Bethel Presbyterian Church

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Faithful Service a Treasure Stored in Heaven

Bethel Presbyterian Church, in Clover, South Carolina, is one of the oldest churches in the PCA, having been established in 1764. The Rev. George Gray McWhorter served as the fourth pastor of this church which has been so greatly blessed by God over the centuries.

George Gray McWhorter was born in 1762. One source states that his parents were possibly Jacob McWhorter and Elizabeth Gray McWhorter. He was married to Eliza Drusilla Cooper and they were the parents of eight children. One child, James Miller McWhorter, died while Rev. McWhorter was the pastor at Bethel. This child died January 15, 1800 at the age of 4 years 11 months and 1 day and is buried in the Bethel Cemetery.

George Gray McWhorter served Bethel from July 7, 1796 until September 29, 1801. Bethel had united with Beersheba Presbyterian Church in calling Rev. McWhorter and he served both congregations concurrently during his term as pastor.

Little is known about Rev. McWhorter’s education except that he was trained for the ministry under Dr. James Hall.

After serving Bethel and Beersheba for five years, he resigned the charge in 1801, moved south, and served several different churches in South Carolina. At a later period he moved to the state of Alabama. Historical accounts state that in about 1823 Rev. McWhorter reorganized Lowndesboro Presbyterian Church, Lowndesboro, Alabama. Then later about 1825 Rev. McWhorter became the first pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Montgomery, Alabama.

In his fading days he remained strong in faith and hope. Like most of God’s ministers in that era, he was poor. Though destitute of the luxuries and almost all of the necessities of life, he continued to preach the gospel to the destitute with all the vigor of youth.

Rev. McWhorter died June 18, 1829 in Washington (Autauga County), Alabama. He is buried beside his wife in Oakwood Cemetery, Montgomery, Alabama. The inscription on his tombstone reads:

He was a Patriot and soldier in the Revolutionary War . . . Sacred to the memory of Rev. George Gray McWhorter – he was a minister of the Gospel of the Presbyterian order forty years . . . Blessed are the dead who died in the Lord . . Let angels trim their lamps and watch his sleeping clay till the last trumpet bid him rise to bright celestial day . . . Also, Mrs. Eliza McWhorter . . . Born February 4, 1769 . . . Died February 3, 1810”

Words to Live By:
But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord:for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.”—Philippians 3:7-11.

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Where are they now?

This day, December 4, 1973, marks the formation of the Presbyterian Church in America, as the denomination’s first General Assembly met in Birminham, Alabama, December 4-7 at the Briarwood Presbyterian Church.

Lately I’ve been compiling a list of all the churches that have ever been a part of the PCA. Perhaps we can talk more about that larger list another day, but for now we want to look at a select portion of that list. The obvious starting point for such a list would be the founding churches of the PCA, and those founding churches are the subject of our post today. Working from the Minutes of the PCA’s First General Assembly, we find there were 273 churches that can be called the founding churches of the Presbyterian Church in America.

Of these 273 churches, 182 of them are still in the PCA (though technically, two of those had merged with other churches). Three left for other Presbyterian denominations. One of our founding churches, First Presbyterian of Hueytown, Alabama, left to join the OPC in 1991. The Jackson Street Prebyterian Church of Alexandria, Louisiana (now Grace Presbyterian), joined the EPC in 1997. And Progressive Presbyterian Church, Princeton, North Carolina, joined the Associate Reformed denomination, also in 1997. Over the years, another 16 of the founding churches have left to independency.

Regrettably, 23 of the founding churches have dissolved. Closer study needs to be done to determine the reasons, whether they were small rural churches or whether other problems brought about their closing. Then the final category is for now one of mystery, and more research needs to be done with this group. Here the record is simply unclear for 41 of the founding churches. Most likely these churches were dissolved or perhaps left to independency, yet without proper notation of their action on the roll books. We might find even find in one or two instances that the church is still in the PCA, but its status is obscured by a change of name or location. (I have already discovered one such discrepancy.) In all, those 23 closures and 41 “uncertains” total 64 founding churches effectively lost to the PCA. Nothing is forever in this poor world.

It is interesting to look at those 273 founding churches state by state, and the following list shows the breakdown, The last column in this list shows how many PCA churches and missions now operate in each of those states, so as to show subsequent growth in each state.

State Then Now
Alabama 50 110
Arkansas 2 11
Florida 19 154
Georgia 17 143
Kentucky 2 14
Louisiana 6 17
Maryland 1 57
Mississippi 89 117
North Carolina 13 112
South Carolina 35 109
Tennessee 11 75
Texas 4 92
Virginia 12 101
West Virginia 3 10
None 9

Note that last group, “None,” in the list above. That should be understood as “unaffiliated with any Presbytery at the time of joining the PCA”. If you know anything about Presbyterianism, you’ll recognize what an odd thing it was to have churches admitted to the PCA, yet without being on the roll of a given Presbytery. Surely this was a temporary arrangment, but the story of those 9 churches could be interesting.

Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina were numerically the three strongest States for the PCA at its founding. Between those three States, the roles are now reversed, with South Carolina having the greatest growth in PCA churches, followed by Alabama and then Mississippi. Ironically, in six States–Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia–the PCUS maintained a stronger hold on churches and few PCUS churches left in 1973 to join the PCA. However, since that time the PCA has seen strong growth in these same States. The States of Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, and West Virginia have remained difficult terrain for church planting and PCA growth there has been slow.

Then looking at the list of founding churches as grouped by the 16 founding presbyteries, we have the following:

Calvary [SC] – 35 churches

Central Georgia – 11

Covenant [AR; MS; TN] – 13

Evangel [AL] – 25

Gold Coast [FL] – 12

Grace [LA; MS] – 31

Gulf Coast [FL; LA] – 8

Mid-Atlantic [MD; NC; VA] – 7

Mississippi Valley [LA; MS] – 52

None – 9

North Georgia – 3

Tennessee Valley – 5

Texas – 4

Vanguard [AL; GA; KY; NC WV]; – 13

Warrior [AL] – 22

Western Carolinas [NC] – 5

Westminster [NC; TN; VA] – 10

Calvary, Grace and Mississippi Valley Presbyteries were, by their size, among the more influential of the newly formed PCA Presbyteries. Covenant, then with just 13 churches, is today perhaps the largest of the 81 PCA Presbyteries.

One interesting story worth following up would be that of First Presbyterian Church, Brookhaven, MS, in Grace Presbytery, and the only church in that Presbytery that lost its property upon leaving the PCUS. Were there others in other Presbyteries that also lost their property. By the kind providence of God, most of these founding churches were able to keep their property.

And of course we can expect there might be an interest in which were the oldest of these founding PCA churches? The ten oldest, all still in the PCA to this day, are as follows:

1. 1764 – Bethel Presbyterian Church, Clover, SC [Calvary]

2. 1775 – Lebanon Presbyterian Church, Winnsboro, SC [Calvary]

3. 1786 – Bethany Presbyterian Church, Greensboro, GA [Central Georgia]

4. 1808 – Hopewell Presbyterian Church, Rock Hill, SC [Calvary]

5. 1812 – Salem Presbyterian Church, Blair, SC [Calvary]

6. 1812 – Meadow Creek Presbyterian Church, Greenville, TN [Westminster]

7. 1819 – Kanawha Salines Presbyterian Church, Malden, WV [Vanguard]

8. 1820 – Friendship Presbyterian Church, Laurens, SC [Calvary]

9. 1820 – First Presbyterian Church, Greenville, AL [Evangel]

10. 1821 – Lebanon Presbyterian Church, Abbeville, SC [Calvary]

Of special note in that list is the fact that Bethel Presbyterian Church in Clover, SC, is celebrating this year their 250th anniversary! Other churches have joined the PCA since 1973, and the list above is not exactly the same as the list for the ten oldest churches in the PCA today. Top honor, incidentally, goes to Fairfield Presbyterian Church, in Fairton, New Jersey, organized in 1680.

On the other end of the spectrum, there were thirteen of the founding churches that had been organized in 1973, in the months just prior to the formation of the denomination. 3 of these were in Evangel Presbytery and 3 were in Westminster Presbytery. Another 9 of the founding churches were still quite young, having been organized in the 1960’s. Many of these were located in Florida.

And to conclude, additional to the 1,122 churches and missions throughout the South, there are now another 741 PCA churches and missions spread out across the remainder of the nation, in Canada, and even around the globe. Which means that while 60% of the PCA remains weighted in the South, clearly the momentum is to expand out across the nation with the glorious Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ alone. In all this work may our Lord God— and He alone—be glorified.

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