Botsford Baptist Church endured the difficult years of the American Revolution, ministered through yellow fever outbreaks and survived on little through the Great Depression.
Now 250 years old, Botsford Baptist is one of Georgia’s oldest churches, continuing to proclaim the gospel just as it did when founding pastor Edmund Botsford and a small group of hardscrabble pioneers built a log meeting house near here some three years before American colonists declared their independence from England.
Keeping it simple
The hitching posts and wagon tracks are long gone. Now Botsford Baptist has a modern facility where nearly 300 people gather for worship on the average Sunday morning. Pastor Mike Dann preaches the same gospel that Botsford did all those years ago.
“We just keep it simple,” Dann said. “It’s church the way it’s always been. We meet to worship and to study God’s word and to pray. We’re not really big on the carnival Jesus movement. We’re just people trying to love the Lord and to be faithful in reaching outside our walls to show His love to the world.”
Dann, who has served here for the past 10 years, said it amazes him to think that the church, founded in 1773, was in place even before the United States came into existence. They’ve pulled together through a long series of wars involving local soldiers, including the Revolutionary War, Civil War, World I and II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars and the War on Terror.
Historical records show Botsford Baptist to be the second oldest Baptist church remaining in Georgia. Nearby Kiokee Baptist Church was chartered a few months earlier.
Originally called New Savannah Church and later Briar Creek Church, Botsford Baptist was later renamed in honor of the founding pastor who was born in England and came to America as a missionary.
An entry in Botsford’s journal provided insights into his ministry, which ended in Georgia when persecution by Torries forced him to flee the state.
“In August 1773, I rode 650 miles,” he wrote, “preached 42 sermons & baptized 21 persons.”
Dann said at least 79 other pastors have served the church, including his immediate predecessor, Wayne Dixon, who served 25 years. Dann said the Lord used Dixon’s ministry here to position the church for success in the future.
Dixon, at a past anniversary celebration, spoke of the many young Christians who came to faith at the church and who were trained for Christian service, saying that is what will allow Botsford Baptist to effectively reach future generations with the gospel.
Southern Baptist historian Charles Jones said building the original church structure two and a half centuries ago wasn’t delegated to contractors. Typically, members got together and cut trees, fashioned them into logs, and stacked them one upon another to create one-room meeting houses.
What has worked in Botsford Baptist’s favor through the years, Jones said, was a steadily growing population in the Augusta area.
“Location matters, but, as a church, they have survived because they have had a combination of good pastoral and lay leadership that have been focused on the right thing,” Jones said. “Botsford himself had been influenced by the Great Awakening, and he, above all, realized the importance of sharing the gospel.”
Emphasis on evangelism, discipleship
Jones said what has kept Botsford Baptist from going the way of some 4,000 others that close their doors every year in America is that they have always emphasized evangelism and discipleship.
Dann said the Lord clearly established Botsford Baptist to ensure generations of residents here would hear the gospel.
“Our roots didn’t start in Burke County or even in Georgia,” he said. “The church building plans began across the Atlantic Ocean when a young man felt a calling to leave his home country and sail to America.”
Dann called the story of Botsford Baptist “miraculous.”
“It has stood through wars, famine, disease and uncertainty,” he said. “We continue in the same path forged long before us. We preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. We strive to reach the lost and build disciples.”