program which would allow the West Gaines Street sanctuary to be the first choice of mass meetings in the city, not only religious ones, but social, scientific and musical ones as well.
Dublin was a growing city. The city was growing so fast that its backers dubbed it, "Dublin, Georgia, the only city in Georgia which is doublin' all the time." In fact, Dublin was one of the ten largest cities in the state and was often the site of state wide conventions and meetings. The necessity of large meeting facilities was critical to the economic welfare of the city and a large church met the needs of the community as well as the needs of church goers.
After the Baptist Church completed a major building program, leaders of the Methodist Church realized the desperate need for more Sunday School class rooms. The contract was let to John A. Kelley on October 25, 1910 for $19,000.00. Kelley was already working on the Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception which was located a block away. Kelley agreed to complete the work within four to five months for twice the original cost of the church.
Originally, the church hired a Mr. Lockhart of Columbus to design the additions. But, with the Rev. George C. Thompson, a former pastor and Dublin District Supernumerary, being an architect, church leaders hired Thompson to create a design to revamp the front facade and add Sunday Schools rooms in the rear. Thompson came up with an ingenious idea to accommodate the wishes of those who wanted the largest sanctuary in town. The moonlighting minister designed a movable partition, which, when removed, allowed the congregation of up to 1100 persons to view services in the sanctuary from the Sunday School area.
Nearly from the start Kelley's short completion schedule came into doubt. The main part of the church expansion was the construction of Sunday School rooms to the rear of the steep roofed sanctuary. In digging the foundation for the class rooms, workers discovered human remains in a fine state of preservation. To their amazement, the diggers found the body's skull, arms and legs in nearly perfect condition, only a few ribs had begun to decompose.
At first, workers thought they may have dug into the city cemetery, although they were two hundred feet away. Who the man was and how he got there remained a mystery. Most speculated that he was buried at least a half century before, though the freshness of the body seems to contradict that theory. Others thought the man was killed, but there had been no mysterious deaths since the church was built in 1894 and before then a murderer trying to hide a body would have buried in the thicket behind the cemetery and not in front of it. It wasn't the first time that buried bodies were unearthed during construction of buildings in the city, it being a common practice to bury the dead in the yards of houses, which once occupied many of the lots in the downtown area.
By the end of November, work was progressing nicely. When it came time to lay the first brick, that honor went to Rev. John M. Outler. Outler deferred to his toddler son, Albert to lay the first brick. With a little help from his parents, Albert placed the first brick on the foundation. More than thirty thousand more bricks would be cemented into the new addition.
Little Albert would grow up in his father's footsteps and become a Methodist minister. Actually, Albert Cook Outler would grow up to become one of the greatest Ecumenical Methodist ministers of the 20th Century. Albert's brother, John, Jr., would become a successful chief executive with WSB Radio in Atlanta.
Kelley still believed that he could complete the project before the following spring. But when delays occurred, more than ten more months elapsed before the first services were held in the newly renovated sanctuary.
The unexpected delay gave the members more time to plan a Jubilee to celebrate the opening on September 24, 1911. Every living former minister of the church was invited to attend the seven-day celebration. Only one, Rev. W.A. Ainsworth, the President of Wesleyan College, was unavoidably absent due to the future Bishop's absence from the state.
The festivities began early on Sunday morning with children and adults attending Sunday School in their new rooms, brighter and better than ever with electric lights and concrete walls.
The opening sermon was given by the Rev. Outler, who had headed the building program before being assigned the Thomasville District as it's Presiding Elder. That evening, ministers of other denominations in the city welcomed guests and fellow ministers.
Every day at 3:30 and 7:30, a former minister took to the pulpit and addressed large crowds, the largest ever to attend church services in the city's first century. The highlight of the week came on Tuesday evening when the Rev. John B. McGehee, the church's first minister, spoke. Rev. McGehee, who served the church in 1854, delivered a lecture which compared the Methodist Church in 1911 to the Methodist Church in 1854. McGehee returned to the pulpit the next afternoon with a sermon he dubbed, "Old-fashioned Love Feast."
And, as I honor the 100th anniversary of the construction of the First Methodist Church, both the First Baptist and First Methodist churches are undergoing another rehabilitation of their facilities. Alphonse Karr said it first, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."