Churches save souls; Bob Taylor saved a church.
The late Reverend Robert Taylor was the local Methodist district superintendent in the late 1970s when Liberty Methodist, the small country church in southern Richmond County, had four members in attendance.
Taylor could have shut it down, instead he rebuilt it.
That’s because Liberty was special, not just to him, but to Georgia. It was the oldest Methodist church in the state, dating back to the 1700s. Francis Asbury, the legendary Methodist cyclist and bishop, was there to preach in 1790 and found it firmly established.
It was also special for Taylor. His parents were buried in his cemetery. He had grown up on and attended a nearby farm in his youth, and said what he learned there inspired him to enter the ministry.
It was a match made in heaven.
Taylor was 27 and married with a family when he left his Hephzibah dairy farm and answered the call. He began his career as a pastor of Mize Memorial Methodist Church in 1942. He helped establish Burns Memorial Methodist and Riverview Methodist. He was pastor at the St. James Methodist in downtown Augusta on Greene Street, where he is still known for promoting his motto: “Fellowship of the Friendly”.
He was also remembered for Sunday sermons.
“When Bob Taylor spoke,” said Billy Powell, still a member of St. James, “you didn’t need an explanation of what he meant and your attention didn’t wander. “
Taylor, however, has been very active in the Methodist Church’s North Georgia Conference. He served in Stockbridge, Fayetteville, Madison, and Glenn Memorial on the campus of Emory University. At Stockbridge, he also served Union UMC and Flippen UMC.
Taylor was also elected to serve as a delegate to the General Conference and the Judicial Conference of The United Methodist Church.
He retired 40 years ago as Augusta District Superintendent and began in earnest the restoration of Liberty, his former church. He had the building repaired, he encouraged new members, casting a wide net throughout the region.
In 1997, he was successful in having Liberty listed on the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of the Interior.
Make no mistake, Liberty was historic.
According to the Historic Rural Churches website, the church was organized around 1775 by two Irish brothers Samuel and Stephen Collins.
Samuel attended the Boston Tea Party and had come to the South to avoid punishment. The brothers were said to have been inspired by Asbury and settled south of the town of Augusta.
Asbury’s journal in March 1790 mentions his trip to Liberty, which he called “the Richmond County SC Church”.
The church was probably named after Samuel Collins, but there is speculation that the name came from nearby Spirit Creek or perhaps from Stephen Collins, the brother.
It probably started out as a log structure, later replaced by a more conventional building around 1800.
A deed dated Jan. 9, 1804 describes the transfer of title to the property on which present-day Liberty Church stands, the Historic Rural Churches website says. It is believed to have started serving as a Methodist church just months after Methodism began in Baltimore in 1784.
The church is recognized not only as the oldest Methodist church in Georgia, but also as the third oldest in the United States.
Bob Taylor died in 2007 at the age of 93, but his impact on churches across the state is still remembered, most notably at Liberty Methodist in southern Richmond County.
“Until the last year of his life he was doing weddings and funerals,” said his son, James Taylor. “My dad did this because he thought it was the right thing to do. It’s just who he was.”
Bill Kirby has reported, photographed and commented on life in Augusta and Georgia for 45 years.