If the people who lived in the Gum Branch area of Liberty County in 1833 could come back and visit, they would not recognize the Gum Branch Baptist Church they attended back then.
The large, beautiful and modern buildings would be much different from the brush arbor, which was a half-mile west of the present location, where they worshipped in 1833. Gum Branch Primitive Baptist Church was organized out of Beards Creek Primitive Baptist Church. In 1838, the first sanctuary was built on land donated by Fashau Long Jr. Gum Branch Baptist Church can truly be called the heart of the community.
Gum Branch is said to have got its name from the fact that the production of naval stores was among the earliest work efforts of its residents, and a stream or branch bisected the community. The stream in 1976 became a drainage canal developed by the Liberty County Board of Commissioners to aid row-crop farmers in the community. Gum Branch became one of the chief food baskets in Liberty County after the county seat was moved from Riceborough to Hinesville in 1837, and the population there increased. The industrious pioneers built the homes, churches, schools and stores from lumber sawed on their own land. Samuel and David Delk were the chief organizers and charter members of the Gum Branch church. The old log cabin on the Delk property was moved and restored to its original state on Skidaway Island. There were two schools in the area, Providence and Gum Branch. One old schoolhouse is still in existence in front of the Ogden Long home.
The first recorded pastor of the church was Lewis Price Jr., who was one of 15 children of Lewis Price Sr. Lewis Jr. was born in Liberty County in 1828, and when he was 4, his father took the family to live in the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp. The Indians became so contentious that Lewis moved his family back to Liberty County. When Lewis Jr. was 21, he joined the Gum Branch church. At the age of 23, he still could not read. Recognizing his ignorance and wanting to learn, he enrolled in Jones Creek Academy and attended Jones Creek Church, which had a Sunday school that Lewis enjoyed. He did not get to stay very long because of poor health and lack of tuition. He returned to Gum Branch and was promptly expelled because he had attended Sunday school at Jones Creek! Today, Sunday school is the backbone of the church, which has an average attendance of 150 every Sunday morning.
In 1860-61, Lewis became a Baptist minister at the very church that had expelled him from the church and association. Lewis died at age 65 and is buried in the Baggs Cemetery in Long County, which then was Liberty County.
In the early church years, there were many strict rules. No music was allowed in the worship service. Can you even imagine having no music in the services at Gum Branch Baptist Church, which is known for having musical talent? The founders cited someone at almost every service and expelled them from the church. One man got expelled for playing solitaire! The deacons were charged with investigating charges against church members for using profanity, drunkenness, card playing, non-attendance and not paying church dues, un-Christian conduct, dancing or playing music for the dancer. Swimming on Sunday was forbidden. All male members above a certain age had to pay 50 cents dues for the year. That was a lot of money back then.
In October 1891, the treasurer, in front of the whole congregation, read the names of all who had not paid. They had to go before the church and plead their case as why they had not paid. Some were excused. Many had to trap quail or gather their eggs and sell them to make the half-dollar.
Gum Branch Baptist Church has always seen the need to help those less fortunate in the community or nearby. As early as 1909, many barrels of syrup, meat and produce were sent to the children’s orphanage in Baxley. If a farmer became sick and his crops needed planting or plowing, the men did it. The same holds true today; whenever someone is in need, the church is there to help and minister.
This is an example of a faithful church member in the late 1800s. There was a female member who lived in Jones Station in McIntosh County. Every Saturday morning, prior to the preaching service on Sunday morning, this lady would walk the 40 miles with her four children from her home to the church. They stayed with various members of the church on Saturday and Sunday nights and walked the 40-mile trip back on Monday morning! And now, sometimes we gripe when we can get there in less than five minutes in our warm or air-conditioned vehicles!
Gum Branch Baptist Church has had about 45 pastors since the first records. The Rev. Roger W. Wilkins began pastoring the church in June 1981, and served until his death on Feb. 2, 2006. The Rev. Gabe Gill, who is the present pastor, has been serving for 15 months. Gill and his wife, Amy, have three children — David, Emily and Kara. The church continues to grow under his leadership and has an active membership of around 250.
From 2-5 p.m. Saturday, there will be a Fall Festival at Gum Branch Baptist Church. Everyone is invited. There will something for everyone in the family to enjoy, such as free food, games for the children, music and a gospel sing. This is a very enjoyable time for all. One does not have to be a member to attend.
Gum Branch Baptist Church will hold its fall revival Nov. 15-18. The Rev. Brad Waters from Hazlehurst will be the guest speaker, and there will be special singing each night. Make plans to attend. You will be welcomed and made to feel at home.
Another great annual event is the wild-game supper for men and boys that will take place Jan. 16. Keep watching for more information on this looked-forward-to event.
Sunday school begins at 9 a.m., with worship services at 10:15 a.m. and 6 p.m. Prayer groups and AWANA meet on Wednesday night.
There is a place for everyone at Gum Branch Baptist Church in the heart of Gum Branch!