The first mention of Holston and Methodism together is found in the Journal of Bishop Francis Asbury in 1788 at the Conference of Methodists of what would become the Western Conference. At this time there were two circuits with four ministers and one presiding elder, now called a district superintendent. The two circuits listed, i.e. Holston and New River Circuit, had a combined membership of 60 souls. How many of our small churches today have a membership of that many?
From that beginning, Holston United Methodist Conference has spread over eight states off and on during the last 235 years. There have been thousands of congregations involved during that time from small congregations to large ones.
During the 19th century, congregations popped up all over southwestern Virginia and eastern Tennessee and some surrounding areas. Most of these were small in the beginning and as they grew larger, usually in a town that grew with the church, the congregations developed into communities.
One such church in Dade County, Georgia, as an example, grew into a community and as the community moved off, the church died. It began in the very early part of the 19th century just after the Cherokee Nation of Indians was moved west. Their lands were divided by the State of George and a tract of 124 acres was granted to a widow named Sarah Lee whose husband must have served the state at some point. In 1859 a second track was granted to James A. Hartline in the northeastern portion of Alabama. The two tracts of lands joined together across the state line between Alabama and Georgia. As nature took its course, the two were married and their son F. M. A. Hartline and T. B. Smith each gave up a little land for a church between the two pieces of property that became the State Line Church which was built in 1890 as a church and schoolhouse called “Ebenezer." This building was for the community of Sulphur Springs, Georgia.
The building was maintained by the congregation for a time, and in 1939 it was deeded to the Methodist Episcopal Church, South who assigned the ministers with such notables as Rev. E. R. Lewis and was the first church served by one Bishop Richard Looney in 1955. In the 20th century, the church was aligned with Rising Fawn United Methodist Church, with the Rev. Richard Looney in charge. When the church was discontinued, a Baptist congregation took over.
In the long history of the church. The noteworthiness of the congregation was picked up by no less than Ripley's Believe It or Not, who in 1937 wrote a column listing the attributes of the special church and congregation as follows:
State Line is the name of a church in Sulphur Springs, Georgia. The congregation is seated in Alabama and the pulpit is in Georgia. The Superintendent is a Presbyterian, every teacher is a Baptist, and the Minister is a Methodist. To put the stamp of approval on the building there is a broad line diagonally on the roof with the words GA and ALA on either side to indicate it is on the State Line.
A story like this can be written about hundreds of small congregations around the Holston Conference if we choose, but few will ever be noted due to the lack of interest primarily on the part of members of the congregation. Our present Bishop would have loved to have been pastor of this congregation as she is now bishop over the North Alabama Conference and bishop over Holston Conference. This small congregation would have had a foot in each conference just as she does as well.
It is the hope of the Holston Conference Historical Society to host a small column like this each month during 2023. Submit your stories to James Douthat at email@example.com.
Lay pastors: A vital part of our proud 200-year history (March 17, 2023)
The Rev. Jim Douthat is a retired Holston Conference clergy member, president of the Holston Historical Society, and a historical author and publisher who makes his home in Signal Mountain, Tennessee.