First Light

John M. Gray (1826-1828)

We must have had some ornery ancestors among our early church members!! Of our first five pastors, not one of them stayed longer than two years!  (In September 2011, Dr. Setzer broke the record as our longest serving pastor during a single term!) However, the nature of our church rather than the character of our ancestors caused the short pastorates. In our earliest years, our church was little more than a preaching station. The preacher would ride his horse to our place once a month. So I am not surprised that pastoral tenures were brief in light of the fact that we had no settled ministry.

Our first pastor, John M. Gray, is a pastor about whom I wish we knew more. Born in March, 1773, he served our church for two years, 1826-1828. One of only eight delegates, Gray helped Jesse Mercer and others to form the Georgia Baptist Convention in 1822, four years before our church organized in 1826. This tells us something critically important about our first pastor. Any minister identified with Jesse Mercer worked on behalf of missions, ministerial education, publications, and Baptist cooperation.

John Gray, a Jesse Mercer kind of Baptist, preached in associations and churches throughout middle Georgia, advocating the ministry of missions, ministerial education and other causes. Many Baptists of the day, however, zealously opposed these causes. Gray swam upstream!

In 1831 Gray became the second pastor of the First Baptist Church of Columbus. In 1834, he died while on a preaching tour. The 1834 Minutes of the Columbus Association described him as one of her most active and able ministers. Say a silent prayer of thanksgiving this morning for John M. Gray and those who founded our church in 1826.


Adiel M. Sherwood (1828-1830)

Next to Jesse Mercer, Adiel Sherwood's influence towered above all other Baptist ministers in Georgia in the 19th century. We proudly hail him as our second pastor. Extremely well educated for a Baptist minister of his era, Sherwood, born in New York and educated in Vermont and Massachusetts, came to Georgia in 1818 at the age of twenty-seven. Meeting Jesse Mercer for the first time in 1819, the two forged a firm friendship, and together they shaped and molded white Baptists of Georgia.

A visionary, Sherwood organized the first Sunday School among Baptists in Georgia at what is now the First Baptist Church of Athens. He introduced the resolution that led to the organization of the Georgia Baptist Convention. He, Mercer and a few other pastors saved white Baptists from the anti-missionary movement, transforming the Baptists of this state into ardent advocates of missions. Sherwood established a manual labor school for ministerial students that he willingly closed so that Mercer University could be born. Sherwood became one of the first professors of religion at Mercer University, and he wrote profusely on a wide variety of subjects. His writings shaped Baptists in Georgia and all over the country. While Sherwood served as our pastor, the Great Revival of 1827-1829 occurred among the Baptists of Georgia, and Sherwood led in that movement.

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Jesse H. Campbell (1831-1832)

Can you imagine a 24 year old young man serving as pastor of this great old church? While serving as pastor for only one year, Jesse H. Campbell (1807-1881), our third pastor, came to us as a young man clearly shaped and molded by Adiel Sherwood, our second pastor. Sherwood taught Campbell in an early Baptist school at Eatonton. Campbell, not surprisingly, mirrored all the ministerial passions that claimed Sherwood’s ministry.

Like Sherwood, Campbell developed into an exceptionally distinguished leader among Georgia Baptists. Passionately advocating for ministerial education, missions, Sunday Schools, temperance, and the poor, his zeal made him an effective fund raiser for Baptist causes. Campbell also reflected Sherwood’s posture of a non-sectarian minister committed to Baptist principles. In an era when many Baptists opposed missions, suspected educated ministers, and shunned other religious groups, the Sherwood-Campbell spirit shaped our church.

Our church, founded in 1826, did not have a sanctuary until five years later, in 1831. The church constructed this first building either during or immediately prior to the short pastorate of Jesse Campbell. Standing on the corners of Mulberry and Second streets, facing Mulberry, our first sanctuary was described by one historian as “a commodious house of worship.”

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Josiah Law (1832-1833)

If you look at our pastoral history during the first 50 years of our church’s life, you will find two dominant themes in the lives of our ministers, EDUCATION and MISSIONS. So who planted those two genes within our church’s DNA? Pastors John M. Gray, Adiel Sherwood, and Jesse H. Campbell were all important, but Sherwood was critical. Josiah Law, our fourth pastor, continued that noble tradition.

The son of a Baptist pastor, Josiah Law and his predecessor at our church, Jesse Campbell, were ordained at the same worship service in 1830 at Sunbury. Almost unheard of for a Baptist minister in the South at this time, Law completed a three year course of study at Newton Theological Seminary in Massachusetts. When he became our pastor at age 24, he had more formal and classical education than any of our previous three ministers. Like the three pastors before him, Josiah S. Law served our church only for a brief time. Illustrative of his educational interests, Josiah Law received but declined an invitation to a professorship in the theology department of Mercer, but he served as a Mercer trustee from 1839 to 1845.

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Charnick A. Tharpe (1833-1834)

Our church history provides little information on this mysterious reverend. Doubtless he was a man of means, because he owned a plantation and a number of slaves in Twiggs County.

The Reverend Charnick A. Tharp’s family matriculated into Georgia from Virginia via Wales. He spent some time as pastor of our mother church, Stone Creek Baptist in Twiggs County. Along with John M. Gray, our first pastor, and a man by the name of Jonathan Neal, Tharp was a member of the Presbytery that constituted our church in December 26, 1826. In a sense we must have been homefolk for Tharp. He served as pastor of our church from May 1833 to March 1834. When he became our pastor, we worshiped in a humble brick church located where the court house stands today (2011).

Charnick Tharp rode his horse from his plantation one Saturday/Sunday a month to hold worship services at our church. Like a number of farmer/preachers of his day, Reverend Tharp never accepted remuneration for any of his church activities.


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