America’s Smallest Church

America’s Smallest Church

The Ride

Nearly 20 member of Moto 17 Jax participated in last Saturday’s group ride.  Since our destinations, The Smallest Church and Old School Diner, are located in Georgia, we planned to meetup at a gas station just off I-95 on SR-200.  From there we would ride 77 miles north on I-95 to our first stop, The Smallest Church in America.

It’s not uncommon for the days in springtime to be a bit breezy.  However, the time of year seemed to combine with the unusually harsh weather up north to create very windy conditions for this ride.  Throw in the usual snowbird migration on the northbound side of I-95 and the speeds the traffic runs on that route, and you quickly realize that this is not going to be a relaxing cruise.  On one hand, the group needed to stay tight and focused.  On the other hand, it wasn’t going to take very long to get there.

The ride up to the church went pretty much as expected.  The visit at the church was longer than I expected but was very nice.  The large parking area, under a canopy of large trees, was a nice place to relax and socialize.  Since the restaurant was only 8 miles away, the ride there from the church was a very brief cruise along a scenic country road.

To say that the Old School Diner is a “unique” experience is a bit of an understatement.  You don’t often find a somewhat famous restaurant so buried in the woods that it requires some navigational skills to get there.  You also don’t see a carpeted parking lot every day.  A carpeted garage, sure.  My dad has one.  But an outdoor parking lot in the woods.  You have to admit, that’s different.  Well, the experience didn’t get any more normal from there.  I’ll just leave it at that and you can decide how much more you want to know.  There is plenty of info online.

We spent quite a bit of time hanging out at Chef Jerome’s place.  But, eventually we were on the road again.  The ride back was just like the ride up only south.  A sprint past all the trucks with the occasional blast of crosswind just to keep you honest.

The truth is, these rides are more about the friendships than the destinations.  But after this trip, I’d say that a couple of  “unique” destinations, every now and then, can certainly keep things interesting. 

The Church

The “Smallest Church in America”, also known as Memory Park Christ Chapel is not actually the smallest but still attracts many visitors travelling along the Georgia Coast Scenic Byway. Measuring 10 x 15 feet, with pews for twelve people, and a compact pulpit for a minister, it is quite tiny. Built in 1949, by service station owner and grocer Agnes Harper, the chapel was meant to provide a peaceful place to rest and be refreshed on the journey. The building and highway frontage property is deeded to Jesus Christ in perpetuity. The deed, in the Darien City Hall Property Records room, clearly lists Christ’s mailing address as Heaven, and the property passes to his heirs. 

The Fire

The original building was gutted by a fire on Nov 28, 2015. It is believed that the fire was started by people trying to open the metal donations box with a torch.   

The fire was reported just before 1 a.m. and firefighters found it burning throughout when they arrived.  The fire was put out quickly, but because the structure is so small it was a total loss.  Justin Lamb, an investigator with the McIntosh County Sheriff’s Office, said a state fire marshal concluded that the fire was not started by an electrical short and was most likely arson.

The church is kept up by donations that visitors dropped through a slot in a safe and.  Sam Clark, a contractor and firefighter, pointed out a spot where it appeared someone had tried to use a torch to cut into the safe.  From what he could tell, someone had tried to force it open.

Frank Williams and Clark were at the church, a few days later, taking measurements to calculate what would be needed to rebuild the little non-denominational tourist attraction on U.S. 17 just south of the Interstate 95 interchange at Southport.  “It’s going to be rebuilt soon,″ Williams said. “Money’s coming. Lumber’s coming. It’ll be done by Christmas.”  A stack of donated 2-by-4′s lay on the edge of the property, and Clark said demolition wouldn’t be a problem. The fire was so hot it cracked the concrete block walls, he said, pulling a block down with one hand.  The small pews and pulpit burned, but the safe was still intact mounted on a wall.

The church was rebuilt and reopened to the public on April 8, 2017

Old School Diner

You would never find the Old School Diner on your own, but thanks to word of mouth and celebrity buzz (Ben Affleck has been known to frequent the establishment), the out-of-the-way eatery has become a hot spot for seafood and soul food lovers. Located near the Harris Neck Wildlife Refuge in Townsend, Georgia, the Old School Diner features freshly made seafood dishes prepared by the much-beloved Chef Jerome. From fried favorites such as shrimp, oysters and flounder to healthier fare including lobster, salmon and shrimp Creole, the Old School diner is a seafood lover’s paradise. Chef Jerome also serves up tasty barbecue and other southern favorites. But food isn’t the only reason to head to this hidden gem. The eclectic restaurant features room after room of photo- and memorabilia-lined walls. You could spend hours perusing the restaurant’s unique interior and chatting with Chef Jerome, who frequently emerges from his kitchen to greet guests.

Going to the Old School Diner is like taking a trip back in time. The bright pink wooden restaurant is covered in old tools. Chef Jerome has also rolled out the welcome mat. Carpet covers the driveway. As you walk in, there’s a big hint that you won’t be leaving hungry. Just in case you need a little help getting back into your car, he has wheelchairs at the door. Those wheelchairs are inspired by the famous wheelchair platter – a feast fit for a king featuring everything that the chef offers from seafood to ribs.

Corley Shearouse says, “Besides being a good cook, a good friend, he’s a fine Christian man.”

Since Chef Jerome opened his wildly successful diner, he has had to expand the business three times and has served more than 2,000 satisfied customers. Their happy faces cover the walls. And there is no telling who you might run into. They all come for his mouth watering creations.