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Neck church marks 200th anniversary

July 30, 2012 12:10 am


The Rev. Richard Headley jokingly invited folks to join his congregation for 'seagull' that tastes like fried chicken. lo0730Popes2.jpg

The current church building, built in 1941, sits off State Route 3 west of Montross in Westmoreland County. lo0730popes3.jpg

The Popes Creek choir helps kick off the worship service with 'Worthy of Worship.'The church celebrated its 200th anniversary with a homecoming service and meal.


The congregation at Popes Creek Baptist Church had a good time celebrating the church's 200th anniversary on Sunday--and not just because they had enough food for several armies.

Past and present preachers, deacons and other officials at the Westmoreland County church served up doses of good humor along with plates of cherry crisp, zucchini casserole and fried chicken.

Or "seagull," as the Rev. Richard Headley joked.

Before people even entered the church, he stood in the parking lot, waving as cars pulled off State Route 3. He invited visitors to stay for lunch, saying the church had plenty, including "seagull that tastes just like chicken."

Headley is the current pastor, and he and several others dressed in outfits similar to what their forefathers might have worn in 1812, when the congregation formed.

At least that's what Headley hoped.

"I'm not sure if this was for a preacher or a funeral director," he said of his long, black coat and top hat.

Then he took off the hat, turned it upside down, walked over to those nearing the church and said: "Collecting money for the old-age chaplain's fund."

There was just as much merriment throughout the homecoming service, which drew about 150 people, about three times the normal attendance.

Members of the Popes Creek choir did their best not to break into a jig as they performed a "Smokey Mountain Gospel Medley."

As the cords of banjos rang out, someone in the audience shouted, "Ah, hah" in a high-pitched voice.

When the choir sang about a land that is fairer than day, there were more than a few feet tapping.

When former pastor Gleaton Rickenbaker approached the pulpit to deliver the sermon, he raised his hand.

"I have my red Solo cup," he said, holding a container presumably filled with water, but alluding to the catchy Toby Keith ode to the popular party cup. "I lift you up."

There were serious moments, too, aside from the one when Headley said some of the deacons looked old enough to have been original members.

Former pastors were introduced, including the Rev. Stephen Turner, who has lung cancer, and the Rev. Philip Motley, who earlier, had visited the graves of beloved members who passed since he was at the church in the mid-1980s.

Rickenbaker told the crowd that "no institution is more clearly defined by its history than the church."

And Popes Creek clearly defined its historic moments in a 36-page booklet. Copies were passed out before the service, along with souvenir pens, postcards and chocolate bars with a drawing of the church on the cover.

From 1788 to 1812, Baptists in Westmoreland and Richmond counties belonged to Nomini Baptist Church. But members lived so far away, they couldn't attend services regularly and met in homes and barns or under arbors.

In 1812, 40 members branched out from Nomini to start a new church. The group worshipped first in the old Popes Creek Episcopal Church, where George Washington attended services as a boy.

Members eventually built a church, but it was destroyed in the 1860s by a fire, one of many that would do damage at Popes Creek Baptist Church.

On Sunday, member Liz Heatwole reminded the congregation that its ancestors had been tested not just by fire, but by war.

When the church first organized, its members heard British guns during the War of 1812. When its second building was completed in the 1860s, its members had lived through the cannons of the Civil War.

The congregation suffered another loss in the 1930s, when fire again ravaged the church. A new brick building was dedicated in April 1941, with a cornerstone laid by members of Masonic lodges in Colonial Beach and Warsaw.

That building has been added onto and renovated over the years, with beautiful stained-glass windows and electronic pipe organs dedicated in memory of loved ones.

There's a special glow about the church, not from its lighting, but from the warmth of the people, said member Bob Heatwole.

"I pray that this church will always have a place in our community," he said.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

Copyright 2014 The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company.