By Katie Hart Smith
Fairview Presbyterian Church, the country church on the hill, will celebrate its 194th birthday in August 2017.
Two years after the City of Lawrenceville was chartered, Fairview Presbyterian Church was founded on a hill west of Lawrenceville in 1823.
The spring below was used to water the horses since the act of attending church services was typically a daylong event for early pioneers. The quaint white church perched atop the hill is in its original location at 875 Duluth Highway (Hwy 120), consisting of its original rafters, columns, and heart-of-pine- floors.
“The first pastor was Rev. John S. Wilson. This country church bordered the native inhabitants to the northwest of Fairview who lived in the Cherokee Nation and maintained law and order. “Serving as a moral watchdog for the community, members were brought before session and ‘tried’ for infractions such as adultery, profanity, public intoxication, fighting, slander against other church members or prominent citizens,” sites church historian, Steve Curry.
By the first decade, records indicate that membership grew from thirteen to 158. The population in Gwinnett County approximated 15,000. The City of Lawrenceville, the county seat of Gwinnett, had a jail, a courthouse, and a private school called Lawrenceville Academy. Roads were dirt tracks that often followed an old animal and Indian trails. Travel, conducted by foot, wagon, or horseback, was arduous.
By the late 1830’s, the population was transient, with many people moving westward. Twenty Fairview members left to found Goshen Church, now Norcross Presbyterian Church. One of those leaving for Goshen was James Russell, architect and builder of Fairview. He also built the first in-town branch of Fairview, which became Lawrenceville Presbyterian Church, and the first Norcross church. Russell is buried in the Fairview Cemetery. His great-grandson, Dr. Fred Moss, contributed the Moss Memorial Rose Garden in honor of his great-grandfather, James Russell. Dr. Moss, who passed away in 1966, is buried in the mausoleum on the side of the garden.
Did you know? In 1836, eight Gwinnett County militia volunteers, led by Fairview member, Hamilton Garmany, were killed in one of the last skirmishes with the Indians in the Battle of Shepherd’s Plantation, near Columbus, Georgia. The men are buried in the courtyard of the Historic Lawrenceville Courthouse on the Square, marked by a large obelisk memorial.In 1861 when the Civil war began, there were no formal services at Fairview. One woman, Mrs. Byrd, visited monthly to read scripture, say a prayer, and sing a hymn, thereby keeping continuity of worship at Fairview throughout the war.
Decades later, the little church on the hill and its congregation continued to observe the roads and land around it evolve, business develop, and retail shops emerge. The church itself has even undergone a few renovations since its initial four-sided, wood panel appearance.
In October 2005, Rev. Robert “Rob” Sparks became Fairview’s new pastor. While consultants recommended merging the church decades ago with Lawrenceville Presbyterian, the current 121-member-strong congregation continues to serve the Gwinnett community, “decently and in order,” referring to the Apostle Paul’s statement, “Let all things be done decently and in order.” (1 Corinthians 14:40), Rev. Sparks remarked. “That is how we Presbyterians conduct ourselves in meetings, service, and in life.”
“Being a small church, it gives one a real sense of community. I am familiar with all of my members. I’m always impressed how the members take care of each other and support each other through the lens of Christian values,” Rev. Sparks added.
According to Elder Raymond Reulbach, the church members have donated countless hours and money to help Gwinnett County and those needing additional resources. They have given approximately $80,000 to the Salvation Army in Lawrenceville, provided over 8,000 units of food and volunteer hours to the Lawrenceville Co-Op, and contribute financially to Family Promise of Gwinnett County, Inc., a non-profit organization that brings local resources together to help homeless families regain their housing and independence.
Curry outlined additional projects the members are engaged in. “The congregation collects and sends supplies to the troops overseas, wraps presents during the Christmas holiday season, distributes gift baskets at Easter and Christmas, and supports other Presbyterian missions. We provide outreach to others who have a need.”
“We are here for those who are looking for an interpersonal connection in their religious community. We are a community-based church that is warm and welcoming.” Rev. Sparks recalled a quote by Lyle E. Schaller. “God must like a small church ‘cause there sure are a lot of them.”
Fairview Presbyterian Church has stood the test of time and remains united under one common cause, service to others. As Rev. Sparks concluded in a previous sermon, “Every time you reach out to a person in need, each time you call for justice in the political realm, each time you donate food to the Co-Op, or gather presents for needy children, each time you witness your faith through kindness or generosity in the community or workplace, each time you gather to sing the praises of our risen Lord—if it’s done in humility, you become heroes of the faith.”
If you are looking for a new church home or for more information about Fairview Presbyterian Church, visit http://www.fairviewpres.org.
( Published April 2017, Gwinnett Citizen)