PHOTO CAPTION: On April 27, 1958, approximately 300 people gathered at the Southeastern edge of Statesboro to break ground on Pittman Park Methodist Church’s new church building. Pictured is Rev. Houston turning the first shovelful of Earth. Just behind and to the right of the pastor is a young boy, Remer L. “Brad” Brady, who would return 40 years later as the congregation’s eleventh pastor. At the far right is Dr. Zach Henderson, President of Georgia Teachers College (what would later become Georgia Southern University).
In 1956, Statesboro was bustling with tourists traveling to Florida. The roadway was so busy that when the Methodist church in Downtown Statesboro decided to build a new sanctuary, some suggested moving the church to a new location. Dr. Ken Herring, a member of the congregation colorfully recalls, “You couldn’t even sleep in church much less hear what the preacher said.” Rather than move the current church, it was decided that a new church would be created.
A Georgia Southern Connection
Dr. Zach Henderson, President of Georgia Teachers College (what would later become Georgia Southern University), was instrumental in persuading congregants that a new church was needed. He also helped procure the location for the new church. There was land near the college that was owned by the widow of Henderson’s predecessor, Dr. Marvin Pittman, who was living out of state. Henderson offered to write to her, and she wrote back within days, saying she would offer the 8.7-acre tract at no charge since it was for a new church. The congregation named their church Pittman Park in gratitude.
Until a building could be constructed, the congregation met in Marvin Pittman Lab School facilities, an elementary and middle school housed on the campus of the Georgia Teachers College. The first service was held in the school auditorium on June 17, 1956. The local newspaper quoted Henderson as saying, “It was a real religious experience to attend the first church service at Pittman Park with 228 at morning worship.”
Constructing the Building
The new congregation had decided to build a small chapel and some classrooms to start out, with a full sanctuary and fellowship hall to be added later. However, when representatives asked for a construction loan from the Georgia Teacher Retirement System (TRS), the chairman offered to lend enough to build the full church. Congregant Bennie Herring recalls, “The TRS guy said, ‘why don’t you build the whole thing? We’ll lend you the money.’ We about fell out.”
In March of 1958, Benning and Benning Construction of Atlanta was chosen as the building contractor because their contract bid was the lowest. It wasn’t low enough, however, and the plans had to be adjusted to keep the project within budget. Builder T.R. Benning, Sr. had such a good experience on the job that he ended up donating the chapel, allowing the congregation to build their complete plan after all.
On May 31, 1959, the community was invited to an Open House at the new Pittman Park building. In a newspaper article, Pittman Park’s Rev. Lawrence Houston was quoted as saying, “While a school building can never take the place of a lovely place of worship, nevertheless, we have found excellent temporary facilities in the Marvin Pittman School… This year of construction of the new church plant has been one of harmony and progress.”
Paraphrased from “A Charge to Keep: A History of Pittman Park United Methodist Church” by C. David Thompson