Methodist evangelist’s descendant fosters sense of community with Anchor Ministries

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Coming full circle, Bobby Lawrence was thrilled to celebrate the Word of God in July at the home of his ancestor, the Rev. Samuel Porter Jones.

Carrying on the evangelical legacy of the renowned Methodist evangelist, the Cartersville resident is known for inspiring congregations of various denominations to serve as the “hands and feet of Jesus.”

“I had served as a local pastor and as an evangelist, but I kept sensing I had something greater to do for God,” Lawrence said. “A turning point in my life was the night of Aug. 3, 2006. I experienced a revelation about my heritage as a descendant of the revivalist Sam Jones, my great-great-uncle.

“He was a descendant of north Georgia Circuit Rider Robert Edwards who was a descendant of another great pastor named Jonathon Edwards. He preached revival that led to the forming of this nation. The weight of my inheritance seemed to hit me. From that point, I knew I was supposed to start an evangelistic ministry, following in Sam’s footsteps. I began my visits to Cartersville and eventually moved here.”

While his ministry started small — preaching at various churches and open-air tabernacles surrounding Cartersville — Jones gained notoriety during the late 19th century. He drew thousands to revivals at the Union Gospel Tabernacle, now called Ryman Auditorium — a venue in Nashville, Tennessee, that was built in his honor.

“During the late 1800s, Rev. Samuel Porter Jones began a ministry in Cartersville, Georgia, that changed the spiritual climate in the United States,” Rose Lawn Museum Director Jane Drew said. “A four-week revival held at the Tabernacle that Sam built — presently in the area of our library and civic center — brought as many as 20,000 people to Cartersville.

“Sam and Laura’s home, Rose Lawn, was always open to the ministers who would preach at those grand ole revivals. These visiting preachers spent the night with the Jones, where Southern hospitality was at its finest.”

Now a house museum, Jones’ former residence at 224 W. Cherokee Ave. is operated by Bartow County government. Along with hosting fall and spring festivals, Rose Lawn showcases the belongings of the late Methodist minister’s family and teacher, Rebecca Felton.

“While serving as curator of the Jones family home, I have had many of Sam’s relatives drop by with interest in the renowned minister from Georgia,” Drew said. “As I recall, about 15 years ago, Bobby Lawrence visited Rose Lawn after hearing that he was distantly related to Sam Jones. He traveled to Rose Lawn many times during his quest to find out more about the ministry and the man.”

Striving to connect members of Bartow’s church community with those who are “lost” and needing a helping hand, Lawrence and his wife, Megan, established Anchor Ministries three years ago.

“I started serving in ministry in my 20s,” Lawrence said. “I had thoughts about putting up a tent and hosting gatherings. On Labor Day weekend of 2016, a friend said he could borrow a tent that we could use to do a gathering. I said, ‘let’s pray on the way’ and we went. It became immediately clear to me that I would need my own tent.

“Within a week, a close friend from my weekly Bible Study called me and said he felt impressed to buy me a large tent. Within a couple of months, Joe Frank Harris Jr. had written the bylaws for Anchor Ministries Inc. and helped to get the ministry incorporated,” he said, describing AMI as “an ecumenical ministry that brings people together from different denominations to share the love of Jesus Christ, change communities and transform lives.”

Operating under the umbrella of Bartow Baptist Association, Anchor Ministries partners with area churches to present various offerings, such as Community Gatherings, Backyard Bible Camp activities, and a summer feeding and ministry outreach for youth.

“We want our gatherings to enhance people’s lives by experiencing the love of Christ,” Mrs. Lawrence said. “When we show people the joy of the Lord through our actions, and offer them love, they realize that is what they are seeking. We invite all Christians to come outside of the walls of their church and connect with other believers to be the hands and feet of Jesus.”

Transforming community spaces into places for sharing God’s love, Anchor Ministries’ gatherings have become a fixture in the Lawrences’ outreach efforts. Along with Rose Lawn Museum, some of the sites have included under the bridge in downtown Cartersville, and efficiency apartment and public housing complexes.

“We have regular events we call Community Gatherings,” Mrs. Lawrence said. “We invite people to come together for fellowship — delicious food, good music, fun and educational activities for all ages. We show love and we also offer a short Gospel message. Over the past couple of years, we have had 18 larger events either under our tent [or] under the Church Street Bridge with an attendance of 350 – 550 people.

“Two of our larger events had somewhere between 700 to 900 guests and volunteers in attendance. We have also had 14 smaller events with an attendance of 75 – 200 people. Since we started the ministry, we have witnessed 800 salvations and rededications, many baptisms. Lives are being transformed.”

Currently serving as a board member, Taylorsville resident Saunders Jones III has seen the impact of Anchor Ministries firsthand.

“What I love the most about Anchor Ministries is that the purpose is simple — to go outside of the four walls of the church to preach the best news the world has ever heard; that God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life,” Jones said. “As Christians, we often focus on the things that divide and separate us, but through Anchor Ministries we can unite under the simple message that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

“In that, there is no disagreement. Over 700 people have come to a saving knowledge of Christ over the past two years through the events held by Anchor Ministries right here in our community and I am proud to have my only son be among them.”

On July 27, hundreds joined Anchor Ministries for its Live Music on the Lawn at Rose Lawn Museum’s grounds and Carriage House. In addition to breaking bread, the event featured children’s activities, worship music and a Gospel message.

“It was nostalgic to host one of our Community Gatherings at Rose Lawn,” Lawrence said. “Knowing the history of the Carriage House and that at one time it had been blown up by bootleggers trying to stop Sam from continuing his ministry. Knowing the pastors would gather together after the famous tabernacle meetings — thousands of people gathered right here in Cartersville — in the coachmen’s quarter inside the Carriage House to talk about what happened. Knowing that wherever Sam went nationwide, he affected change in the communities.

“Saloons shut down; people stopped gambling; and they became convicted of their sin. Sam Jones preached in tents all over America. It amazes me to think about all of the people that visited this property. The famous E.O. Excell, world famous composer, and widely known for his stanza selection and musical arrangement for ‘Amazing Grace,’ visited the family here and traveled with Sam Jones.”

The following evening, Anchor Ministries continued to reach their neighbors at Rose Lawn Museum with a community church service. Gathered under a large tent, more than 200 worshippers from over 12 churches listened to messages provided by local pastors Kevin Lobello and Randy Livsey.

“I wanted to take part because I am committed to bringing our community together,” said Lobello, who serves as the senior pastor at Sam Jones Memorial United Methodist Church in Cartersville. “I think it is especially important to bring the faith community together. I wanted to remind the folks that there are things that define us and things that describe us.

“What defines us is that we are all children of God. We are brothers and sisters together. Sinners saved by the grace of God. What describes us are things, like white or black, Methodist or Baptist, rich or poor, gay or straight and a thousand other things. When we let those things that describe us begin to define us and others — we put barriers between us and make unity more difficult.”

Calling Lawrence a friend, Lobello — whose church is named in memory of the Methodist evangelist — has supported Anchor Ministries’ efforts for several years, “to love on God’s people in this place we call Cartersville.”

“I really enjoy the meals Anchor Ministries served under the bridge,” he said. “They shared my vision that it is much better to sit down and eat with folks than to just feed people. It was awesome to see community leaders and homeless folks sitting and eating and talking together. Good things happen when we get to know each other.”

Referring to Anchor Ministries’ outreach offerings at Rose Lawn Museum, Drew shared today’s gatherings mirrored those of the past.

“Presently, serving as an event home and a museum , Rose Lawn Museum and Carriage House is often rented by churches, ladies’ auxiliary meetings, spiritual conferences, symposiums and ministries, such as Anchor,” she said. “From every account, Anchor Ministries founder Bobby Lawrence hosted a very successful turnout at this community-wide event.

“With many of our local churches joining Bobby’s efforts, once more the grounds were filled with children playing, music, food and a church service. As in the days of the Jones, the grounds on Cherokee Avenue were used to bring a spiritual presence to one and all. I’m sure that if Sam and Laura were here, they would have smiled.”

For more information about Anchor Ministries, visit www.bartowbaptist.org/anchor-ministries or https://anchorministriesinc.org, email anchorministries41@gmail.com or call 478-960-1480.