Nestled deep in the heart of Ivanhoe is a beautiful Greek revival church that has survived war, seen the beginning and end of slavery in America, and was once home to a lively minister that caused a great rift in the congregation.
The current Black River Presbyterian Church building was dedicated in 1859, according to church history, and has survived despite Sherman’s Army’s destruction of its early records.
The church, founded by Scots, is believed to have been established in 1740, and has survived a multitude of tragedies and much historical strife.
At one point in the 1800s, the church had around 102 members; currently there are around 15 active members.
“This is the oldest Presbyterian church in Sampson County,” said church member Ann Clawson in an interview late last week. “There are only two older Presbyterian churches in North Carolina.”
On May 3, the church’s members will celebrate their 275th anniversary with a special service and other activities.
The Rev. Dr. Paul Layton, who serves as the church, says that there will be special music for the occasion.
“There will be bagpipers here before and after worship,” Layton advised. “Also John Goodman will be playing the dulcimer.”
“The choir of St. Andrews Covenant Presbyterian Church of Wilmington will have special music,” he added.
Those with ties to the church have been asked to come and sing, and have special participation in the service, including Betty Brown, and Sharon Miller with the choir.
The special speaker for the service will be Dr. Douglas Hix, a retired 87-year old man who church members say has been involved in ministry in a variety of ways, and also takes groups on tours of Scotland.
“He was one third college professor and administration, plus seminary professor and also one third pastor of churches,” said Layton.
“The title of the sermon will be ‘The Conviction of the Scots, what are yours?’” Layton added.
The founders of Black River Presbyterian Church were immigrants from Scotland, in the Isle of Arran. They spoke Gaelic, and in 1739 the founders came to America to Wilmington where according, to the church history, 250 of these Scottish founders landed, bringing their Presbyterian faith with them.
The May 3 celebration will include dinner on the grounds after the service where everyone brings a dish. The land was donated by the Corbett and Devane families.
“The food is absolutely incredible,” said Clawson. Don Skinner, a photographer, will also be in place to take a group photo of all the attendees.
In the fellowship hall there is a picture from 1938 of the Arran Society, a historical society group, that used to meet at the church.
Other historical commemorations that will be in place are two costumes that have been made by the members of daughters, of 1740s garb. They also hope to have some American Girl dolls dressed up in costume as well.
“For a small congregation we certainly do a lot,” said Janet Hosey, a church member. The church also has a community garden that they are working on, plus they are the only church in Presbytery that is a certified Earth Care Church, meaning they only print two bulletins a year among other things. The grounds are also a wildlife refuge and the congregation has adopted two miles of road.
Services are held at the church every Sunday at 11 a.m. and a fellowship meal is served afterwards. The church is located at 65 Eddie L. Jones Road, Ivanhoe.