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It was, as visiting preacher Warner Durnell put it, “a little taste of Heaven,” for members and friends of Fayetteville’s First Presbyterian Church as the congregation celebrated 200 years of worship and work in Lincoln County.
The Rev. Durnell, now executive presbyter of the 89 congregations of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Middle Tennessee, preached Sunday on the passage in Mark 8 where Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am.”
Durnell’s message Sunday pointed the congregation to the continuing challenge for Christians: To say who Jesus is by the lives they live and the relationships they create with those around them.
After months of preparation guided by the committee chaired by Martha Elizabeth Farrar, whose relatives have been members of the congregation for generations, the celebration officially began at worship Sept. 9 with a sermon by the Rev. Dr. Tom O. Bagley, Jr., who grew up in the church.
It continued Saturday evening, Sept. 15, with remarks from six former ministers and staff members of the church: the Rev. Bob Kerr, pastor from 1957-1962; the Rev. Houston Hodges, interim pastor from 1995-96; the Rev. Dr. Gary and Martha Kidd, who met when Gary was summer intern at the church and Martha was organist in 1981; the Rev. Dr. Miki Vanderbilt who interned in the summer of 1987, and the Rev. Bill Shouse, pastor from 1965 to 1995.
Members also laughed, remarked, and wept during the screening of a video collage prepared by Farris Ralston of photographs of mission work, worship, Sunday school, vacation Bible school weddings, Christmas trees and celebrations from the congregation’s last 100 years.
Sunday’s celebration worship, Sept. 16, concluded with a church dinner and then the burial of a time capsule to be opened in 50 years. A new marker was placed among markers from the heroes of the Confederate and Revolutionary wars in the cemetery beside the church. Led by current pastors, the Rev. J. Todd Jenkins and the Rev. Jessi Higginbotham, members gathered along the sidewalk and in the grass of the cemetery for a short ceremony and the singing of the Doxology.
“We pray that this time capsule shall serve, less as a memorial to our existence and more as a seed of hope for our future,” they prayed together, and then took turns tossing handfuls or shovelfuls of dirt into the hole.
Histories of the church prepared in celebration of the bicentennial, along with photo CDs and other items are available at the church for sale. Regular Sunday services include contemporary at 8:45 a.m. in the gym and traditional at 11 a.m. in the historic sanctuary.