Church celebrates past and looks to the future


PITTSBORO — The year was 1824.

America as a nation was not yet 50 years old. John Quincy Adams was elected president in one of only two Presidential races decided by the House of Representatives since neither he nor Andrew Jackson received a majority of popular or electoral votes.

Meanwhile, miles from Washington, D.C., near the banks of the Haw River in eastern Chatham County, a group of 19 people from four nearby churches — Mt. Carmel, Rock Spring, Gum Springs and Shady Grove, which no longer exists — came together as charter members to organize a new local place of worship by the name of Mt. Gilead.

Mt. Gilead Baptist Church was full of current members, former members, and guests during the special 200th Anniversary worship service rejoicing in God's faithfulness.
Mt. Gilead Baptist Church was full of current members, former members, and guests during the special 200th Anniversary worship service rejoicing in …

Last weekend, some 200 years later, members, former members and friends gathered on the grounds of the white church, in use since 1883 with major improvements and additions through the years, to celebrate two centuries of service and worship.

There was a full weekend of activities revolving around faith, food and fellowship as attendees celebrated the past and looked forward to the future. Friday’s events featured a chuck wagon, provided by Chad Mann who offers that service “anytime I can,” he says. “The pintos and cornbread were really good,” added Danny Thomas, who also provided hay rides Saturday afternoon, “and the cowboy coffee was, too.” Later that night was a concert of traditional music by Bobby Gales and New Direction Bluegrass.

Saturday afternoon included a barbecue lunch, games and the opening of a 1999 time capsule. On Sunday, pastor Dan Robinson led the congregation in worship by looking at the past but also calling on the faithful to move into the future. Special music was provided by the Gospel group Potter’s Will.

“Part of the point of doing all this,” says Dan Robinson, church pastor since 2008, “other than the celebration is to reconnect with the community and have fun doing it.” Mt. Gilead, like many churches, struggled with maintaining its effectiveness during the COVID pandemic shutdowns. In March 2020, Mt. Gilead began live streaming worship services on Facebook before resuming in-person meetings later that year. During that period, individuals from Washington state and Tennessee who were watching services asked to become members so the church made changes to its by-laws to allow for that.

Folks gathered at the church Saturday for a barbecue and chicken lunch and more visiting and games. At 2:00 p.m., they gathered on the grounds outside the front door to watch church members Rusty Nipper and Danny Thomas dig up a 1999 time capsule. “Originally the location was deep in the ground and was marked by a bush but we removed that awhile back and put the capsule closer to the surface,” Nipper says.

Once out of the ground, the two cleaned off the dirt and mud and opened it with a saw, then poured out the contents on a nearby table. In it were pictures, a copy of the church articles of incorporation, bulletins, a church directory, Sunday School lessons and other memorabilia. “Later on, we’ll make one to open in 25 years,” pastor Robinson says. “We’ll put in things about changes in the church and the world – maybe a COVID mask – stuff we’ve collected from this weekend. I may sneak in a sermon or two,” he said with a laugh.

Mt. Gilead Baptist Church
Mt. Gilead Baptist Church

“This all took much effort,” said Bethany Hudson, a member of the committee working on the event, “but it was worth it. Now after COVID, it’s good to see some people coming back and bringing their children, to see the reality. It’s a testament on how far we’ve come and it’s exciting to see church growing back. Already in the past six months, we’ve doubled the number of children. They’re not large numbers but we’re looking ahead. This weekend has all been wonderful.”

While the immediate response has been encouraging, pastor Robinson says there is a bigger picture. “We’ve looked at the demographics of the area,” he says, “the proximity of UNC, and see many people are new to the area and two-thirds of them are not connected to a church. Many of them have never been in church.”

During Sunday morning’s worship service, he sounded that note again as a challenge to the future while celebrating the past.

“We started planning a year ago,” he said from the pulpit. “And one thing we prayed for from the very beginning was that with all the celebrating was that someone would come to know Jesus and would make a commitment to follow Christ. There may be someone here today who is trying to figure out this Jesus thing, this church thing and you’ve been on a discovery. So, if we ask who have we been praying for, it’s that someone would discover and know Christ and commit themselves to Him.”

Memories are precious and sometimes fragile things. Just ask longtime member Carolyn Cate. “I’m 80 years old and I love this church. I’ve been here 75 years. We were at another church for five years and my daddy said we were going to go home to Chatham County and I’ve been here since then.”

The good news for her, pastor Robinson and the membership as a whole is the opportunities still exist. “It’s been a wonderful day,” Robinson said at the end of his Sunday morning message, “and the day continues.”