Bettye Heath doesn't know whether her slave grandfather ever stepped through the doors of Bethesda Presbyterian Church - but she thought of him Monday as she poured her soul into singing there with the Mount Zion Baptist Church choir.
"This is my first time coming into a white sanctuary," said the 59-year-old Rock Hill resident and lifelong member of Mount Zion. "This is our heritage."
In the shared interest of harmony, heritage and faith, the descendants of slaves and slaveholders broke down racial and denominational barriers to come together for a revival service at Bethesda Presbyterian.
It looked like a homecoming between Bethesda - a 250-year-old white church outside McConnells with ties to the Bratton Plantation - and Mount Zion, formed in 1863 by the slaves of some of Bethesda's members.
African-American slaves and freemen were known to have attended services from the balcony of Bethesda Presbyterian before and after the Civil War.
During the two-day revival that began Monday, nearly 200 blacks and whites shared pews, sang songs of unity and prayed for more Christian service to God.
"Amen" was yelled throughout the service and there was much hand-clapping and praise music - a tribute to Mount Zion's worship style. The service was held to an hour - a winking nod to a Bethesda Presbyterian tradition.
The Rev. Anthony Johnson, pastor of Mount Zion, delivered a passionate message.
"I had to hold back tears because, 147 years ago, slaves had to stand in that balcony and worship God," he said. "It was the love from their slaveholders that allowed them to start our church."
Mount Zion was invited to the annual revival at Bethesda after 25 of its members came to Bethesda's 250th anniversary celebration earlier this summer.
Bethesda, one of the oldest churches in York County, is known for its pre-Revolutionary beginnings and a historically rich cemetery filled with well-known surnames and patriots.
A common bond for Bethesda and Mount Zion is Historic Brattonsville, the site of the former Bratton Plantation that holds an annual program about the slave experience, called "By the Sweat of our Brows."
Smoak, Bethesda's pastor, saw the strong connection between the black and white churches.
"The thought I had through all this is a picture of what God's kingdom looks like - one people, glorifying God," said Smoak. "Boy, what a neat experience. I think it has happened."
Esther Bailey, 59, of Rock Hill has deep roots at Bethesda, beginning with her great-grandparents. She was thrilled to worship alongside members of Mount Zion.
"There has been so much of an evolution," said Bailey, who works at the church's day care. "Slaves came with their masters and sat in the balcony. Now everyone worships together, sitting anywhere they want.
"It was amazing."