In the fall of 1994, the Session of the Independent Presbyterian Church (IPC) and the Mission to North America Committee of the Central Georgia Presbytery of the PCA, decided that the east islands area of Savannah needed a PCA church. This area consists of a group of barrier islands extending from Savannah east to Tybee Island. The major residential areas are on Whitemarsh, Talahi, Oatland, Wilmington, and Tybee (the beach) islands. IPC felt that a church plant would be a strategic outreach to this community; so in the summer of 1995, their Session and the Central Georgia Presbytery called Rev. Marty Fields and his family to serve as the church planters for this new islands mission. To make this happen, IPC pledged prayer support, office space and the use of their recreational facility (known as “Point Pleasant”) on Talahi Island. The Central Georgia Presbytery pledged the financial backing.
The mission began with a prayer group and Bible study in the fall of 1995. At the first meeting, nine people, representing 4 families, came together to pray and study God’s Word. Later in the year, IPC graciously agreed to let us begin to hold Sunday evening worship services at Point Pleasant. The new mission was named “Islands Presbyterian Church.”
The first evening service saw approximately 35 in attendance, and on Sunday January 7, 1996, we had our first morning worship. To the utter astonishment of the core group, 120 attended this service! It was at this point that we were sure this new work was here to stay, so the church purchased its first tract of land in the fall of 1996. In the winter of 1997 the church elected, ordained, and installed three Ruling Elders and six Deacons and extended a formal call to Rev. Marty Fields to be its pastor. From that time to the fall of 1998, tremendous growth was seen as worship attendance went from an average of 120 to 175. This led the elders to the conviction that the church needed another full-time pastor, and in the summer of 1999, the session called Brad Staton to become Assistant Pastor for assimilation and outreach.
The church also realized that the need for its own facility was growing; and in 1999, with the entire mortgage for 12 acres of land paid-off, began the quest for a new facility. Also, in order to eliminate confusion of identity with the Wilmington Island Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), the Session changed the name of Islands Presbyterian Church to “Grace Church of the Islands (PCA).” On June 2, 2002, the first services were held in our new facility at 6901 Concord Road. God has provided a beautiful building for Grace Church that will serve it and the islands community well into the future. The new building seats in excess of 350 people and is designed for a variety of uses.
From 2001 to 2004
As God was leading Grace Church, He was also working in the lives of her pastors. At the beginning of 2002, our church planter, Rev. Marty Fields, and our Associate Pastor, Rev. Brad Staton, were both led by the Lord into new areas of ministry. Marty went to work for American Vision where he could focus more on writing and lecturing, while Brad felt called back to his hometown of Augusta, GA and the First Presbyterian Church. Though this was a difficult time for Grace Church, God was gracious to provide the Rev. Patrick Harmon and his family to meet our needs. Patrick had joined Grace Church in January 2001 as our Youth Pastor, and the Lord led him to stay with us even as He led Marty and Brad to move elsewhere. Patrick graciously stepped in to fill the pulpit, and in the process, his love for Grace Church and that of our congregation for him became evident. God was also growing Patrick as a preacher of the Word; and to his and our pleasant surprise, God called him to become our pastor in 2003. We were blessed to have Patrick, his wife Kitsie, and their 5 daughters as a special part of the Grace Church family. During Patrick’s time at Grace Church, he continued to pursue and has obtained his Ph.D. in adolescent studies. During his research, Patrick worked closely with the clinical psychology department at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). Through their communications, both parties discovered a mutual interest in the study and treatment of today’s over-medicated and even addicted adolescent population; and Patrick felt the call of God leading him into this new field of work. In September 2005, he started a year of preliminary courses at Harvard and eventually earned a medical degree at MUSC. Though it was hard to lose another pastor, we are excited to see the great things God is doing with Patrick as He uses him to take the Gospel into the world of adolescent psychology.
From 2005 to the present
On November 13, 2005, Grace Church voted unanimously to approve the Rev. T. Brannon Bowman as Senior Pastor. The following month, the Presbytery installed Rev. Bowman as Senior Pastor of Grace Church of the Islands. Once again, God blessed His church in a mighty way as we celebrated retiring the building mortgage in September 2009.
Due to the increasing number of youths, the Session called Curtis McDaniel, a recent graduate of Covenant Seminary in St. Louis, to serve as the Assistant to the Pastor for Student Ministries. In November 2009, he was called by the Session to serve as Assistant Pastor. In early 2011 the congregation called Curtis to be Associate Pastor.
Brannon Bowman who had been serving in the Reserve as a chaplain felt the Lord’s leading to full-time chaplaincy. After much prayer, Rev. Bowman decided to resign as Senior Pastor in order to become a full-time chaplain in the United States Air Force. Rev. Bowman faithfully served our congregation for almost seven years. He left Grace Church on September 1, 2012.
The Lord graciously provided for our needs during the transition period following Rev. Bowman's departure. Our Associate Pastor, Curtis McDaniel, served as the Interim Pastor.
A Pastor Search Committee was formed and worked diligently to find a new pastor. The committee met weekly and reviewed over 100 names within a nine-month period before reducing the number down to one man. In March 2013, the Rev. Brad Waller was unanimously nominated by the Senior Pastor Search Committee to be our Senior Pastor. The following month he was unanimously approved by the Session and the congregation. A call was placed in Rev. Waller’s hands and he was installed as the Senior Pastor at Grace Church of the Islands on June 9, 2013.
Our Associate Pastor, Curtis McDaniel, accepted a call to become the RUF Campus Minister at Purdue University and departed Grace Church in June 2013 to begin his new ministry journey.
Under Pastor Waller’s leadership, the church continued to grow as we sought to “know God and make Him known”. On June 1, 2016, Rev. Charlie Turner joined our church staff as Assistant Pastor in charge of Student Ministries. Pastor Turner was installed as Assistant Pastor on August 7, 2016. He became our Associate Pastor in January of 2017. In the spring of 2018, due to personal reasons, Pastor Waller left our church. In the summer, Pastor Turner resigned and the Turners moved back to Mississippi to be closer to family members. The Session called Rev. Merle Messer as an Interim Pastor on October 1, 2018. Rev. Messer faithfully served the congregation until April 1, 2020, when Pastor J.C. Cunningham was called to be the new Senior Pastor of Grace Church of the Islands. The Lord has richly blessed our church, and we are excited to see what He has in store for us in the future!
“God does not merely initiate the work and then leave it, he continues with it; he leads us on, directing and manipulating our circumstances, restraining us at one time and urging us on at another. Paul’s whole conception of the Church is that it is a place where God is working in the hearts of men and women.” D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
“For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.” Psalm 100:5