By MIRANDA BAINES
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
LAWRENCE – A country church located 10 miles north of Tarboro that sits vacant on a hilltop most of the year was packed to capacity Sunday morning. Folks gathered at Grace Memorial Episcopal Church for an annual springtime service, a tradition started by lay reader Joe Andrews in 1971.
“For this to be a church that no longer is used for regular services, it’s always been amazing to see how many people show up and continue this tradition,” said Stephen Nobles of Rocky Mount. A family friend of Andrews, Nobles has been coming to the annual service at Grace for five years.
“I got to be good friends with a lot of the families around here,” Nobles said. “I feel like part of the community, part of the family.”
An estimated 150 people attended the Sunday gathering, which began at 11 a.m. with a traditional church service led by Bishop Alfred C. Marble Jr. of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina and ended with a covered-dish luncheon under a tent on the back lawn of the church property.
Marble recognized members of the congregation who had traveled long distances to attend Sunday’s service, among them visitors from Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Maryland. George and Virginia Hyde, originally from Speed, traveled from their home in Cambridge, Md. to worship at the church where they were married in 1955.
“It brought back memories,” said Virginia. The walls of Grace Memorial hold more than 100 years’ worth of memories. The first service at the church was held on Thanksgiving Day of 1894.
“Grace Church is one of the 10 designated historical churches in the diocese of North Carolina,” said E.T. Malone Jr., rector at Trinity Scotland Neck.
The congregation at Sunday’s service reflected on a time when church members would’ve walked to church or traveled by horse and buggy. George Hyde remembered the days in the late 1940’s when one rector was shared between three local Episcopal churches.
“Today, one of the things we do is remember and give thanks for those who have gone before,” said Marble. “People endured a lot of hardships, that which we take for granted today. We need that kind of courage and endurance and that kind of witness.”
Marble urged the congregation to continue to be witnesses of God’s Kingdom, by proclaiming the values of “justice, peace, healing, forgiveness, reconciliation, redemption and life over death.” He also stressed the need for social justice in today’s world.
“Lord knows we need justice and peace throughout the world,” said Marble. “We need a fresh inbreaking of God’s Kingdom…We need the full Gospel and we need to bear it in our lives.”
The service ended with the congregational singing of the hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers.”
Sunday’s service breathed new life into the walls of Grace Memorial, to add to the church’s new look, as Marshall Carroll led a recent project involving the repainting of the church’s exterior.
“Anytime you paint a church, you’re doing the Lord’s work,” said Carroll, who attended Sunday’s service. The Episcopal Church Foundation provided the grant for the repainting and repair work at the church.