South Charlotte

Church celebrates 250th anniversary

When Steele Creek Presbyterian Church started 250 years ago, the U.S. had not yet signed the Declaration of Independence.

The church, which is on Steele Creek Road/N.C. 160, not only has Civil War veterans buried in its cemetery, but also Revolutionary War veterans.

There are few sites in Charlotte that date back that far and are still operating, but Steele Creek Presbyterian is one and it continues to thrive with about 600 active members. In 2010, the church, which formed in 1760, started celebrating its 250-year anniversary with a series of events and is continuing its celebration this year.

"We had a concert (April 9) that was kind of a hold over from last year," said Senior Pastor William Pinkston. "It was really a year long celebration. We came into existence in 1760."

Last weekend, the church turned its sanctuary into a music hall and welcomed the Out and Aboot Tour featuring Rush of Fools and Downhere, two Christian rock bands. This October, the church plans to host a lecture series for ministers.

Last year, the celebration included several concerts, reunions and even a Civil War re-enactment to celebrate how far back the church history extends.

Walter McNeely, 63, who is a lifetime member of Steele Creek Presbyterian, chaired the 10-person committee that organized the 250th-anniverary celebration. He said four generals are buried in the cemetery as well as two signers of the Mecklenburg County Declaration of Independence from Great Britain, which some say predates the U.S. Declaration of Independence by about a year.

Prominent former members of the church include the Rev. Billy Graham's mother, who grew up attending the church. Graham's mother and father are both buried in the Steele Creek Presbyterian cemetery, McNeely said.

Graham could not attend the festivities, but his sister spoke last year during a service about her mother and the memories she shared about growing up at Steele Creek Presbyterian, McNeely said.

But the lore extends far earlier than Graham's stories. It is said at the church, that before there were cars, families were each assigned a tree where they tied their horse and buggies during services.

Because Steele Creek predates the Civil War, there was a time when some of its members owned slaves. The slaves and slave owners would attend church together, according to church history. Slaves would sit in the balcony. After the Civil War, some of those former slaves started their own churches.

McNeely said he's been a member of the church long enough to see everything around it change.

"The church has changed. The congregation has changed as Steele Creek has grown," McNeely said.

The current sanctuary, which was built in 1889, continues to be used today, but much of the landscape around it has changed.

"It would have been quite and imposing structure 125 years ago," he said, adding that all the bricks were handmade on the property.

For years, many of Steele Creek Presbyterian's members lived to the north of the church. In the 1960s, Charlotte Douglas International Airport was just beginning to expand. Many of the church's members were displaced. Now more of the members live to the south of the church and the church now sits at end edge of the airport with planes arriving and departing near the church. The city of Charlotte and the airport installed noise insulation in the sanctuary to help with the noise.

Steele Creek's long history has also meant that it was here long before many of the churches in the area and even helped start some of the other Presbyterian churches in the area.

In 2010, the church had a minister exchange program with some of its sister churches including Pleasant Hill, McClintock, Mt. Olive, Central Steele Creek, Unity Presbyterian and Clanton Presbyterian churches.