Dalton First UMC celebrates a rich history of serving its community
On Sun., Aug. 5, a piece of Dalton history came to life when more than 400 members of Dalton First United Methodist Church and guests celebrated the church's 165-year anniversary in an old-fashioned tent meeting on Dalton City Park Green.
Many of the attendees wore clothing of the era when the church was formally established. Some of the items worn had even belonged to relatives who had been members of Dalton First many, many years ago. Gertrude "Tut" McFarland carried an 1857 edition of the Methodist Hymnal that had belonged to her great grandmother who had been organist for both the Presbyterian and Methodist churches. Pastor Robin Lindsey was attired in the familiar black wide-brimmed hat, black tails, black knickers, white socks, shoes with buckles worn by ministers from the 1850s. Minister of Music Peter Infanger and his wife Lynn looked like a picture of a prosperous couple from an 1850s edition of "Harper's New Monthly magazine". Former pastors and associates had been invited and members welcomed Malone Dodson (associate from 1962-64) and his wife Charlotte, as well as Dan McFarland (associate from 1966-69) and his wife Lois.
Songs were sung that might have been sung at those first worship services in the 1840s, including "O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing" by Charles Wesley.
Pastor Lindsey "became" Rev. Levi Brotherton for his sermon Sunday morning under a big tent on Dalton Green as he "told" the story of Brotherton's life.
"I was born in 1810 in Green County Tennessee" began the message and he proceeded to relate the events in Rev. Brotherton's life and ministry and the growth and development of Dalton.
Research in the Archives of the Candler School of Theology at Emory University had uncovered sermon notes written in his own hand by Levi Brotherton. That outline was used by Rev. Lindsey for his sermon, which was based on Matthew 19:27 "Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?"
Several congregants commented on how up-to-date a sermon, written about 165 years ago, was for the 21st century. Pastor Lindsey said, "I found that reading Levi Brotherton's sermon notes from the 1840's and preaching them needed no translation or explanation. The sermon could have been written today - it was that timely and powerful."
The people called Methodists have been present in Georgia long before there were organized churches. Not many church goers today would recognize this early "church". Between the time Georgia was colonized in 1735, and the founding of Cross Plains (today's Dalton), Methodism was found in northwest Georgia - not in a fancy building nor even a canvas tent, but in the saddlebags of young circuit riding preachers covering a wilderness territory. Their circuits were assigned territories to be covered on a regular basis. Their "pulpit" was the saddle of a horse; their "altar" was primarily a well-worn Bible carried in their saddlebags.
The Bible shared that limited space with a few pieces of clothing and probably some oats or other horse feed for when grass was not plentiful. Weight, including that of the preacher, was a vital consideration so as not to overtax the horse. These souls were paid possibly a few dollars a year. They tried to find shelter with local settlers. When this was not possible, sleeping on the ground in a bedroll carried behind the saddle was the only option.
Sermons and church services were normally in the homes of settlers, an isolated farm house or a small community of several families. The circuit rider would sometimes have to win over the homesteader to hosting him for the night, and then try to bring the host to Christ. Hospitality, at best, might be sleeping on the floor with other adults.
Rev. Lindsey related in the service that when Dalton's first house of worship was built, Methodists, Baptists and Presbyterians all worshipped together, even though Rev. Brotherton said that he was compelled to present the Gospel as a Methodist. Many in the congregation were saddened when, four years later in 1851, the Dalton Methodists built a wood frame building at a cost of $500.00 for their worship and the unity that had existed among congregations worshipping together was decreased.
While celebrating 165 years of the history of their church, members are looking forward to taking the church outside its four walls and into the community. In the past few months, members were at a local gas station where they "bought down gas" - with the church paying some of the cost of each gallon of gas that members pumped for anyone who happened to pull in to the station in a 2-hour period.
Each person was given a gift bag containing an invitation to the pre-Christmas sermon series, to Christmas Eve services, a magnet with the church on it, and an ice scraper with the church's name and website.
During Lent, members participated in random acts of kindness when they gave a monetary gift to someone to give to a third party along with an "AlreadyPaidforYou.com" card. The card directed the recipient to that exact website to tell their story or to read stories from people who either gave their gift away or received the gift. Check it out.
Outreach Pastor Kenny Ott aptly summarized the message of Sunday's celebration: "Dalton FUMC is an amazing church! Every member understands that we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, but continually looks to the future."