Venturing a bit farther from home last week than I usually do when going on what I call “a fact-finding mission,” I discovered a church in Robeson County that has a twin sister right here in Scotland County.
Since moving to Scotia Village, exactly a year ago this month, I have been busy getting to know my new home. I have driven a lot of miles on these jaunts that are a regular part of my week, to the point that I now can talk with some clarity about where things are located, having discovered more than one way to get to such places as McColl and Maxton and Wagram and Pembroke and Camp Monroe. And I routinely take alternate routes when I come home from running errands around town. Just to be sure I’ve seen it all.
The most challenging was to find “the airport.” I kept hearing people talk about businesses that are, or more often WERE, located at “the airport.”
This should be a piece of cake, I thought, just turn at the sign on U.S. 74 East.
Simple enough, but I drove and drove and drove, seeing all kinds of interesting things, like big planes parked in a big field, lots of abandoned business sites with grass growing between the cement in their parking lots and finally signs to the winery near Wagram.
Almost late to dinner that night, I found from table conversation that I was looking for the wrong thing: A long runway with planes taking off and landing every now and then and a big building where you could buy tickets.
OK. So Laurinburg-Maxton is not Raleigh-Durham or Douglas International. All I needed were some words of explanation. I now understand. The big field with the grass growing and the big planes IS the airport.
The church that caught my attention is located about 3 miles north of Maxton just off N.C. 71 on Oxendine School Road.
Centre Presbyterian is the twin of Old Laurel Hill. In 1797, both congregations asked to be part of Orange Presbytery, signaling they were both organized and ready to do business.
The same person designed the church buildings that are almost exactly alike with a balcony around the sanctuary for slaves, beautiful old pews and hand-hewn woodwork. Centre’s sanctuary is a bit larger than Old Laurel Hill’s, however, because by 1859 the church had 487 members, including 139 black members.
Driving into the parking lot, the first thing to catch my attention was an ancient oak tree, gnarled with age and ravaged by weather, that stands at the front door of the church. Struck by lightning more than once, hit by a speeding vehicle and having had its top broken out by hurricane winds, the tree continues as a force to be reckoned with.
In fall, raking its bountiful leaves and acorns is still on the church’s chore list.
The stated supply pastor at Centre is the Rev. Dr. Howard Whitehurst, who lives on Church Street in Laurinburg, one door from Laurinburg Presbyterian. He led a slightly informal service last Sunday, coming down from the pulpit into the congregation for announcements and the opening welcome as well as for his special message for children. On this Sunday, he had only one little boy who was accompanied by his father.
The sermon, titled “Providence,” was based on the part of the Joseph story in Genesis 45:1-15 in which the brothers who sold Joseph into Egypt as a slave, are reunited with him.
An unusual thing about this service was the way the congregation handled the singing.
It was a Hymn Sing, with people calling out from the congregation what they would like to sing. I was impressed because this church is already using the denomination’s new hymnal published last year, while a lot of other long-time Presbyterians are still howling about the unfamiliar hymns they have encountered.
Not the Centre congregation. They’re singing them.
An interesting event from this church’s history happened in 1875, at the height of its prowess as a congregation, when the Session voted “to give all aid and encouragement in their power to the building of a church at Shoe Heel Depot [now Maxton].”
Three years later, the Maxton church was organized and nearly all its charter members were former members of Centre. This was a gesture of Christian love from the Mother Church to its first daughter.
But cultural and social changes have taken their toll at Centre. The small congregation now numbers about 65 members who are slow to disperse after worship, gathering in small talking groups in back of the sanctuary or spilling out onto the front steps.
As I was leaving, a member reminded me that the annual in-gathering is set for the first Thursday in October with the one at Old Laurel Hill on the first Thursday in November.
See you in church!
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