Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Kelly Brisendine is the current pastor at Zoar United Methodist Church, which celebrates 200 years of service today. "Weive been focused on the past 200 years and now we need to look towards the next 200 years," he said.
SNELLVILLE -- In 1811, the very first Zoar United Methodist Church was erected. It was made of pine logs and sat on what is now Everson Road, a few miles away from where the present-day church stands.
Circuit riders, who rode up and down the East coast, would come to preach every other week, or sometimes only once a month, to the small church.
By 1847, the group built a second church where the current Centerville Elementary School resides. When it was added, a circuit rider name the Rev. J.D. Anthony was the main preacher to come to the two churches and speak to the people. When the small religious group constructed the third church, he was the only one to visit all three of them continuously.
In 1877, Centerville's farming community came together to build the sanctuary that is still standing today on Zoar Church Road in Snellville.
"I don't know when the road was named Zoar Church, because it's been that way forever," Pastor Kelly Brisendine said. "It was probably an old dirt road. Some of my older members may remember when it was paved."
Today marks the church's bicentennial homecoming and the congregation has opened the double doors of the white sanctuary inviting people connected to the church, local neighbors and Methodist Bishop Michael Watson, who is giving the sermon, to join them in celebration.
"We've been celebrating all year inviting former pastors to speak -- one each month -- all year long," Brisendine said. "What's been really fun for me is to see all the people in the community who are connected to us. After 200 years, you don't realize all the connections that you do have."
Since 1877, the small rural church has seen dramatic changes in it's landscape, structure and members. In 1972, the steeple was remodeled. The 1980s brought an extension to the building -- you can find the recent addition by the slope under the blue carpet as you walk to the front of the church. Zoar didn't even have a full-time pastor until the early '80s.
Walmart was built across the street six years ago, sharing property with the old cemetery.
Neighborhoods were mass produced and then halted with the economic recession. Those moving in brought a melting pot of cultures creating a more diverse area, but Zoar has been in the same spot growing with the changes.
"We're still trying to grow in a changing community and we've become more multi-cultural," Brisendine said.
Zoar is offering one service today at 11 a.m., a collaboration of the contemporary and traditional which will run a little longer than the usual services. They expect more than 500 people to celebrate Homecoming. After the service, all attendees are invited to stay for lunch in the gym.
Once Monday comes, it's back to the normal grind with a bright future.
"We've been focused on the past 200 years and now we need to look towards the next 200 years," Brisendine said. "We need to refocus on our vision of living, learning and loving, and sharing the word of God."
In the next year, Zoar is starting a Capital Funds Campaign to update some things in the church to keep it "for another 200 years."
"I get tickled when people talk about our little white church -- it looks much bigger on the inside," Brisendine said. "I think we have a great future. We've got such a great legacy with 200 years of service to this community."