Dr. D.C. McDuffie III was in third grade in 1956 when his family became members of Herman Presbyterian Church in Rock Hill.
The McDuffies, who became Protestants for the first time, were one of many local African-American families who would fill the church pews every Sunday in a place where everybody knew everybody. Some were school and community leaders who served as mentors to the children in the church, McDuffie said.
"The church was like an extension of the community family," McDuffie said. "When I went to church, these were people that were part of my family. You knew they cared about you, and they loved you."
McDuffie and many others say that kind of relationship exists today among the faithful members of the Presbyterian church. From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Providence Presbytery churches will gather and take a trip down memory lane during a program called "Celebrating 200 Years of African American Presbyterianism: Caring for Heart, Body and Soul for 200 years." It will be held at First Presbyterian Church, 234 E. Main St. in Rock Hill.
The event, hosted by the Racial Ethnic Concerns Committee of Providence Presbytery, includes a worship celebration to highlight the accomplishments and challenges of African-American congregations in the Presbyterian church. A keynote address will be delivered by Dr. Franklin Colclough, and a mass choir of members from the presbytery will perform.
Two workshops sponsored by the National Kidney Foundation of South Carolina will be held to introduce its new Kidney Reach educational program for medical professionals and for the general public to discuss prevention, early detection and management of chronic kidney disease. A reception will follow.
Providence Presbytery is made up of 58 churches in York, Chester, Lancaster, Kershaw and Union counties. Only eight of the Presbyterian churches, including Carmel in Chester, Herman in Rock Hill, Pleasant Grove in Filbert and Pleasant Ridge in Lancaster, consist of primarily African-Americans. Former members of two other local churches that are no longer open, Blue Branch and Mount Tabor, will be part of the celebration.
State Rep. Bessie Moody-Lawrence, who was born into Carmel Presbyterian Church and is now a member of Herman, said her family's name is still on the windows of the church. Her uncle, the late Rev. Dr. Tommy Ayers, served as the church's pastor and at other African-American Presbyterian churches in the state.
Moody-Lawrence grew up in the Presbyterian Church during segregation. When the churches integrated, the change wasn't difficult because the churches were already meeting with one another, she said.
"I don't think there was such an emphasis placed on race," Moody-Lawrence said. "It was just people accepting people in a Christian way. A kind and loving way."
During Saturday's celebration, Vivian Ayers Allen, a member of Carmel and Moody-Lawrence's sister, will give a short presentation on work she recently uncovered while researching Carmel and the Brainerd Institute's history.
Allen was a member of Brainerd's last graduating class. It was a school for blacks in Chester founded by the Board of Missions for Freedmen of the Presbyterian Church in 1866. It closed in the late 1930s. Ayers and her daughters, actresses Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad, are working to restore Brainerd into a cultural and educational center.
WANT TO GO?
• What: "A Celebration of 200 Years of African American Presbyterianism: Caring for Heart, Body and Soul for 200 years."
• When: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday
• Where: First Presbyterian Church, 234 E. Main St., Rock Hill.
• Details: During the celebration, the National Kidney Foundation of South Carolina will be there to launch its newest program, Kidney Reach. Workshops for the medical profession and the public will be offered to discuss prevention, early detection and management of chronic kidney disease. For details, call Cheryl McCullough, (803) 799-3780 or e-mail ornkfsc.faithbasedinitiative@ gmail.com, or Dorothy Killian, (803) 328-6269 or firstname.lastname@example.org.