UPDATED 02/04/19 – Great news for parishioners and lovers of this quaint house of worship, the Paces Ferry United Methodist Church will no longer be closing its doors. Thanks to tireless efforts by church members and Reverend Theresa Coleman, senior pastor at Collins Memorial located at 2220 Bolton Road who has stepped up to fill the vacancy left by Unti’s retirement, the church has resumed regular service. In order to facilitate multiple sermons at both locations, Coleman will lead service at Paces Ferry United Methodists on Sunday mornings at 9:30 AM. In addition, the church has announced a forthcoming campaign website to accept donations for improving the building and grounds, though it has not yet been shared online. Learn more and keep tabs on the church and its progress by visiting their website and Facebook page.
Founded in 1877, the Paces Ferry United Methodist Church (PFUMC) is one of the oldest churches in Buckhead. On October 21, 2018 the church’s lay minister Steve Unti announced his retirement after 18 years leading the congregation. When Unti approached the District Superintendent and informed her that he wanted to step down, bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson of the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church opted to close the church altogether on December 30 instead of seeking a new minister.
In an email sent to the congregation announcing the closure, Unti cited the “shifting paradigm of the church and pastoral succession” as factors in the bishop’s decision. Though the church is financially stable, a lack of leadership and declining membership may have contributed to the ruling as decreed by Haupert-Johnson and her cabinet.
The adjoining cemetery, named Pleasant Hill, dates back to 1896. According to the historical marker on site the one acre lot was initially donated by William Brown, a Confederate soldier and local celebrity of sorts, on the 29th of September in 1877 for the purposes of establishing a church. Years later, Brown was interred in the cemetery alongside a number of soldiers from the civil war. FindAGrave reports that there are at least 95 graves on site, though many are unmarked.
“This church is really a snapshot in time,” explained Parishioner Harriet P Adams who has been attending the church for the past two years. In a fast-paced world, Adams cited the church’s humble setting as being quite comforting for reflection and togetherness, akin to her experience growing up in a small town. “It is a nod to a time long ago that brought us to today,” she continued. “A small but mighty experience!”
Marie Macadam, a member for nearly ten years, encouraged her entire 6 person family to join the Paces Ferry United Methodist Church after stopping in for a service on a whim one day. “We love the simple nature of the church,” said Macadam. “Piano music, old hymns, a close-knit congregation, no pomp and circumstance.” Inside, creaky pews and remnants of a wood-burning stove remind visitors of the building’s rich history.
“The church is just a special place and a little gem in the heart of busy Buckhead where one can experience Christ in their own personal way,” said Macadam.
Not only has the church provided a place to worship for more than a century, it also was briefly the home of a Pleasant Hill Private Academy run by teacher Ida Williams who later went on to establish the Buckhead Library. Though members of the community, congregation, and neighborhood have all been voicing their concerns about the fate of this property, the church is not listed on the National Register of Historic Places or otherwise historically protected. However, the plot’s smaller size, cemetery, and zoning for single family residential mean that any future development changes are unlikely.
Members have reported that there were no signs to indicate that the church would close its doors at the end of last year, and Macadam says that there are interested church members who would prefer to step up and lead the church instead of accepting the closure as final. “The members and friends of the church were not given any warning at all about the closing,” said Macadam. “We were very disappointed that we were not given a say in the matter or given the opportunity to step up and take over for those in leadership positions that are retiring.”
While the future is uncertain for the building, the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation has come forward and stated their support for the church’s revamp in the future. Ideas for uses that celebrate the building’s history and keep it open to the public have been circulating online, such as the possibility that a new minister might begin a new congregation there. As of today, the doors remain locked, lights turned off, and a gate is locked across the modest driveway. In the adjacent Pleasant Hill Cemetery vines have begun to wind around headstones, some of which have been disrupted and lay prostrate on the ground.
While the future for this quaint little church remains uncertain, it is the dedication of community and congregation members such as Adams and Macadam that offers hope that this relic of days gone by will stick around for years to come.