St. John Church was established in 1798 by Stith Mead, a young circuit rider converted at a camp meeting in Virginia. His family worshiped at St. Paul’s Church. He was allowed to preach there just once, for his sermon condemned Augusta’s 4,000 inhabitants for not knowing “their right hand from their left” in religious matters. Banned from St. Paul’s pulpit, he founded Augusta’s Methodist Society. It met in the home of Ebenezer Doughty at Washington (Sixth) Street near Reynolds. In 1800 Mead paid $500 for the Greene Street lot on which the church still stands.
Bishop Francis Asbury, visiting Augusta on his pastoral rounds, reported on November 29, 1800: “We have a foundation and a frame prepared for erecting, in a day or two, a house for public worship, two stories high, sixty by 40 feet; for this we are indebted to the favour of heaven and the agency of Stith Mead; and what is better, here is a small society.”
The meeting house was ready in 1801. It stood at the site St. John still occupies. This was the edge of town then, on the commons near the race course. The visiting itinerant Lorenzo Dow noted the society’s early struggles: in 1802 the builder had locked the congregation out because of “arrearage of pay.” Dow pledged $10 himself for the “privilege to have such a house to hold meeting in,” raised $70 that night, and published his book, “Lorenzo’s Chain,” to raise money for the congregation.
By 1806 the Methodists’ circumstances had improved, for when Asbury visited that year he grumbled that there was “a bell over the gallery!—and cracked too; may it break! It is the first I ever saw in a house of ours in America; I hope it will be the last.”
The congregation grew, adding 20 feet to the building in 1822. In 1844 the present brick sanctuary, built by William Goodrich, replaced it, and the old meeting house was rolled on logs to become the sanctuary for Springfield Baptist Church. It is still used, the oldest church building in Augusta, as Springfield’s fellowship hall. Within its walls Morehouse College was founded.
Five of St. John’s ministers became bishops. In 1882, during the pastorate of Warren Candler, Methodist leaders black and white met here to organize Paine College.
Our sanctuary was expanded in the 1890’s, and the stained glass windows were added at that time. In 1998, for the church’s bicentennial, the sanctuary was restored to its 19th-century appearance. Our pipe organ was installed in 2003. Designed and built for our sanctuary by the Dobson Pipe Organ Builders of Lake City, Iowa, this three-manual, mechanical action instrument has 42 ranks of pipes (2,172 in all).
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