The congregation of Jerusalem Lutheran Church will celebrate its 280th anniversary Aug. 31. The church is its people. The congregation was organized in 1733 at St. Anna’s Church in Augsburg, Germany, and continues to this day.
In 1732, Protestant citizens in the Archbishopric of Salzburg were given the choice of embracing Catholicism or banishment. Over 22,000 left their homes, exiled for their convictions. Thousands fled to many countries. Georgia was the last colony to be established in America.
Thirty-seven Salzburger families bound for Georgia proceeded to Dover, England, and swore allegiance to King George to be sent where Oglethorpe was settling the new colony.
On Jan. 8, 1734, after a year in England, they began a journey by ship aboard the “Purysburg.” On March 12, 1734, they met Oglethorpe at Savannah. He led them up the Savannah River to make their home along a creek. The Salzburgers’ new home and creek on which it was established was named Ebenezer. They established their place of worship upon arrival.
The first settlement at Ebenezer proved unhealthy with many souls lost. They were granted approval to move the settlement to the mouth of Ebenezer Creek at the Savannah River. There they established New Ebenezer. Again they established a place of worship and the congregation continued.
The Salzburgers built a permanent church from 1767-69. It has 21-inch thick brick walls composed of handmade bricks made by the Salzburgers from river clay. They fired the bricks in a kiln. Some bricks on the front of the church still bear fingerprints.
During the American Revolutionary War, the British occupied Ebenezer, causing the settlers who did not side with the British to flee and make their homes nearby. The soldiers desecrated the church, using it as a hospital, storehouse and for prisoners. When the English were losing the war, they used it as a horse stable, burning the pews, Bibles, hymnals and copies of the journals of the ministers. One soldier fired a musket, leaving a hole in the swan on the steeple which remains today.
In 1782, when the British left, the church members cleaned the church and resumed worship. Sadly, the town never came back to life, but the members of the congregation who made their homes nearby continued to worship in Jerusalem Lutheran Church.
Sadly once again during the Civil War, federal troops occupied the church, using its picket fence, hymnals and Bibles for fires. They engaged in skirmishes on the grounds. Again when the war was over, the Salzburgers cleaned the church and continued to worship.
Up until 1803, all services were conducted in German. The congregation is a testament of faith of the Salzburgers. A group of the original Salzburgers, bolstered with some who moved into the area, continue to worship at Jerusalem. This is the longest continuing congregation in America with the oldest church bells in Georgia. It is the oldest continuous worshiping Lutheran church in America in the same building. It is the oldest public building in the state.
The church has a balcony which in times gone by was used for the slaves to worship. A Zimmer pipe organ was installed in 1969-70.
The congregation is part of the Southeastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
It is most fitting that the congregation celebrates the 280-year milestone on the same weekend as the Georgia Salzburger Society, founded in 1925 to preserve the heritage of the Salzburger ancestors, celebrates Heritage Day.
On Sunday, the 280th anniversary celebration of Jerusalem Lutheran Church begins with Sunday school at 9:45 a.m. The service of worship starts at 11 a.m. Following worship, a covered-dish dinner will be held in the fellowship hall. Ms. Michelle Angalet, associate in ministry and assistant to the bishop/communications coordinator, will represent the Synod at the celebration. After the dinner, there will be an old-time hymn singing of favorite Lutheran hymns. The activities will then conclude with an ice cream social. All who are interested are welcome to join the members for this joyous occasion.
This was written by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society. If you have photos, comments or information to share, contact Exley at 754-6681 or firstname.lastname@example.org.