Epworth by the Sea is a conference and retreat center on St. Simons Island owned and operated by the South Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church. Annually serving more than 125,000 persons from around the world, it is open to all denominations, state and local agencies, groups, and individuals whose goals are consistent with Epworth’s purpose: “To provide a Christian place for worship, study and fellowship.”
The eighty-three-acre campus is located on Gascoigne Bluff, the one-mile riverbank tract stretching from the causeway bridge to the bend in the Frederica River. Named for Captain James Gascoigne, commander of the sloop-of-war Hawk, the bluff offered vessels the first landing place after entering the harbor. Captain Gascoigne escorted Georgia’s first British sailors to the bluff, and they established Fort Frederica in 1735.
Along with General James Oglethorpe, the Anglican priests John and Charles Wesley arrived in 1736 to serve as missionaries at Fort Frederica under the auspices of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. On returning to England, the brothers founded the Methodist movement.
More than 200 years later, Bishop Arthur J. Moore, the Methodist Episcopal leader of Georgia, along with friends and Methodist supporters, stood on the bluff overlooking the salt marshes immortalized by the Georgia poet Sidney Lanier and agreed that St. Simons was indeed the perfect location for a conference and retreat center. Assisted by the influential businessman Alfred W. Jones Sr., president of the Sea Island Company, the Methodists purchased part of the Hamilton Plantation in 1949 and named it Epworth by the Sea, after the Wesleys’ boyhood home of Epworth, England. One of the four remaining slave cabins on St. Simons is located on the grounds.
Since opening in 1950, Epworth has grown from a small rustic camp facility with a few old plantation buildings to a comprehensive, first-class center. Epworth’s staff of 100 is governed by a 40-member board of trustees and supervised by a superintendent who is a United Methodist minister appointed by the presiding bishop of the South Georgia Conference.
Lane Chapel, St. Simons’s oldest standing church building, hosts Sunday services and is available for weddings. Constructed in 1880, it is named after the site of the 1784 founding conference of American Methodism in Baltimore, Maryland. Epworth’s facilities accommodate up to 1,000 and include motel rooms, family apartments, and youth cabins. Auditoriums seat from 300 to 900, and meeting rooms and classrooms have audiovisual equipment available. An in-season swimming pool, athletic fields, covered basketball courts, tennis courts, bicycles, and fishing piers provide sports activities for all ages.