By Katie Scarvey
That might seem like an oxymoron to describe a denomination whose members sometimes jokingly refer to themselves as “the frozen chosen.”
But that’s what the founders of Back Creek Presbyterian Church in Mt. Ulla were called when they split off with Thyatira Church back in 1805, according to the Rev. Bill Thrailkill, who has served as pastor at Back Creek since 2001.
Both churches will be featured on the Symphony Guild’s Christmas Tour of Southern Classics next weekend.
Symphony Guild president Tom Wolpert wanted a focus on history for the annual event, and in addition to the historic homes that will be featured, he decided to spotlight these two West Rowan churches with deep roots in the community.
The rift within Thyatira, explains Thrailkill, was prompted by a religious movement called the Great Revival.
During that time period, he explained, there were many enthusiastic and impassioned revivals and camp meetings taking place. A central revival location at the Cross Roads in Iredell County, just north of Mooresville, reportedly attracted thousands.
Some members of Thyatira appreciated the sort of evangelical zeal engendered by such gatherings. Not everyone, however, was comfortable with this sort of religious fervor, which sometimes included, according to the North Carolina Presbyterian Historical Society’s website, swooning, shouting, dancing and even barking.
In “Faith of our Fathers” by Alex Coblentz, which contains documents from the early history of Back Creek Church, the words of the Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly included these notes of caution about such revivals and the “ridiculous contortions” they provoked:
“But when bodily agitations, which in most instances disturb the serious, sober, and rational exercises of the mind, instead of being soothed and restrained within the bounds of decency, are encouraged and excited by those who lead the worship, and some join in, they very easily run into excesses highly reproachful to religion.”
So the Shouting Presbyterians — 20-30 families, including five elders — ended up splitting off from their more straitlaced Thyatira counterparts and agreed not to build another church within five miles.
Their new church, Back Creek Presbyterian, was formed Sept. 5, 1805.
Thrailkill says the sort of rift that occurred at Thyatira wasn’t uncommon back then — many new Presbyterian churches in central North Carolina came into being for similar reasons.
The new congregation’s first church was a log structure built in 1807. A second log building went up in 1811. Construction of the present church, which is a beautiful example of the Greek Revival style, was begun in 1854. Thrailkill notes that the church — which is steeple-less — was built with plans borrowed from Center Presbyterian Church in Mooresville.
A session house, which still sits not far from the church, was built, probably a few years later, Thrailkill says. It was used for night meetings, since it was easier to heat and illuminate than the sanctuary. Later, the session house was used as a schoolhouse for boys.
Eventually, Thyatira and Back Creek seem to have moved past their philosophical differences and reunited. In 1852, a man named Robert Agnew served both congregations as pastor.
Over the years, additions went on the building, and the church as it appears today was completed in 1952.
The sanctuary hasn’t changed a great deal over the years. The original slave gallery, with what appear to be the original pews, remains intact. The separate entrance used by the slaves is no longer used, but it still exists. The massive front doors are original.
The pews in the main part of the sanctuary were replaced during a remodeling in 1978, but only because when they were taken away to be stripped and refinished it was discovered that they were too fragile to make it through the refinishing process — and so $15,000 to build new pews had to be raised by the congregation, Thrailkill says.
A pump organ from 1805 still sits in the sanctuary and will be played during the tour. Oil lamps remain on the walls of the church, one of which is believed to be original, Thrailkill says. Those will illuminate the sanctuary, which will be decorated simply with greenery and fruit during the tour.
The Salisbury-Rowan Symphony Guild’s Christmas Tour of Southern Classics is from noon-6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3 and 1-5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4. Stops include the following:
• Thyatira Presbyterian Church, 220 White Road
• The Pill House, 8810 Mooresville Road
• The Owen-Harrison Plantation, 1420 Sloan Road, Mt. Ulla
• Back Creek Presbyterian Church, 2145 Back Creek Church Road, Mt. Ulla
• Rankin-Sherrill House, 114125 Highway 801, Mt. Ulla
• Andrew Murphy House, 229 W. Bank St.
• Setzer School at Horizons Unlimited, 1636 Parkview Circle
Time is passing so swiftly that Christmas will be here before we know it! My birthday was in early October... read more