By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
How Lutheran churches spread over Effingham
Jerusalem Lutheran at Ebenezer
The Jerusalem Lutheran Church at New Ebenezer was completed in 1769. - photo by Photo provided

In 1731, 20,000 Protestants were expelled by the Archbishop Firmian of the Province of Salzburg (presently Austria) because they refused to embrace certain religious beliefs and they continued to follow the teachings of Martin Luther. Sixteen thousand went to East Prussia, 200 to Holland, 300 to the United States of America, Georgia, and 3,500 settled in various locations.

The trustees of the colony of Georgia in 1732 extended an invitation to Salzburgers to settle in the new colony in America. Reverend Samuel Urlsperger, pastor of St. Anna’s Lutheran Church in Augsburg, Germany, working through the “Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge” in England, made arrangements for the group of Salzburgers to travel to Georgia. In 1733, they departed by ship to come to the new colony.

On March 12, 1734, the first of many groups of persecuted Christians arrived in Savannah to settle in the new colony of Georgia under the direction of Gen. James Oglethorpe. He sent the settlers upriver under leadership of Pastor Boltzius to establish a colony north of Savannah to aid in Savannah’s protection. They founded “Ebenezer” (which means Stone of Help) several miles inland on a stream they named Ebenezer Creek which branched off of the Savannah River.

The first town proved to be a disaster because of unfertile soil and sickness brought on by the swamp land in which they lived.  Old Ebenezer was located near the intersection now of Highway 21 and Log Landing Road on property of the Jaudon family, and all that remains are a few old timbers and a modern monument to the memory of the Salzburgers.

The settlers who survived after many losses were given permission to relocate their town to the mouth of the Ebenezer Creek on the Savannah River on a bluff in 1736. They called the town New Ebenezer and it was very prosperous up until the Revolutionary War.

In the state of Georgia, the Salzburgers established the first Sunday school and orphanage in 1737. From 1767 to 1769, the Jerusalem Lutheran Church was built from bricks made of clay from the area. The walls of the Church are 21 inches thick. Some of the original panes of glass can be seen in the windows of the church. The congregation of this church was originally formed at St. Anna’s Lutheran Church in Augsburg, Germany, in 1733. The congregation remains active today.

The Jerusalem Lutheran Church is the oldest surviving intact building in Georgia.

As more settlers came, some of the arrivals established communities outside of the immediate town across the Ebenezer and other creeks. In order for their children to be educated they had to send them to Ebenezer to the orphanage where there was a school, and to attend worship services, a long, often treacherous ride over swollen creeks, had to be undertaken. During the Revolutionary War many fled the town of Ebenezer and settled in outlying areas, never to return.

Plantations were begun outside of Ebenezer and operated overseen by the pastors in a few years after arrival. What is still known today as the “Ebenezer Trustees” ran the business of the settlement.

The first pastor, Rev. Johann Martin Boltzius, was joined later by Rev. Israel Christian Gronau. A third pastor, Herman Lemke, came into the settlement. The three pastors had each been given a 500-acre estate in “the plantations” which were settlements outside of Ebenezer, with Boltzius receiving his in 1751 at Goshen.

Some of the pastors never used the acreage for their own gain, rather obtaining slaves and operating it for the good of the community.

The first of two new churches established were “Old” Zion 4 miles south of Ebenezer on property now owned by Georgia-Pacific off Fort Howard Road near Rincon. Zion, down toward Abercorn settlement, was dedicated March 7, 1743, established to provide worship for the settlers on the plantations south of Ebenezer. This Zion church is no longer in existence.

The plantation at Goshen was able to build a church and school by 1755. This church, known as Goshen Lutheran Church, was located about a mile from the present structure.  In 1820, the Goshen Methodist Church was organized and used the facilities of the Lutheran Church.  Several years later, the Lutherans sold the church to the Methodist congregation.

A church was established at Bethany across the Ebenezer Creek to the north and no longer exists.

Bethel Lutheran Church north of Springfield was established and the exact date is not known.  Rev. P.A. Strobel refers in his book, written in 1855, for the need to establish the church near Springfield. In 1807, a 25-acre tract of land was secured by the state of Georgia for a school at Bethel.

The first Bethel School at what was known as Bethel Station was built on property now owned by Alan and Cathy Heidt, the former home of his grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Nesbit Arnsdorff.  A log cabin church was preceded by a bush arbor for worship at Bethel.

Although established earlier, the date of organization and chartering of the Bethel Lutheran church is 1872. For their upcoming anniversary, a future article will detail Bethel’s history.

Along this same time, Laurel Hill German Lutheran Church near Clyo was established in 1861 and chartered in the fall of 1862. It became part of the Bethel Lutheran Charge or Parish, sharing a pastor. I will be sharing a story soon on Laurel Hill’s history.

The Lutheran churches in Effingham discontinued the use of the German language in church services.

The Bethel Lutheran Parish established a church in Springfield in June 1912, known as Holy Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church to serve the needs of a rapidly-growing county seat. A daughter church of Laurel Hill was established at Clyo. Wingard Memorial Lutheran Church, as it was named, began building a church in 1905 that was destroyed by a storm. It rebuilt and was formally organized in 1913. It is of note that the Bethel Parish first lost Holy Trinity in 1962 to independence, and later Bethel and the Laurel Hill Pastorate with Wingard Memorial split into separate entities each calling their own pastor.

Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church was formally organized near the Ogeechee River in the area of Marlow on Sept. 16, 1872.  It had two daughter congregations come from the mother church: Miller Chapel established five miles to the south in 1888 and Mt. Olivet built five miles to the north in 1919.  Although Zion still has an active congregation, both of the other churches disbanded.

The cornerstone of the Rincon Lutheran Church was laid June 29, 1895, under leadership of Rev. Jacob Austin. This church was established six miles from Ebenezer on the railroad route south to Savannah. The building was dedicated June 13, 1897.

Nine years after the first church was built, it was razed. A second cornerstone was laid under direction of Rev. E.B. Keesler in 1924 carrying the name St. John’s Lutheran Church.  It was dedicated Sunday, Jan. 1, 1930.

Rev. N.D. Bodie established a Sunday school at Stillwell. Weather and flood conditions prevented attendance at Ebenezer on a regular basis. The Sunday school thrived, so Grace Lutheran Church was organized about two years later on Jan. 24, 1902. The congregation merged with Holy Trinity in Springfield in 1964.

In 2010, many of the Lutheran churches in Effingham became at odds with the resolution on marriage and human sexuality adopted by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Southeastern Synod. Holding fast to the teachings of the Bible and their beliefs, the following congregations voted to leave the ELCA: Holy Trinity, Bethel, Wingard Memorial and Laurel Hill.

A new church was also established known as Bible Lutheran, now building a sanctuary on Blue Jay Road. These five congregations have affiliated with the LCMC (Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ).

Like their forefathers, the Lutherans in Effingham County have deep roots in their Christian beliefs and continue to worship scattered throughout the community.

This was written by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society. If you have photos, comments or information to share, contact Susan Exley at 754-6681 or email her at: