Caring for the Saints of Historic Hancock County

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In 1995, a core group of former and current residents of Sparta, Ga. had the foresight to form a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide for the preservation, restoration, and maintenance of Sparta Cemetery.

“We have been able to accumulate gifts from a capital campaign and annual gifts from concerned persons and family members and are well on our way to providing for the perpetual care of this 10-acre cemetery founded in 1806,” said Jim Alfriend, Chairman of the Sparta Cemetery Association. “Twenty years ago, we engaged the Georgia United Methodist Foundation to manage the money for us. The GUMF has credibility so when we request gifts, and gifts are given, the donors know where the money is going. How can you argue with the United Methodist Foundation being the fund manager?”

Annually, around 30 to 35 people gather together for a work day at Sparta Cemetery and enjoy fellowship. Casting aside their collective aches and pains, these committed Christians rake leaves, trim shrubs, and pull weeds because they believe it is their generation’s responsibility to preserve the final resting places of the saints of historic Hancock County.

“At the end of the day, there is just a sense of tremendous gratification that so many people come to participate and make the cemetery look like someone cares,” said Alfriend.

Sparta Cemetery Association has also received community support in the form of grants from the Bank of Hancock County, the Plum Creek Foundation, and the Watson-Brown Foundation.

The cemetery, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is the final resting place of veterans of the American Revolution, as well as Alfriend’s great-great-grandfather, Methodist Bishop George Foster Pierce.

After becoming a Methodist preacher in 1831, Bishop Pierce spent the next seven years as a circuit rider. In 1838, Bishop Pierce was chosen as the first President of Georgia Female College, now Wesleyan College, in Macon. He also served as President of Emory University in Oxford from 1849 to 1854, when he was chosen Bishop at the Methodist Conference in Columbus. He held that office for 30 years. When the original Sparta Methodist Church was destroyed by fire in 1905-1910, the replacement church was named Pierce Memorial Methodist Church in his honor.

This article was originally published in the Georgia United Methodist Foundation’s 2015 Annual Report.