Past and present converge at Longstreet Church reunion
July 13, 2012
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - An anonymous author once wrote, "Homecoming unites the past and the present."
The heritage of a colonial Scottish settlement and its current representatives recently converged on Fort Bragg at the annual Longstreet Presbyterian Church reunion.
Longstreet Presbyterian Church was established in 1756 by Highland Scot immigrants in a village known as Argyle. Three sequential church structures and 13 pastors have since served the congregation. The current church was constructed in 1847 and the Army purchased the land during World War I to create the artillery camp now referred to as Fort Bragg. Regular services continued until 1924 when the property was fully integrated into the installation.
"If the fort is a military necessity, a fact that no one in the community attempts to disprove, then the needs of the whole country abundantly justify the hardship imposed upon this small section," wrote Reverend R. A. McLeod in his history of Longstreet Presbyterian Church.
"It is a pleasure to record that the relationship between the church and the government as represented in the authorities at Fort Bragg, has been most cordial so while the active life of the church must soon cease, it is very gratifying to know that this hallowed spot will not be disturbed," he documented.
Indeed, the Fort Bragg Cultural Resources Management Program actively maintains and protects Longstreet Presbyterian Church and its cemetery. The Soldiers and civilians on the post are also vigilant stewards of the site. As a result of their efforts, the descendants of the original presbytery can gather at the church annually to celebrate their Scottish legacies.
Many can trace their ancestry directly to original members of the church and the Argyle community. Joe McKay is a seventh generation descendant of the McKay Family and has numerous personal ties to the area. His ancestor, Archibald McKay, was a founding church elder. Joe McKay and his wife were also married at the church. "The reunion gives me a direct connection to my Family and to local history," he said. "These events indulge my interest in Family history, and I am impressed by the Army's efforts to preserve it."
Reverend Clark Remsburg is also a descendant of Argyle residents who were renowned for their talents as stone engravers. "This event is in a sense a homecoming for many of these people who have bonds with the past," he said.
For some, the reunion is also a valuable learning experience. "The reunion is such a wonderfully, different way to experience church," said Susie McFadyen.
The most recent Longstreet Presbyterian Church reunion occurred on June 24 and was hosted by the Cultural Resources Management Program and the Fort Bragg chaplains.
Remsburg began the service with announcements and the hymn Jesus Saves for the 110 worshippers in the sanctuary. Then, new visitors explained their connections to the church and the community. Veteran patrons informed the congregation of milestones in the lives of their fellow church members.
Reverend John Plummer gave the sermon. "I love tradition. There is nothing more traditional than Longstreet Presbyterian Church," said Plummer.
As a boy, Plummer lived near the former Argyle village on a farm close to Fort Bragg. He delighted the congregation with childhood tales, including his fear of fires ignited by tracer ammunition and his Family's mule's first encounter with a tank.
Plummer turned to scripture to relay the story of the prodigal son and other Biblical accounts of homecomings and reunions. "You're still God's child regardless of where your feet have roamed, and there is always a place for you at His table," he assured the congregation.
"The sermon fit well into the theme of homecoming," said Remsburg. "We have been reminded of the perspective and context of such events."
Finally, the reverends and Chaplain (Col.) Randall Dolinger led the attendees in a chorus from Soft and Tenderly and a last prayer.
In addition to the service, patrons enjoyed a picnic lunch and toured the cemetery and perused an artifact display which included an 1826 Gaelic Bible, a 1924 panoramic photograph of the presbytery and a Scottish cap badge that had been excavated at the site.
Just as the descendants are proud of their history, the Fort Bragg Cultural Resources Management Program is proud to preserve that history for future generations.
"As archaeologists and cultural resources managers, we are all keenly interested in local history and the early occupants of the installation," said Dr. Linda Carnes-McNaughton, program archaeologist.
"Our job is to document the physical evidence of these earliest Sandhills residents. Recording sites, identifying artifacts, delving into Family histories, learning the land … they are all pieces of the puzzle we call the past. We preserve the past in order to share it with the present, and Longstreet Presbyterian Church holds such rich history of people and place. We are honored to be a part of this history and have the opportunity to share these resources with those whose ancestors created it," she said.
"After nearly a century following the Army's acquisition of the church, the descendants who still meet here are a witness to the people who came before them," said Remsburg. "The book of Hebrews refers to a 'cloud of witnesses.' These descendants are a cloud of witnesses, representatives of the faithful of the past. The church itself provides a certain sense of peace and tranquility. The sanctuary, the stone wall and the grave stones are all silent sentinels and witnesses to a tremendous gathering," he said.
The Longstreet Presbyterian Church reunion is on the last Sunday in June each year. For more information on the event and Fort Bragg historic sites and heritage Families, contact the Cultural Resources Management Program at 396-6680.