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Founded 1758
124 Barbecue Church Road,  Sanford, NC 27332

From the April 18, 2008 Fayetteville Observer, Faith Section:

Church rich in history and faith

BARBECUE — Times change. Heck, even centuries change.

    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 church.

    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 Longstreet churches.

    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.

    Flora Macdonald visited relatives in the area before the Revolution. Later, according to church lore, British Gen. Charles Cornwallis camped on the grounds in 1781 after his ill-fated 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 than 200.

    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 sanctuary.

    “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 both.”

Staff writer Chick Jacobs can be reached at jacobsc@fayobserver.com or 486-3515.

**Links in the article are for additional information and were not part of the original article.



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Barbecue Presbyterian Church

124 Barbecue Church Road,  Sanford, NC 27332

 barbecuechurch@windstream.net ~ 919-499-5211 ~ www.barbecuech1758.org 

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