Jenkins: A heart still beating after 200 years

jim.jenkins@newsobserver.comMay 23, 2013 

A young man named Daniel White was converted at a Baptist revival in Scotland somewhere around 1800, and it took. White became a minister, and married another convert, Catherine Campbell. It was Daniel White’s wish to minister to those from his country who had migrated to America.

And so the Whites came, first to Charleston and then to a place now known as Scotland County, in the sandhills of south-central North Carolina. Daniel White founded a church in May of 1813. In fact, it was 200 years ago today.

The story might have long ago been lost to history, but the Rev. White was said to be quite a powerful preacher, who did two sermons every Sunday, one in English and one in Gaelic, and his tiny congregation grew as he made a name traveling around the area spreading the gospel, while his wife organized women missionaries.

Today, improbably, incredibly perhaps, his church survives as the Spring Hill Baptist, along the main road in the small town of Wagram. And on Sunday last, the members of that church gathered, as they do several times a week (Baptists as a rule like to open the doors more than on Sundays) to conduct their service, one filled with traditions. It was a special Sunday, but the service was similar to most in a community like so many where church is a focal point, a heart, for families.

The Old Testament scripture was shared.

Martha Edge (there are many Edges in the church and the community) offered recognition for the oldest members and the youngest members and others.

The hymns were traditional and familiar: "Church in the Wildwood," "How Firm a Foundation," "Blest Be the Tie." Most people could have sung them without a hymn book.

The children had a little gathering at the front.

The sermon from former Spring Hill minister Vitaly Bak was in depth and included a little humor.

Daniel White’s church thus survives as do so many in rural North Carolina, as places of gathering, as comfort to the sick, as supporters of those in the small town in need, as backers of missions. (One of those listed in the program under "Community Prayer Concerns" is headed to China.)

And then, there were those of us in the back, middle-aged and older mostly, joining in the service on this particular Sunday, and contributing to the huge spread served later with our own covered dishes. We’d come because Daniel and Catherine White are our ancestors. They were my great-great-great-great grandparents, said family patriarch Robert McMillan, Raleigh attorney and a man whose memory is better than the 2013 edition of Britannica.

In the last 200 years, we’ve had many a family service at old Spring Hill. Dr. Mary Wayne Watson, raised in Wagram, gave a spectacular rendering of the family and church story.

We are, to be sure, proud of roots here in the community near the Lumber River, with our own specific community called Riverton, one mile from Wagram proper.

But there was a better lesson here, on a warm Sunday in these sandhills. It is hard to articulate exactly but it occurred to me as I was awaiting my turn at the chicken in the fellowship hall. Looking around the room, one couldn’t help but think: Here is North Carolina. Here are the heart and the soul and the tangible and intangible things that make a town a town and a state a state and a country a country. The man ahead of me in line had worked 38 years at a nearby plant. Others had long ago retired from mill work. Others worked at St. Andrews College. Some had graduated from high school and long ago moved on. A 200th anniversary was enough to bring them back, and take them to the nearby cemetery of their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents.

How many churches survive for 200 years? In North Carolina, the answer is undoubtedly more than one. But no matter how old, those other small town churches are reminders that outside the confines of Raleigh, where the echoes of politicians’ rhetoric and the maddening traffic and the sights of permanently attached cell phones and the highfalutin’ nightlife sometimes rob our focus, we are anchored not by political blowhards and the la-dee-da crowd but by good people with simple and sound values who go to church every time the doors open and mean it.

They don’t define themselves, one suspects, as fundamentalists or conservatives or liberals or pro-this and anti-that. They go to church. They find out how people are. They take a dish to someone who’s sick. When they "ask after" a neighbor or a cousin, they really want to know. It’s a good thing to remember, perhaps, in times when many problems seem insurmountable and some divisions seem too deep to be overcome.

There really are some ties that bind. Amen. Thank goodness.

Deputy editorial page editor Jim Jenkins can be reached at 919-829-4513 or at

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