Church celebrates 186 years in Gwinnett

LAWRENCEVILLE - Before Duluth Highway cut a path through bustling Lawrenceville, members of Fairview Presbyterian Church set Sunday picnics beneath the shade of trees and devoured ice-cold watermelon, naturally cooled by sinking them into the nearby spring days prior.

The land is no longer a post-worship gathering spot but a reminder of significant growth and urban sprawl. An AMC Theatres now occupies the land.

Fairview Presbyterian Church, which opened Aug. 9, 1823, is the oldest still-operating Presbyterian church in Georgia and has been home to generations of Gwinnett residents.

The church celebrated its 186th anniversary with programming for the community.

Fairview began its Homecoming Celebration on Thursday with a community event featuring the Gwinnett County Police Department. The Police Department led a discussion with residents regarding concerns on crime prevention. Nearly 50 residents attended.

Friday evening featured live music by the Bettinger and Yoder family, as well as a cookout following the presentation. Capt. Bobby Westmoreland, commanding officer for the Salvation Army of Gwinnett County, presented an update of the Salvation Army's Home Sweet Home homeless housing project. The event will be the kickoff for fundraising for Fairview's Run for Shelter philanthropy and 5K race to benefit Home Sweet Home, held in November.

"That one is our own," Pastor Robert Sparks said of Run for Shelter. "We aim to show that there are more urban problems in Gwinnett than we often like to think about."

Sparks said Fairview hosts community programming to remain an integral part of Gwinnett, serving both its members and the people outside as well.

Fairview will officially celebrate its Homecoming with worship service at 11 a.m. Sunday, the church's 186th anniversary, followed by a traditional Southern potluck dinner.

"For most churches, the biggest Sunday of the year is Easter," Sparks said. "For us, Easter's second - Homecoming's always the biggest. People come in from all over the Southeastern United States to meet with not only literal family but Fairview family, too."

The church, whose congregation worships in the same sanctuary it used in 1823, has seen plenty of changes in the area. But it has long been both a religious institution and a part of the community.

"When Lawrenceville opened up in the early 1820s, this was the church on the edge of civilization," Sparks said. "While there are older churches in places like Savannah and Charleston, Fairview is the oldest church in this part of Georgia (the metro Atlanta Presbytery)."