BROTHERS IN CHRIST
The Reverend McGehees
It was a week when there were more Methodist preachers who appeared in Dublin than in a Key and Flanders family reunion. John B. McGehee and Edward McGehee, two of the longest serving Methodist ministers in the history of the South Georgia conference, were in town for a homecoming at the First Methodist Church.
It was during the last week of September 1911, one hundred years ago, when the members of the First Methodist Church invited all of their living former ministers to return to Dublin to celebrate the renovation of the church's new facility. Amazingly, all but one of the ministers accepted the invitation. Rev. W.N. Ainsworth, was busy with his duties as Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church South. The only other former Dublin Methodist minister missing was the Rev. Peter S. Twitty, who died a decade before.
The featured speaker and the hardest to get to come to the event was the Rev. John Boykin McGehee, who at the age of seventy-nine, was the oldest member of the South Georgia Conference of ministers. Rev. McGehee was also the first official minister of the First Methodist Church way back in 1854. During his sixty-five years in the ministry, Rev. McGehee served dozens of churches as well as many terms as a district superintendent.
John Boykin McGehee was born in the Henderson community, near Perry in Houston County, Georgia, on September 6, 1833. The son of Rev. Edward T. McGehee and Clara Apperson Owens, McGehee grew up in Houston County, where his father practiced medicine and dabbled at farming before entering the ministry.
It was only after his attendance at Emory College and his graduation from Franklin College that John McGehee found his place as a minister of the Gospel. McGehee was attending a revival at Wiley Chapel Methodist Church. He later wrote that he paid no attention to the services and in fact he resented what was happening around him. It was only when McGehee started across the street when he experienced an epiphany. From that moment on, the young man knew that he was called to preach.
It was on the morning of November 7, 1852, when the Rev. McGehee was admitted as a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church. His first assignment came in the Vienna circuit, although some written records indicate that he may have come to Dublin to preach on an irregular basis. In his second year in the ministry, McGehee was assigned to the Sandersville District and in particular the Methodist Church in Jeffersonville.
In his autobiography, published in 1915, the Rev. John B. McGehee wrote, "My home was in Dublin, at that time a small village. Then it didn't own a church building. Our Baptist brethren kindly gave us the use of their house of worship. Mine was no small circuit. Parts of four counties, Laurens, Washington, Montgomery and Pulaski claimed my oversight. Indeed churches were so numerous, riding so long, territory so large, that it was difficult to suppress the idea that I needed a traveling companion - an idea which was not suppressed."
Rev. McGehee remembered the main families of his congregations, the Guytons, Blackshears, Sanders, Flanders, Hicks, Holmes, and Arlines. While he lived in Dublin, the twenty-one-year-old minister boarded with Tom and Elvira Guyton. Rev. McGehee, still lacking confidence in his abilities, remembered the Dashers, the Rowes and Cochrans in the Dublin church who helped "the young shepherd ofa small Methodist flock."
In his years spent in Dublin, McGehee met many people who had a profound influence on his life in the ministry. He cited George Smith, who attended Snell's Bridge Church, as "one of the best men I ever knew." He remembered several members of the Flanders family, long hailed as leaders of the Methodist movement in our area, including Frank Flanders, Fred Flanders and W.J. Flanders.
In describing the loneliness of his circuit riding days, McGehee told the story of a trip to Lowery Church, "Finding a bridge down, I plunged into a creek deeper than Jordan and reached the bank in safety. For two hours, I pursued the trail without seeing a man, animal or bird, and began to decide how I would imitate the heroism of the fathers. At sunset, I found a driver and an ox cart," McGehee recalled. He told the driver he didn't know where he was going and confessed he was lost. He finally reached a home where the occupants were gone. Their new son-in-law turned the stranger away. McGehee spoke as eloquently as he could to convince the young man to allow him to stay for the night. Finally, he told the man, "I am sent to preach to you and will go no farther." Moved by the moment, the preacher was invited inside where he enjoyed a "sweet sleep."
It was in that "dark country" of southern Laurens County which McGehee described as having "an atmosphere from that section drawn largely from ponds and well charged with malaria, mosquitos and chills" as the place where he began to suffer from malaria for four years.
Just after his tenure in Dublin, John McGehee met the love of his life. The lonely days on the road made him think about what kind of woman he would like to marry. After months of deliberation, McGehee narrowed down his bride's qualifications to a few. More than sixty years after his marriage, the parson wrote that she must be a Methodist, and that she be strong, tall, smart, attractive, well read, and well reared. He found a match in Lucretia Lane. The couple married on the day after Christmas in 1854. He was twenty-one years old and his bride was only three months beyond her fifteenth birthday.
After leaving Dublin, McGehee served in several churches before becoming the president of Andrew College, a Methodist post secondary school in Cuthbert. At the age of forty, McGehee became a highly sought after Presiding Elder, serving in Columbus, Fort Valley, Thomasville, Savannah, Macon, and McRae. After more than 57 years in the ministry, McGehee finally returned to the pulpit in 1909 in Talbotton, where he died on July 22, 1917.
The younger McGehee, Edward Augustus McGehee (1839-1920), entered the Methodist ministry in 1859. Edward served as the minister of Dublin's First Methodist Church from 1904-1905 during the decades when the local church was one of the most important churches in the state.
The McGehee brothers' record of slightly more than one hundred twenty-five years of combined service to the Church has been surpassed by current and former Dublin residents, Jack and Billy Key, to whom I dedicate this column. The Brothers Key, who began their ministerial careers before World War II, have been brothers in Christ for well more than one hundred and thirty years. Their profession of their faith and their devotion to the Gospel of the Lord have been a blessing to all those who have been touched by the comfort of their words of "faith, hope and love."