Williamston – One Martin County congregation was temporarily ousted from their spiritual home more than a year ago – before COVID-19 became a household term.
After a long journey filled with challenges, Elder Lester Mitchell welcomed his church family home Sunday morning when the doors of Green Memorial Church of Christ Disciples of Christ opened for the first time since October 2019.
“Look what God has done,” Mitchell told the congregation who joined the service - some in person and others via Facebook.
A portion of the congregation celebrated the return at their house of worship while observing social distancing.
Only two people were in the choir area as seen on the Facebook feed. Masks and gloves were also part of the Sunday attire.
Patience, confidence and faith, according to the pastor, were the keys to seeing the journey through and once again being able to worship in the historic church.
Prior to Christmas, Mitchell and a few church members sat down to talk about the journey back to the sanctuary.
“I remember the day we got word from the town to renovate or they’d padlock us,” said Diane Carr, longtime member.
Issues that come with an older building were compounded by rain waters which flowed from the hill next door and became more than the structure could handle.
In October 2019, the congregation made the difficult decision to leave their house of worship to allow the necessary work to begin.
“Looking back at where we came from and where we are now,” Carr said, “I see it as a miracle.”
She paused. “Nobody but Him.”
Carr explained renovations had been needed for many years; however, things never fell into place. She said there were so many to credit with the success of this project, one group being the “families of our saints who had moved away but never stopped supporting the church.”
During this time, the congregation met in various locations such as the local Scout Hut and The Venue on Main Street. Once COVID-19 came around, they would meet in the front yard of the church at times.
“We didn’t let that defeat us,” Mitchell said. “God’s hand was on our lives.”
Aside from crews parked in the yard, the outside of church structure appeared normal while the inside was basically gutted.
Seeing the iconic structure undergo dramatic change was difficult for the congregation. The added strain of separation due to COVID-19 simply compounded the stress.
“It will just be a blessing to get back in (to the church),” explained Irene Rascoe, church usher. “I just miss my church family.”
Although the church building was once again ready for the congregation, church leaders know it could still be sometime before they are all together again as COVID-19 numbers continue to soar.
Even before Christmas, hand sanitizer and masks were stocked at the door for those able to make the first Sunday back in their home of worship.
The renovated sanctuary remains simple in design, paying tribute to the church’s place in Williamston and Martin County’s history.
Deacon Clayton Freeman rang the restored church bell that can now be rung from the church’s vestibule.
Like the others, Freeman looked forward to the day they would all be able to return to the sanctuary together.
“As long as the Lord is satisfied,” he explained.
For Rascoe, Carr and her brother Freeman, Green Memorial is more than their house of worship. It is a part of their life story.
As a child, Rascoe and her family walked all the way from the Holly Springs area to attend church at Green Memorial.
Freeman was 14 years old and Carr was 12 years old during the Freedom Rallies of 1963. They saw much of that summer’s historic activities first hand.
“This was the only church that would open their doors and support the freedom rallies,” Freeman explained.
Prayer meetings at Green Memorial evolved into business meetings of the Martin County NAACP, which was founded there.
“Reflecting back, I can hardly tell you how much it means to me to have seen it through from then to this day,” he said.
“I remember marching just about every night,” said Carr. “You didn’t just run out into the streets; we had to be trained on how to act before marching.”
Church records documented a drive-by shooting which occurred during a revival in 1963. “The bullets were heard penetrating the top of the building, but it did not stop us from worshiping,” church historians wrote.
“We know God was in the midst then,” Freeman stated. Decades later he continues to give God the glory for no one losing his or her life that summer.
Based on the church’s history, tests of faith and strength – including structural failures and COVID-19 – are nothing new for the congregation of Green Memorial Church of Christ Disciples of Christ. And by faith they have overcome each hurdle.
“Faith built this house, faith kept this house and faith will see us though,” explained Mitchell.