New Hope Methodist
New Hope United Methodist Church in Bulloch County was organized in 1804 and is the second oldest Methodist church in Bulloch County. Its mother church, Union United Methodist Church, also located in Bulloch County, was organized in 1790. As most old rural churches do, New Hope had humble beginnings. The first meetinghouse was described as a one room structure on hand-hewed sills. In 1825 the Trustees purchased a two-acre tract on the Milledgeville-Savannah Road “to build a meeting house on and to use and enjoy as may be agreeable to the rules and discipline” of the Methodist Episcopal Church. During the week, the one-room building was used for a school. It was replaced by a larger building in 1855 which served the congregation until 1907 when, at a cost of two thousand dollars, the current structure was raised. In 1900, the 1855 building was moved across the road onto a six-acre wooded lot so that the growing cemetery might be expanded. New Hope is a good example of the way the early churches served as social and cultural as well as religious centers. The Mill Ray community, close to the church, while it never developed into a village, was a cultural influence in that part of the county for many years. New Hope Methodist is the mother church of Statesboro First Methodist and Hubert Chapel, also known as Hubert United Methodist Church, in Brooklet, Georgia (Bulloch County).
New Hope Church is fortunate to have much of the recorded history of the church preserved. Early records were lost but lists of members were recovered from other sources. Lists exist of all members since 1842. During the years 1842-1845 there were 30 white members and 59 colored members. A few years after the war there were 59 white and 38 colored members. A section of the church was always set aside for the colored members during worship and a member of their own race was appointed class leader. After 1870 these colored members were assisted in providing their own house of worship. The class leader concept is interesting. In those years when a circuit rider had as many as twenty-odd places to visit each month, the class leader attended to the spiritual needs of the people regularly – supposedly each week. This could be important as there were no regular pastors during the war to provide spiritual support in those terrible times of loss and deprivation.
The route of one arm of Sherman’s XV Corps was more or less parallel to the course of the Ogeechee River which took it down River Road and past New Hope Church. According to the local history, one of Sherman’s hooligans stole a hymnal belonging to H. B. Hodges from the church but discarded it en route to Savannah at the old community of Ivanhoe. Quite amazingly, in August of 1865, the hymnal was returned to the church by Major George Cone, formerly of the Confederate States Army. The Cone estate was located about 17 miles from New Hope Church at Ivanhoe. Inside the hymnal was written “Stolen from New Hope Church Bulloch County by Sherman’s Raiders and left at Maj. George Cone’s and returned by him to the church. August 19, 1865.” There is a message inscribed “Tis hoped the poor creature that stole this book from New Hope Church will benefit by the lessons”.