While visiting Savannah, Georgia last week, I was encouraged to learn more about the church and mission history in this significant port city. Below are some brief reflections on the Moravians, John Wesley, and George Whitefield and their role in Savannah's spiritual history.
According to the Visit Savannah home page:
Savannah's recorded history begins in 1733. That's the year General James Oglethorpe and the 120 passengers of the good ship "Anne" landed on a bluff high along the Savannah River in February. Oglethorpe named the 13th and final American colony "Georgia" after England's King George II. Savannah became its first city. The plan was to offer a new start for England's working poor and to strengthen the colonies by increasing trade. The colony of Georgia was also chartered as a buffer zone for South Carolina, protecting it from the advance of the Spanish in Florida.
Just a few years after its founding, missionaries and ministers began ministering in the city. In 1735, the Pietistic Moravians--arguably the first Protestants missions organization--arrived, lived communally, and ministered to the English as well as to native Americans. Though spending 10 years in the colony and enduring much hardship--including conflict with other Christians--perhaps their greatest legacy was their influence on another minister, John Wesley.
Wesley, an ordained Anglican priest, came to serve as the minister at Christ Church in 1736-37. Though Wesley argues that he wasn't truly converted until after his return to England in 1738 (probably at a Moravian meeting), he nevertheless preached and gathered believers in his house for Bible study and prayer--a methodical (later "Methodist") approach to the Christian life. During the trans-Atlantic passage--either coming to or returning from Georgia--the ship carrying Wesley and where he served as chaplain was about tossed about in a great storm. Scared for his life, Wesley was impressed at the tranquility of the praying Moravians on board, who surely influenced him on his spiritual journey.
From 1738-1741, Wesley's evangelist colleague and theological foe George Whitefield ministered in Georgia, preaching at Christ Church and also founding Bethesda Home for Boys--a school that instructed troubled boys from a biblical worldview but also taught them the practical trade of farming. Amazingly, the school continues today after two and a half centuries.