One of Raleigh’s downtown churches is about to throw itself a yearlong birthday party.
“You don’t celebrate your 100th anniversary but one time,” said David Mallory, Hillyer’s senior minister. “Instead of doing it as a single event we felt like we wanted to really make it a yearlong celebration of the ministries and the variety of ministries we have had here.”
The kick-off for the centennial celebration will be a Homecoming Dinner on the Grounds that begins at 4 p.m. Sept. 28.
“Dinner on the Grounds has a great rich history, particularly in the more rural congregations,” Mallory said. “Folks would gather for worship and have a covered dish outside on the grounds and spend the afternoons visiting while kids played. In more urban areas it generally hasn’t been practical because of the space capacity. Most churches don’t have the room to do that sort of thing.”
The church will use its parking lot for the celebration, and the city allowed Hillyer to close Hillsborough Street in front of the building. The congregation will move from a worship service inside to a band, catered barbecue, games and other activities outside.
Mallory said it will be a day of old-fashioned fellowship.
“Many of our congregants come from a rural background. Many of the folks who are members of our church grew up in eastern North Carolina and worked as children on the farms and were accustomed to that sort of homecoming genre,” he said.
The congregation that became Hillyer had its first meeting in February 1915 in a police courtroom on Fayetteville Street. It moved to Hillsborough Street and Glenwood Avenue in 1921 and to the present location at 718 Hillsborough St. in 1925.
Being downtown has challenges and rewards, Mallory said, and the congregation is quick to accept both.
“Because we’re a downtown congregation, we draw from all over the county. We draw people from North Raleigh, Garner, Wake Forest, Forestville, from Knightdale and all over the county. Geographically, some people come in 20 or 30 minutes to get to church,” Mallory said.
“It also creates the challenges you have in an urban area with the impoverished and vagrants. We have many ministries that reach out to the homeless in the neighborhood,” he continued. “We feel like that is part of our identity – part of our DNA as a downtown church is that we want to serve that community of needy folks.”
As the church nears its centennial, two professional historians in the congregation are working to chronicle that identity in a book. Mark Fountain is handling the early years of the church through the 1950s, and Mike Wenger is writing about the modern era since the 1960s.
Wenger said he has been fortunate to be able to sort through a treasure trove of historical documents, including those that survived a church fire in 1981.
He said the book about Hillyer’s history will be different from the histories many churches produce.
“They totally lack any depth, they don’t have any perspective about how the church came into being,” Wenger said. “They are saccharine, ecclesiastical ramblings that have very little to do with who and what the church is and how God has used it.”
Wenger said this history will be an honest one.
“It’s my feeling that all the ups and downs of this congregation and in its history of good times and bad, our ministries have never missed a beat, they just keep going,” he said. “And to me that speaks powerfully about the hand of the beneficent God the Father who cares for his church and cares for the people and pushes them toward the right decision gates although we may not choose the right ones.”
Wenger hopes the book about Hillyer’s first 100 years will be written by the end of the year.
“We’re at the hinge point where we need to separate the legend of this church and how we would all tend and wish to remember the past,” Wenger said. “That needs to be separated from the way the church actually was, all the good and bad of this imperfect vessel that nevertheless God uses. He uses us despite ourselves sometimes.”
Blessing of the Animals
Animals of all types are welcome as long as they are disease-free, properly restrained and their vaccinations are up to date.
There will also be a blessing of memories, and owners are welcome to bring collars, toys or other reminders of pets that have died.
The service also includes a fundraiser for the Wake County Animal Center. Participants can contribute cash or supplies such as pet food, pet toys, paper towels and fabric items that can be used as bedding for the animals.
Millbrook Baptist Church is located at 1519 E. Millbrook Road, Raleigh.
Indoor yard sale