By Riley Manning/NEMS Daily Journal
BIGGERSVILLE – New Hope Presbyterian is a church that is aging well.
The modest white building sits back in a deep lawn next to a quiet, well-kept cemetery. Though just off the highway near Biggersville, the place feels secluded, peaceful and welcoming.
Last Sunday, the multi-generational congregation marked New Hope’s 175th anniversary with a weekend-long celebration.
The past came alive Saturday as visitors embarked on a cemetery walk, where members dressed as church leaders long past and told their stories first hand.
“It’s fun to understand what they went through,” said Greg Keenum, who portrayed the church’s first pastor, the Rev. James B. Stafford. “It helps you see what life was like, and what the founders gave up to start the church.”
The church was founded in 1838 near what was then known as Troy. Its present building was completed in 1912, while the cemetery itself was started even earlier to serve the community. It holds graves marked as far back as the early 1830s.
Some characters were played by their own ancestors. Early member Lawson Hill was portrayed by his great-great-grandson Fred McCord, and Hill’s wife, Barbara, was portrayed by her great-granddaughter Evelyn Farrior.
“We used geneology records to find out as much as we could,” Farrior said. “(Lawson) was a doctor and a teacher, and (Barbara) was the mother of 12 children. They both lived through the Civil War.”
The true anniversary of the church fell perfectly on last Sunday.
Bagpiper John Wall stood under the shade of a tree in full Scottish regalia, indicative of the Presbyterian church’s Scottish heritage, and serenaded members as they greeted one another and made their way into the church.
In his sermon, the Rev. Nick Phillips likened the church’s journey to a relay race, both reaching back and stretching forward.
“Looking back at history, we see the contributions of so many of the faithful,” he said. “God’s faithfulness to us in the past calls us to assess who we are, and recommit to a relationship with God.”
Phillips came to New Hope in 2005, and found he had been part of the family for generations.
“I thought I was coming here with no connections, but I found out my great-great-grandmother is actually buried here,” he said. “The congregation was very excited to get involved with the celebration and to do something different.”
At the conclusion of the sermon, a luncheon was served and longtime members recalled memories of growing up in the church, such as sisters Judy Eshee and Elizabeth Mcanally.
“We were both married here, but people still call us those ‘little Hudson girls,’” Eshee said.
“I remember the Christmas pageants and revivals,” Mcanally said. “Getting tickled in the pews and trying not to laugh.”
Eighty-four-year-old Doris Brawner is a life long member of New Hope, and said it is a special church.
“We are a big family,” she said. “We enjoy getting together to celebrate and we all know each other personally. We’ve lost lots of our younger members, but many of them have come back for the anniversary.”