GROVANIA -- If you wandered around south Houston County on a particular day in 1893, you might have seen folks moving the Haynesville Methodist Church building the three miles from Haynesville to Grovania, where it became Grovania Methodist.
Charles and Carolyn Harrison have attended Grovania Methodist virtually all their lives and know its history as well as anybody. They said mules pulled the building over logs that served as wheels and were continually shifted from back to front.
No one in the Harrison family was at the 1893 move, but Charles and Carolyn said they were there 100 years later when the church was rebuilt in 1993 after an arsonist burned it to the ground.
Grovania United Methodist Church, as it became known, was one of many churches burned in the early 1990s by arsonists in Georgia.
Charles Harrison, 73 and a native of Grovania, said he became a Methodist by virtue of the fact Grovania Methodist was the only church around. Carolyn Harrison said she was from Elko and started attending the Grovania church because it had a Sunday school.
She was 13 then, and she met Charles there. It led to courting and their marriage in 1962.
The Harrisons said church records were burned in the fire. All of them except one church register with a pastor listing going back to 1867.
The small church has now been served by the Rev. Jimmy Sharp for almost two years. He is retired from itinerant ministry, which means hes not eligible to be moved by UMC officials.
Sharp also pastors UMC churches in Elko and Snow in north Dooly County. The responsibility of a UMC pastor is called a charge, and Sharp said this charge is unique in his 30-plus years in the South Georgia Conference.
Ive had multi-church charges and (single) station church charges, but never one like this, he said. The Methodist church says its one church in many locations, but this is the first time Ive experienced anything that so clearly shows it.
Sharp can say that because the three churches -- in Grovania, Elko and Snow -- all meet together as one church every Sunday. They just rotate the meeting place.
On the second Sunday of each month they meet in Snow. On the third its at Grovania and on the fourth at Elko.
That leaves the first Sunday. The first Sunday of each month has its own quarterly rotation and features a pot-luck luncheon after services.
On the first Sunday of the first month of the quarter they meet in Snow. On the first Sunday of the second month of the quarter they met in Grovania. On the first Sunday of the third month of the quarter they meet in Elko.
Its easier than it sounds and no problem for the small, combined congregation to remember. This Sunday is a luncheon in Grovania.
Despite the churchs long history, it hasnt developed a culture cold to outsiders or those without history in the area. Members said they strive to be welcoming. Michael Bracewell, who has only been at Grovania UMC for five years, testifies to that.
These are the sweetest people Ive ever been to church with in my life, he said. Theyre very kind, love each other and are the best cooks anywhere.
The only trouble Jacksonville-native Bracewell has faced is when Charles Harrison, a Georgia fan, asks him with a grin to please remove his Florida Gators hat in the building.
Carolyn Harrison agreed the church is very caring and said its mission oriented, too.
I guess by that I mean we think of others and their needs, she said.
That includes collecting used coats and buying new shoes for needy children, supporting the Methodist Childrens Home, contributing to a Perry food bank and making more than 50 blankets this year for children at the Childrens Hospital at The Medical Center of Central Georgia.
It also means hosting seniors from across Georgia and the U.S. who come to south Houston to ride the roads during Georgia Golden Olympics annual bicycle event there.
The church, or rather the three churches together as one, help fund charitable endeavors through spring and fall flings in the parking lot of Unadilla Drugs. Its a family festival where they sell yard sale items, arts and crafts, hot dogs and sausages, and crafts and other items.
The Harrisons maintain theres more history but ask who can tell it all? The church remains a hub for many, but as family farms were sold and young people moved out churches struggled. Now, with population growing in south Houston, people arent limited to walking to church --or riding in a wagon or on a mule -- as they once were. They hop in their car and easily get to other, larger churches with more programs.
Even so, the Harrisons, Sharp and newcomer Bracewell love Grovania UMC.
My wife, Vonda, and I certainly love it here, Sharp said. These folks have adopted us. God has blessed us and given me the privilege to preach and serve among these wonderful people.
At this, Charles Harrison shook his head and said, Were glad to have you -- were the fortunate ones.
Contact Michael W. Pannell at email@example.com.