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Rocky River Baptist to celebrate 250th anniversary

By William S. "Chip" Pate, Jr.
Posted Monday, July 31, 2006

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Siler City, NC - When Rocky River Baptist Church met for the first time in 1756, its members were subjects of the British Crown, living in a slowly-developing colonial frontier, still two decades from American independence.

Later this month -- on Sunday, Aug. 13 -- some descendants of early church families and plenty of others who have found their way to the same spot in 21st century Chatham County, will celebrate the church's 250th anniversary.

On the schedule: a special two-hour worship service followed by a potluck dinner on the grounds. Anyone interested in marking the occasion is encouraged to attend.

"We know that our members have been looking forward to the celebration for a long time," said Pastor Greg Burriss, who will portray church father Shubal Stearns during the morning celebration. "But we welcome anyone who has an interest in the church, Baptist heritage or local history."

Scheduled to begin at 10 a.m., the service features brief "remembrances" by former church pastors -- five-minute reflections from the Revs. Gene Booker, who served as pastor from 1985-95; Francis Smith, 1980-84; Charles Rutt, 1977-79; James Hester, 1969-74; and Alden Hicks, 1963-65.

Worship music will be presented by Vicky Burriss and the adult and children's choirs. The 18th century evangelist Shubal Stearns will appear, courtesy of the Rev. Burriss, and organizers of the celebration say a few "surprises" will be included along the way.
Though the sanctuary may be packed that morning, the church has arranged for overflow seating. The service will be simulcast by professional videographers on a large screen monitor in the fellowship hall, and plenty of parking will be available in a field next to the church cemetery.

"Just as important as the service, itself, is the time we'll have for fellowship before and after the service," Burriss said. "So, even if we run out of space in the sanctuary, everyone will still be able to see the service, greet friends and share in the fellowship during dinner on the grounds."

This month's special worship service, being held on the church's traditional Homecoming date, is the final event in what has been a yearlong anniversary celebration.

"We actually started holding anniversary events about a year ago," said Chip Pate, who has helped organize the celebration. "Not many churches survive this long, and few of those that do are as vibrant as this church is right now.

"The congregation wanted to take its time over the last year to appreciate how God has worked in this church for two and a half centuries, and then consider how we should continue serving our community for many years to come."

As a result, Pate said, the church has sponsored an extended series of historically-oriented special events.

Back in April, members of the congregation dressed for the Sunday service in attire from different periods of church history and learned about styles of worship enjoyed by members in years gone by.

And one month before that, the Rev. Dr. Bill Leonard visited Rocky River to discuss Baptist history. The dean of the Divinity School and professor of church history at Wake Forest University also led the morning worship service.

Rocky River even created a Web site,, as part of the celebration -- to announce anniversary activities and enhance its ministry in the community. The site still recounts the special programs focusing on music, historical preservation and Christian education.

Pastor Burriss says it's been an important time for celebration, but not just to look backward. "What's most important is to decide how we can serve God in the future," he said. "And if we do that effectively, some people in the building on August 13 may be leading Rocky River's 300th anniversary celebration one day."

Rocky River Baptist Church meets at 4436 Siler City-Snow Camp Road, about three miles north of Siler City.

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