Five churches trace roots from Harris Meeting House
Years have passed, faces have changed and churches linked through the Harris Meeting House have grown apart and been reconciled together.
Five churches can trace their roots to the first place of organized Methodist worship in this part of North Carolina, built around 1771 about four miles east of Oxford. And in many, the history of the previous two centuries is still very visible.
“We have the same pews, but we’ve added pads,” said Kay Kittrell, a member of Rehoboth United Methodist Church. “The windows used to be just plain glass. We now have stained glass windows.”
Rehoboth was born out of a church governance split in 1828, locating to Harrisburg Crossroads. In 1883, a new sanctuary was dedicated at the present location at Old Watkins Road in Vance County, where services remain to this day.
“We have the original Bible, but we’ve had it re-bound,” Kittrell said. Also original are collection plates and the communion set. “When we had a service on our 130th anniversary, we used the communion set.”
And Rehoboth is just one link. Salem United Methodist Church, Hermon United Methodist Church, Harris Chapel United Methodist Church and Marrow’s Chapel United Methodist Church are also a link to the history of Harris.
Bishop Francis Asbury, the great Methodist evangelist, preached at Harris Meeting House on at least one occasion. In his diary he wrote that he crossed the Roanoke River on Nov. 6, 1798, and came two days later “to Harris, where I preached on Thursday the 8th from Second Peter 1-4.”
Harris Meeting House was deeded to the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1811.
But all was not well with the church.
In 1828, a dispute arose related to church authority. Part of the congregation wanted to adhere to Methodist Episcopal Church doctrine that placed authority over local churches in the hands of the bishop.
Another faction advocated “mutual rights of the ministry and laity,” which gave more power to the congregation. As one history of the disagreement stated that position: “If America could rule itself without a King, likewise the church needed no Bishop.”
The Methodist Episcopal faction tore down the church and moved it to a site on what is now Salem Road and formed a church. They called it “Salem,” which means “peace.” The “mutual rights” group went the other direction and built a church they called Rehoboth, meaning “there is room,” at Harrisburg Crossroads on what is now Tabbs Creek Church Road. It would affiliate itself with the Methodist Protestant Church, which rejected the use of bishops.
The reassembled Harris Meeting House building served Salem Church until 1860.
Salem was completed in 1861.
“A new church was built with slave labor,” said Carolyn Barker, a current member of Salem UMC.
The building retains much of the original interior detail. Aisles run between the pews and the outer windows. A center partition divides the pews.
“Women sat on one side of the partition and men on the other,” Barker said. Until the end of the Civil War, black women sat on the outside pews on the “women’s” side and black men on the outside on the “men’s” side.
After the war, “The old building was given to blacks, put on rollers and moved,” Barker said. It was named Freedmen’s Church.
The Crews family has been prominent throughout the history of Salem UMC. It began with James Crews, a member of Harris Meeting House and the early Salem Church. He gave the church its first organ.
According to Barker, Rosalind Crews, a current member of Salem UMC, is his descendant and, appropriately, a pianist and organist.
Other names associated with the past and present Salem UMC are Breedlove, Parham and Taylor.
Kittrell’s family connection to Rehoboth goes back three generations. Her great-grandfather, John Vincent Wrenn, gave the land for the cemetery, she said.
Mildred Burroughs, a lifetime member of Rehoboth UMC, said the way preachers are assigned to the church has changed during her lifetime.
“When I was young, we were on a four-church circuit,” Burroughs said.
One minister rotated among the churches.
“Now we’re a station and have a student pastor from Duke Divinity School,” Burroughs said.
Among the charter members of the Rehoboth church were the Hicks, Harris, Paschal and Cheatham families, still familiar names in Granville and Vance counties.
The issue of church governance that split Harris Meeting House has faded with time and was formally ended in 1939, when the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Protestant Church were reconciled.
Another merger that took place in 1968 gave new names to both churches. In that year, Methodist Episcopal Church joined with the United Brethren Church, providing the new name, United Methodist Church, to Salem and Rehoboth.
Hermon United Methodist Church, Harris Chapel United Methodist Church and Marrow’s Chapel United Methodist Church all trace their histories to Harris as well.
It is an interesting dynamic. Christian churches spread the word, and sometimes they have disagreement leading to division.
But for the original Harris Meeting House, an original division that once seemed negative now appears five-fold positive.
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