By 1981, several local families saw a need to create environments for youth that were enjoyable but also wholesome, and more specifically, Godly. These families began to gather youth on Sunday nights for healthy fellowship and fun activities. Groups first met in homes and then later at the old Casino in the Pier Village. They termed this movement as “Gathering Place”. Pioneers like Bill & Ida Walker, Joe Fendig, Beverly and Larry Wade and others provided leadership and intentionality to give youth an alternative, fun and safe place to hang out. While gathered, leaders shared the love of Jesus with the kids and encouraged them to grow in their faith and closer to God. The movement has continued to grow and thrive, and has come alongside the churches in our community to offer support for youth development in such a way that is very unique to this area.
Fast forward to last week: The Gathering Place (GP) celebrated its 41st year in the Golden Isles. Over 600 people gathered at a fundraising dinner to recognize and celebrate the impact that the Gathering Place has made on our youth and on our community over the last four decades. In addition to “Main Event” large gatherings at Epworth held each Sunday in the summers, GP also coordinates over 70 small groups, consisting of about 700 middle and high schoolers that meet every week for mentorship and spiritual growth led by over 100 adult volunteers. This spring, the GP is opening their first official building ever dedicated to house youth: a combination coffee shop, thrift store, and hang-out space, appropriately named “Gather”. This building is located strategically right next to Brunswick High School and across the street from Coastal College - a perfect place to reach many young people for fellowship and encouragement.
This is not the first “gathering place” created in St. Simons and the Golden Isles. In the 1950's, 10 men assembled together, and each gave $4,000 to purchase the property that was to become Epworth by the Sea, a Methodist retreat center located on the Frederica River near Gascoigne. Over the years, Epworth has gathered thousands of youth, families, and Christian leaders for camps, meetings, and spiritual nourishment. How fitting that this holy ground is where the current Gathering Place main events take place!
Another famous gathering in this area occurred under the oaks near Christ Church in the mid-1700’s, where local colonists and British soldiers listened to the preaching of John Wesley as he ministered to Fort Frederica. Wesley is credited with developing a system of gathering in small groups, inventing a “method” of discipleship that not only founded the Methodist Church, but would also help lead America to its first great Spiritual Awakening which influenced the foundational principles of our national government.
About a hundred years later, when Christ Church had been destroyed by fire, Horace Gould, son of the island’s lighthouse keeper James Gould and a warden at Christ Church, gathered the displaced congregants at his home in St. Clair for worship and prayer each Sunday while the church was being rebuilt. This home gathering is a Christian practice that dates back to the original followers of “The Way” described in the biblical book of Acts, and continues to be an effective and meaningful way to grow spiritually and encourage one another in love.
Likely, your family too has a legacy of gathering here in the Golden Isles. Or if you are new to the area or considering moving here, then your story is ready and waiting to be written. Thankfully, gathering is more than a just a term in the dictionary. It is fulfilling a yearning set deep in our hearts, and it is a beautiful component of our Golden Isles community.