Above: An Early Map of Savannah, Georgia
Zoubenbuhler (died in 1766) served Christ Church, the oldest Anglican (now Episcopal) parish in Georgia, from 1745 to 1766. He was a foundational figure for Anglican and Episcopal worship in the State of Georgia.
His biography by Bishop Henry I. Louttit, Jr., of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia:
Mr. Zouberbuhler was appointed on November 1st, (All Saints’ Day), 1745, by the SPG, to be pastor of Christ Church, Savannah. Ordained by the Bishop of London, Bartholomew was the son of a native Swiss pastor who had originally served congregations of Swiss Protestants in the colony of South Carolina and then had become pastor of an Anglican parish there. Bartholomew, believing himself called to the ministry, made the long trip across the ocean to be ordained by the Bishop of London.
The trustees of the Colony of Georgia, charged pastor Zouberbuhler to minister to the French and German inhabitants of Georgia in their own languages according to the ceremonies of the Prayer Book! In 1748, of the 613 inhabitants of Savannah, 225 were members of Christ Church and 388 were dissenters of all sorts (Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Lutheran, etc.) Of the 225 members, only 63 made their communions. In 1750, Christ Church moved, under pastor Zouberbuhler, into its first building. It had met in the courthouse until then. The Rev. Bartholomew Zouberbuhler recorded in his journal that many Negroes decently joined in our services.
Pastor Zouberbuhler was a very hard worker. He walked the streets of the community of Savannah. He led worship in outlying villages and in Frederica. He managed finally to get the promised church that had been planned when Oglethorpe laid out the colony, actually built and open for worship. He cared for those that were hurting or in trouble. His health was not good and he asked at several times during years of ministry to be replaced as the pastor in the colony. In the records of the SPG in London are letters from the vestry of Christ Church urging that he not be relieved and asking that he continue as pastor. He did not see things moving as quickly and as well as he would like, but the congregation loved him and grew under him. The roots of Episcopal worship really began to be established. They proved to be deep and able to survive some pretty tough times in the revolutionary days that followed.
Mr. Zouberbuhler’s concern was not only for Christians of other languages and church traditions who had settled in Georgia, but for all the inhabitants, including the Negro slaves from Africa. He included Negroes in the worship at Christ Church and there baptized the first African slave to be baptized in the colony.
He begged the SPG and other friends in England to provide money to employ a catechist for African slaves. Mr. Joseph Ottolenghe was appointed and came to Georgia and talked to slaves about Christianity (catechized them). Of course, this was a difficult job, because first, one had to convince their owners to give you access and time with their slaves in order that they might be taught about God’s love and the stories of his love acting for us in scripture. Ottolenghe held meetings on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday evenings, with prayer and scripture reading preceding the gathering, and the group learned the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Prayer Book Catechism. Many slave-masters would not give him time with their slaves, but St. Bartholomew’s, Burroughs, was built by his converts on Wild Heron Plantation in south Chatham County. The great Ogeechee Mission started from his work. It was scattered by the Civil War. Some of its dispersed converts were the nucleus of St. Cyprian’s, Darien, and St. Athanasius’, Brunswick, as well as St. Stephen’s in Savannah. When Mr. Zouberbuhler died, he left a sizable portion of his estate as a trust to be used to employ qualified teachers “to teach Anglican Christianity to Negroes.”
The Episcopal Church in Georgia was touched by the presence of three of the greatest change agents in the history of the Church. All three belonged to the Anglican Church in the 18th century. John Wesley served as rector of Christ Church, and Charles Wesley, as a non-stipendiary priest, established worship on St. Simon’s, and George Whitfield was rector of Christ Church. However, as much as George Whitfield changed the face of American Christianity in preaching “the great awakening,” and as much as John Wesley changed the face of American Christianity and the world with the Evangelical commitment to share the Gospel with people of other classes and colors, not one of these three was particularly effective in their ministry in Georgia. It was Bartholomew Zouberbuhler, born of German-speaking parents, who was the first great pastor in the Episcopal tradition in Georgia.
Pray that, as many people, known and unknown, have worked and stayed faithful to preserve and present the good news about Jesus in Georgia, so we may have the patience and the loving concern for others. These were the gifts from a deep commitment to Jesus that Bartholomew Zouberbuhler used in the building up of the Church in our area.
God of grace and glory, we praise you for your servant Bartholomew Zouberbuhler, who made the good news known in Georgia. Raise up, we pray, in every country, heralds of the gospel, so that the word may know the immeasurable riches of your love, and be drawn to worship you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.