By Pam Dudding
People started arriving early for the Old Salem Church Annual Homecoming Potluck. The elderly were seated close to the pavilion and assisted to while the younger ones ran around the open yard, enjoying their freedom in the green grass.
On Sunday, August 15, generations came together to enjoy the fellowship of many whom they hadn’t seen in almost two years.
Home-cooked dishes were constantly placed on the tables as each family arrived. The smell of chicken and pork and beans arose everyone’s appetite when the lids finally came off.
Desserts were delved into immediately, as many spoke of their favorites that they got to enjoy.
One lady asked “Aunt Linda” if she was available for adoption, as she wanted to get her to make a huge dish of her delicious pretzel salad which she brings annually. (Needless to say, none was left, but a tiny bit in the corner as no one wanted to take the last bite.)
Laughter, jokes and stories filled the church grounds as more and more arrived during the afternoon.
Families set up their chairs under the trees as everything was held outside the church this year.
Friends sat together to catch up from not seeing each another for so long.
Jenny Reynolds Veasey, Mary Ann Reynolds Blevins and Gerlene Caldwell Sizer kept the chatter and laughter going at their table.
Ann “Annie” Reynolds shared that nearly everyone at the table was out of the Reynolds clan.
After the special poem, which was written by Ruth Reynolds was read, Ann said, “Aunt Ruth did a lot with the church. We had Christmas programs where she made everyone sing. I can’t sing and she would get upset if you didn’t sing. I know that must’ve been horrible, but she wanted to keep it going.” Everyone chuckled as each lady shared their memories too.
Event organizer Jean Bradley thanked everyone for coming and gave a short treasury report, stating they still had about $4,000 in the account, as little could be done during the coronavirus pandemic.
“The only thing we have had to do is mow this year but there are still some projects we need to do, and we will let you know,” Bradley said.
She also shared that the Old Salem Church as it’s known today has had at least three other names – Meadow Creek Church, Salem Methodist Episcopal Church South and Salem United Methodist Church.
Bradley read information that had been gathered by Ruth L. Reynolds, who was a member of the church until she passed in August 1988. ”There are seven people who still hold their membership with the church here; Francis Reynolds, Craig Elmore, Bonnie Fisher, Lance Hutton, Roberta Carper, Ellen Craft and Ira (Eddie) Reynolds,” she said before adding, “The earliest information on the now Old Salem Church was 1861 when the meetings were held in a school building called ‘Frog Pond Academy.’ The minister’s name was J. F. Bean.”
She noted that the next minister mentioned was the Reverend Smith who served in 1888 and would have been one of the first to serve in the new brick church named Salem Methodist Episcopal Church South (SMEC), since work on the building began 1883 finished two years later. She shared, “The bricks for the church were made locally. The story goes that the adults made the brick, and the children carried them to the church site.”
Bradley also noted that Early Caldwell sawed lumber for the original shelter and Ersie Brizendine and Earl Huffman built it in the 1960s.
History notes that on May 25, 1885, a deed was made between William and Harriet Mann (husband and wife) to the trustees of SMEC. Those first trustees were: James Huffman, Samuel M. Lipes, James C. Mann, John W. Lipes, William C. Mann, Newton A. Caldwell and William L. Carper.
“From 1861 until 1900, the following ministers served the church: J.F. Bean, Rev. Smith, Maurice C. Mehrling, C. M. Sarver, G. T. D. Collins, John W. Canter, Phillips S.E. Sixes, S.M. Bowman and C.W. Lusby,” Bradley said. “There were approximately 38 ministers who administered to Salem Church from 1888 to 1967.”
Bradley continued, “Additional land was purchased on December 6, 1919, from J.O. Mann for $30. The trustees for Salem United Methodist Episcopal Church South were Mason H. Caldwell, S.P. Mann, B.W. Jones and James S. Reynolds. The last trustees were in 1950 – C.R. Reynolds, Hoyt McCartney and James Mann.”
Somewhere between 1963 and 1967 the Methodist churches decided the building was no longer safe for services. The following are words that Ruth Reynolds wrote at the time, “After a short time there, (Hoyt McCartney’s store building) we were asked again which church we were moving our membership. Then is when our little church was split up. Some went this way and some that way, some stayed. There were two of us with the help of others that never gave up. I for one and Pearl the other. With the help of Ralph Ruble. He would bring a lay leader from Roanoke for one sermon a year. At one time we had 67 members. As of now (date unknow, but after 1967), 13 members still remain.”
Continuing, “In September of 1989, the little brick church was dealt a heavy hand when Hurricane Hugo struck and one of the big trees in the church yard crashed through the roof. Gertrude Lowery lead the small band of members and supporters to raise approximately $4400 to repair the roof. And, between 1989 and 1999, the little church suffered due to lack of funds and workers to keep it repaired. Meetings were being held on the grounds instead of inside the church building. The drop ceiling that had been put in after Hugo had fallen due to the roof leaking and the bats that had made their home in the ceiling.”
In 1989, Trudy Lowery made the following statement to the New Castle Record: “We had a choice. We had to fix it or tear it down. Everyone was in favor of the repairs, that’s why I don’t think we’ll have trouble raising the funds. In 1999, we had a choice. We had to fix it or tear it down. Since 1999, the roof has been replaced, a new ceiling installed, new windows installed and the floor repaired, sanded, and refinished. Generous donations, raffles, yard sales and numerous projects have raised the money and all repairs have been paid in full. The most significant donation has been people giving their time to work and keep the ‘little brick church’ a standing memorial to all of those who came before us and created from hard work a unique place of worship.”
Today, services are held twice a year; the third Sunday in August and the first Sunday in December.
Though no one seemed to care to leave, many assisted in packing everything up and hugs and sweet good-byes were countless.
Bradley will keep all updated as to whether they will be able to host the December Candlelight Service. Until then, “God bless everyone and keep traditions of family alive.”