From the April 18, 2008
Fayetteville Observer, Faith Section:
Church rich in history and faith
BARBECUE — Times change. Heck, even
But the door remains unlocked for all who would enter at
Barbecue Presbyterian Church.
This weekend, as the red brick church nestled off N.C. 27
celebrates its 250th anniversary, many stories about the
region’s oldest continually operating church that stays open
at all hours will be told.
But none is more poignant than why the congregation keeps
the church’s front door unlocked.
According to church historian Laura Cameron, the church
was in its infancy in 1766 when an unknown traveler stopped
to seek shelter one bitterly cold night. No one was there,
and the door was locked. The stranger crouched on the doorstep. He was found the
next day, frozen to death. He became the first person buried
in the Barbecue Church cemetery, and his lesson made its
mark on the church.
“This church has a place in the area’s history, and in
service to God,” said pastor Sandy Williams. “The
celebration Sunday is a tribute to the past, but there is a
lot of energy and excitement for the future as well.”
Since 1758, the original church, a one-room log building,
has been replaced twice. The stranger has many more folks to
keep him company in the gently sloping clay behind the
But his lesson remains — as does a marker to his memory.
Barbecue remains a church as rich in history as in faith.
Until the end of the Civil War, it was one of the few
churches on American soil to hold services in the Gaelic
language, and the slaves who are buried in the lowland to
the west of the church were well-versed in the language.
The church itself got its name not from pork, but from
property. According to Cameron, a new settler to the area
named “Red” McNeill saw steam rising from a nearby creek. It
reminded him of the meat-cooking pits he had seen in the
Caribbean, and he named the creek Barbecue Creek. The name
became official in the early 1750s, as settlers began moving
into the area.
The settlers were primarily Highland Scots, staunch
Presbyterians. They brought their Gaelic worship traditions,
which had been outlawed by Parliament a few years earlier,
but had no church and no preacher.
In 1758, the settlers pooled 100 pounds and called James
Campbell, a preacher visiting the area from Philadelphia. He
became the first Presbyterian minister in North Carolina who
accepted a call and stayed, serving Barbecue, Bluff and
By the Revolutionary War, the congregation was already
outgrowing the original shack-sized sanctuary. A
1,300-square-foot church was built, and, Cameron says,
during the war, it had more than one famous visitor.
visited relatives in the area before the
Revolution. Later, according to church lore,
Charles Cornwallis camped on the grounds in 1781 after his
battle at Guilford Courthouse.
Supposedly, Cornwallis ordered the soldiers’ payroll
buried on the church grounds to prevent American partisans
from capturing it. After the war, a huge hole was dug where
the payroll was supposed to be. The hole is still visible to
the west of the current church. No one knows whether a treasure was really there, and no
one ever boasted of finding it. “If they did find it, they
certainly didn’t tithe it,” Williams said with a laugh.
Barbecue became the mother church for a number of
congregations in the Harnett-Lee-Moore county area. So many
new churches were founded that, at one point, the church had
few parishioners and no preacher. However, it endured,
eventually outliving the other Presbyterian churches founded
at the same time, and the congregation has grown to more
Over the years, renovations have modernized the
structure. A playground and tennis and basketball courts
stand where Cornwallis once quartered his troops.
This weekend’s service will include a special Kirkin’ o’
the Tartan — a memorial service and salute to the faith and
history of the church. More than 30 family banners will be
honored, and once again the
Gaelic language will ring in the
“We have a sense of the history here,” Williams said.
“The church’s service to God and to the community are
well-known, and it’s a blessing to be able to continue
Staff writer Chick Jacobs can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-3515.
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