Hopewell Presbyterian begins celebration of 250th anniversary

On every Sunday that Hopewell Presbyterian Church meets this year, visitors will be greeted with a reminder of the church's long and rich history.

Hopewell Presbyterian, one of the oldest churches in northern Mecklenburg County, will spend 2012 celebrating its 250th anniversary.

Greeters will dress in period costumes, mostly from the 1700s and 1800s, to welcome people to Sunday services.

"That will help any visitors, as well as the members, to begin to remember by seeing people who were dressed as they would have been dressed those many years ago," said Barbara Cannon, a member of the committee planning the 250th anniversary celebration.

Hopewell officially was founded in 1762, although the congregation began meeting as early as the 1740s. The group was led by evangelist John Thomson.

The group first gathered in the yard and home of founding member Richard Barry, and a historic marker on Beatties Ford Road now commemorates the site.

In 1831, a campaign was started to build a brick meeting house, and Hopewell Presbyterian became the second bricked Presbyterian church in rural North Carolina, according to church records.

The four cemeteries on the church's campus are as historic as the church's building. People buried there include Revolutionary War hero Frances Bradley, members of the Latta family and Gen. William Lee Davidson, whom Davidson College is named after.

The 250th anniversary celebration committee, which is headed by Dave Moss and Tom Nist, has divided the 2012 festivities into three-month quarters, each focusing on a century of church history.

"We thought about how we could celebrate 250 years and make some sense out of it rather than just jumping around and not thinking about it chronologically," said Cannon, who joined Hopewell as a teenager in the 1950s.

Each quarter will feature special events and Sundays honoring former pastors. One luncheon will recognize the family of Jeff Lowrance, who died of cancer in 2007 while serving as Hopewell pastor. His wife, Anne, and their daughters will be honored.

The Rev. Allan L. Purtill, Jr., now is Hopewell's pastor.

In March, the church will hold a parade from the site of the original congregation, now in Tanner's Creek subdivision, to the church grounds, where Revolutionary War re-enactors will demonstrate what life might have been like in the 1700s, Cannon said.

The celebration committee's motto for the yearlong celebration is "remember, renew and rededicate," Cannon said.

Organizers hope that former church members, musicians, missionaries and staff members will visit Hopewell in 2012. They are discussing a congregational mission for the year, which could include asking congregants to focus on acts of kindness.

A group of women is making a quilt commemorating the church's history, and others are sewing period costumes. The church will hold a homecoming at Latta Plantation in September and will host the Charlotte Presbytery Women's fall gathering.

The celebration will end with the burying of a time capsule, which the church youth group is assembling, in December.

"(The church) has never closed the doors," Cannon said. "It has always been strong and vibrant and a witness right there in its property right on Beatties Ford Road.

"We just want to make sure we use this as an opportunity to pledge that we will make sure there is a church there for the future."