Mulberry Street United Methodist Church, a landmark in Macon and Georgia Methodism, stands at the corner of First and Mulberry Street in downtown Macon. A lot of muddy water has passed under the Fifth Street Bridge since the church was first built on this plot of ground, but today the church is healthier and more beautiful than when she was born in 1826.
When Thomas Gardner, a local carpenter and part-time preacher, along with some sixteen other Methodists, organized a Methodist Society back in 1826, Macon was a struggling frontier town of 800 people living on the west bank of the Ocmulgee River. There were no churches in the town. It is possible that an occasional circuit rider, attached to the Monroe Circuit, would come down to Macon and hold services in the temporary log courthouse on Mulberry Street for the small group of that faith living there.
The first building completed in 1828, was built by Thomas Gardner, Alexander Richards and Elbert Crews. It was 40 by 60 feet with a square belfry in front and a large gallery to be used by the slaves, who worshipped in the same church as their masters. The first ordained pastor was Thomas Darley under whose leadership the church building was completed. In 1828 the first services were held with the Rev. Charles Hardy preaching. A series of revivals resulted in the addition of 120 members. A Sunday School was organized and in 1831 the first meeting of the Georgia Conference was held at Mulberry. Prior to that time Georgia had been part of the South Carolina Conference which extended south to include the Florida territory.
By 1848 the membership had outgrown the original little building and a new church was constructed. It, too, had a belfry but was far more imposing with its white columns. From this time, the church’s influence spread through the community with the establishment of Sunday Schools that led to the development of other churches: East Macon, Vineville, First Street and Centenary.
By 1882 the building had become old and in need of repairs. The Sunday School, under the leadership of the superintendent, petitioned for a separate building. Instead, the entire building was enlarged and remodeled. As part of the Centennial Celebration of 1926, a plan was adopted for the complete renovation of the sanctuary and the addition of the present Sunday School building. This was completed in 1928.
This tremendous achievement was followed by some of the most difficult days the church had faced. The Depression hit hard and those who had pledged so generously in 1926 were unable to meet their obligations, and the church was unable to pay the building debt. By 1945 the self-sacrifice of the dedicated members brought complete payment. In the 1950s, the sanctuary was again remodeled. A dining hall, Youth Center and the Stevens-Taylor Memorial Chapel were built. More than 1,000 young people from all denominations were members of Mulberry’s Youth Center. Weekends found the Center teeming with children and youth beneath a sign which reminded them “Near where we pray, we play.”
A growing awareness of the church’s rich historical heritage led to the establishment of the Historical Room. Here may be found the church’s historical treasures such as Thomas Darley’s ordination certificate signed by Francis Asbury, two Asbury night caps and a Darley Bible.
Disaster struck in April 1965 with a fire that gutted the sanctuary. Miraculously, the stained glass windows survived and were later installed in the present sanctuary which was opened for worship in 1968. In the early 2000s, Mulberry undertook another massive building program which was completed in 2004 at the cost of some $7,200,000.
Since the late 19th century, Mulberry has had a deep concern for missions at home and abroad. In 1878, the first Woman’s Society in the South Georgia Conference was formed. Through the support of missionaries in China, Mexico and Cuba, the congregation sought to extend the Kingdom of God. Today Mulberrians themselves have traveled not only to places in need in their own country but also throughout the world.
More visible is Macon Outreach located in the church on the lower level which includes a soup kitchen, food pantry, and clothes closet. Attempting to meet the needs of a diverse congregation and changing world with a flexible, varied program of study, worship and service, Mulberry approaches the coming years as deeply dedicated to doing the work of God as was the small group which cleared the forest to build a house of worship in 1826.