They built the church, then they built the church building
June 18, 2021
In 2000, eight retirees led an effort to plant a new Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregation in the mountains of north Georgia. Today, Faith Presbyterian Church – Blue Ridge has 159 members and is one of the fastest-growing congregations in Cherokee Presbytery and the Synod of the South Atlantic. In 2019, Sunday morning worship attendance averaged 109.
The Rev. Jim Simpson arrived in January 2013 to fill the pulpit as interim pastor after the congregation’s first pastor retired. The Book of Order had just been changed, so as not to absolutely rule out the interim pastor becoming the pastor. Since the fit seemed ideal for the congregation and for Simpson, he was called as the church’s second pastor. During the pandemic, the congregation also has added the Rev. Susan Haynes, pastoral associate.
“In my 30 years of ministry both in Scotland and in the United States, I have never known a church that achieved as much as Faith has achieved,” Simpson said. “They’ve always been mission-minded. They’ve always been community-service minded.”
Simpson wears his bright orange Faith Presbyterian shirt on Zoom calls. “People all over the community know Faith from the orange shirts,” he said. “Because every time there is a festival or a service opportunity, the Faith folks are there, wearing their orange shirts and getting about God’s business.” Faith Presbyterian is a Hunger Action Congregation, a ministry of the Presbyterian Hunger Program.
According to founding charter members, the journey of new church development has been undertaken step by step.
When Gerrie Jones and her late husband, Hervey, retired and moved from Virginia to Georgia in December 1999, they didn’t know there would not be a Presbyterian church. “After all,” Gerrie said, “Richmond had one on every corner.”
The Joneses visited a Methodist church several times, but it wasn’t Presbyterian. They got to know a few other couples who felt the same, such as Bruce King, along with his wife, Ann, who had some previous experience in church planting. Bruce said to Gerrie, “You need to find some way to get a Presbyterian church.”
“I didn’t hear God say that,” Gerrie said, “so it took me till June  to move to that.”
Gerrie decided to write a letter, which she sent to Northeast Georgia Presbytery in Athens. “I sent it to the wrong presbytery,” she said. Her letter was forwarded to the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta, and eventually to Cherokee Presbytery. At the time, these three presbyteries collaboratively oversaw the Tri-Presbytery New Church Development Commission, so her letter inadvertently made the rounds to all three.
Cherokee Presbytery followed up by sending the Rev. Dr. Jim Speed and the Rev. Dr. Jim Choomack to visit the Joneses in Blue Ridge. As the Joneses gathered around their kitchen table with Speed and Choomack and another local couple, Sonya and Dr. Jim Burleson, they discussed what it would take to start a Presbyterian church in Fannin County.
“We felt that the Holy Spirit was working in this county and that’s why we went to presbytery,” Gerrie said. “We thought this was the right time.”
Two interest meetings were held and the Joneses and Burlesons ended up connecting with 15 to 20 people who showed serious interest, including Pat and Tom Barrentine, who were retired and dividing their time between Marietta and Ellijay, near Blue Ridge.
Tom Barrentine served on the New Church Development Committee of the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta and Cherokee Presbytery. At that time, the presbyteries had a long-term plan to establish churches county by county, but only when a new church development grew to at least 100 members. Some members of the Tri-Presbytery New Church Development Commission questioned the readiness of Faith Presbyterian, since it didn’t have anywhere near 100 members at that time.
The late Dr. Jim Burleson explained to the commission, “Well, you can hold us to that if you like, but by the time we have 50, and by the time we get the next 50, the first 50 will be dead.”
The presbytery made an exception to the 100-member rule for Faith Presbyterian in Blue Ridge.
“I truly believe that each step of the way God put people in place for us,” Gerrie said.
Tammy Warren, Communications Associate, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: A Beacon in the Blue Ridge Mountains
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
Gracious God, we plant and water the seeds, but you alone give the growth to our mission and outreach projects. Keep us faithful in our work in your vineyard. May our labors bear fruit as we help others discover and develop their God-given gifts. Through Jesus Christ our Lord we pray. Amen.