FORT MILL -- Church members stood around the site of the new Unity Presbyterian Church sanctuary, just a few yards east of the current sanctuary, holding Ziploc baggies, buckets and pails full of dirt. Some brought dirt from their own yard. Others, from their favorite beach or vacation spot.
The Rev. Dr. Dan Holloway, who has spent the last 20 years at Unity Presbyterian ministering to the people of Fort Mill from its oldest church, brought dirt from the sites of the last three constructed.
Holloway placed his "historical" dirt in the pile of sand marking where the church's next sanctuary will stand. Church members young and old followed suit, adding their special dirt to what will soon be the foundation of a new sanctuary.
"Dirt, the basic thing of life," said Holloway. "We place it as a reminder that we come from many places of many people."
On May 31, the church marked the official groundbreaking for the new sanctuary, which is now under construction. The new sanctuary will hold 550 people, more than doubling current capacity.
On a typical Sunday, Holloway said, Unity averages 435 people attending the two services. Ten or more services a year are so well attended that a room is set up for the overflow crowd, complete with a large screen capturing what is happening in the main sanctuary.
With Fort Mill continuing to grow, Holloway said, church members felt like it was time for them to expand as well.
"It's a major step," Holloway said. "But given the growth in Fort Mill, we want to reach out to new families and people moving to the area, and we want to have the tools to do it with."
The land for the new sanctuary was purchased from a church member, Holloway said, and is adjacent to Unity's current site. The former sanctuary will continue to be used for small weddings, funerals and other events, Holloway said.
"We've made the decision to maintain it for lots of reasons, absolutely. It's sort of a symbol of Fort Mill, and it has lots of uses ahead of it," Holloway added.
Patrick White, a lifelong Fort Mill resident, organized the groundbreaking ceremony last week, bringing in some of Unity Presbyterian's Scotch Presbyterian history with bagpipers and speakers from the Mint Hill Scottish Society.
"We pray that what is planted here will flourish. May generations to come be fed here at your table," said Rev. Jeannie Bickett, associate pastor.
Unity Presbyterian Church is Fort Mill's oldest Church. According to William Bradford's book on Fort Mill history, "Out of the Past," the church was organized in 1788. The first church building was in "Little York," the name of the area when Fort Mill was first settled. A fire destroyed that building in 1804 and a new church was erected at the site of Old Unity Cemetery, in what is now known as Whiteville Park.
Unity Presbyterian Church moved again in 1803 to a new site on Tom Hall Street. That third church building burned in 1880. Church members built the existing sanctuary in 1888.