Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Roots in the South: A Cabarrus Connection

There is a beautiful old church on a country road about 6 miles from here.  Back in 2005, Erin and I visited Rocky River Presbyterian when we were looking for a venue for her wedding.  It is a simple brick building that sits back from the road in a grove of oak trees.  The tiny white clapboard Session House sits beside it and a very old and meticulously maintained cemetery behind.  Erin decided against getting married at Rocky River because it didn't have a center aisle.  At that time, we were unaware of the family connection to the church.  Knowing that her great-great-great-great grandfather had spearheaded the building of the church in 1860 would certainly have made it a more compelling spot for the wedding.

A year or so ago, my mom told me about our connection to Rocky River.  Her great-great grandfather on her mother's side was the minister there for 34 years.  His name was Daniel Allen Penick.  He and his wife, Agnes, are buried in the cemetery at Rocky River.  

This plaque is on the very spare front wall of the sanctuary.  A large wooden pulpit stands in front of it, fashioned long ago by a local carpenter.

Such a beautiful old cemetery.  Daniel Allen's gravestone is the one in the foreground. 

Back in June, my uncle and aunt from Texas and two of their grandchildren, cousins I'd never met, came with my mom to visit and see these places of family history.  My mom and Uncle Roy posed for a photo in the balcony of the church.  You can see the plaque (shown above) on the wall at the front of the church,  just beyond my uncle's shoulder under the light.

It was such an interesting day.  We had the privilege of meeting the church historian who shared so much information with us about the church, Daniel Allen and Agnes.

Thinking of this man, his family, his time in history - I wonder ...  What was their life like?  How did they spend their days?  This was a very rural, farming community.  How close knit was it and what role did the church play in the life of the community?  

The bricks for the building were made, we were told, right on site from the red clay so prevalent in our soil.  What was their brick making process like?  Was it similar to the brick making my children helped with when we lived in Cameroon?  

What was the relationship of the black slaves who sat in the balconies to their masters in the seats below?Were there people sitting in that congregation who agonized over the injustice of that arrangement?  Or were they simply content with the status quo? 

The church building was completed and dedicated in 1861 and 2 months later, the Civil War started.  How was the community affected by the war?  We were told by the church historian that 85 men (I think that was the number) from the church died in the war.  Can you imagine a loss so great in your own church or community?

After visiting Rocky River, we went to First Presbyterian Concord, where one of Daniel Allen's son's, Peter Tinsley Penick, was a minister.  His time in Concord was much shorter and then he went on to pastor a church in Virginia. While he served in Concord (mid 1800's), the church building was on the site of what is now one of my favorite places in the area, Memorial Garden.  Another special link to the past.

Do you sometimes wish you could go back in time and meet your ancestors?  I do.  When we moved here to NC in 2002,  I had no idea that I'd be living only a few miles from where my great-great and great-great-great grandfathers lived and served.  How I would love to go back and see this place as it was then, though during much of their time here - the mid 1860's - life was scarred by war and its aftermath.

I like knowing that I have some roots here.  I sometimes wonder if I would have felt less adrift after that move in 2002 if I had known of the long connection to this place.  It doesn't really matter.  Life takes us places and God weaves the tapestries of our past, present and future for His good purposes whether we live in the same community all our lives or travel far and wide.  Still, these days, this place feels more like home ... and I am mindful that it's a good thing.


Susan said...

Wow, these are great posts. I love your spirit in them! (And they're super-interesting.)

Beth said...

Thanks, Susan. I'm glad you're enjoying these posts. I've enjoyed living them!