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A C o r n e r s t o n e o f t h e C ommu n i t y S i n c e 1 8 6 1 St. Philips Brick Church to Celebrate


hough African Americans in Salem and the nearby region had worshiped in their own log church for forty-two

years, by 1861 attendance growth saw the old building bursting at the seams. Despite the cost and the turbulent times—the first shots of the Civil War were heard only months before— the cornerstone for a new church was laid on August 24, 1861. Today, the brick St. Philips church is the oldest standing African American church in North Carolina. Indicative of the unique relationship between European

Salem Moravians and the enslaved and free African American Moravians, the architectural design of the Greek Revival structure was nearly indistinguishable from other churches constructed nearby during the 1950s and 60s. A new pulpit and pews were built and the church was topped by a steeple. A capacity crowd attended the church’s opening services, which included a lovefeast, on December 15, 1861. Special activities at St. Philips and throughout Old Salem

on Thursday, December 15, 2011, will commemorate the 150th anniversary of that first, celebratory service in the brick church. Director of African American Programming Cheryl Harry has planned both daytime and evening events for the commemoration. “We’ll be seeking to tie descendants of the original congregations back to the church where we can,” she says. “For instance, we know of Dr. Patricia Bailey, a mission- ary who is descended from Timothy. . . We hope to involve these people with this historic moment.” On the schedule is a lovefeast that will be conducted by the Salem Creek Regional Conference of Churches and music


by the Moravian Brass Band, both open to the public. An evening event will combine inspirational messages, music, and a candlelight memorial.

A Sign of Changing Times The advent of a separate church to be used by African Americans, enslaved and free, marked a shift in the relation- ships in the community of Salem. From the town’s creation in 1766 and Church ownership of slaves, Salem residents worked, worshipped, and were buried together until attitudes in town and outside of Wachovia began to deteriorate in the early 1800s. By 1822, the Salem Female

Missionary Society saw a need for religious opportunity for African Americans, chiefly enslaved people, and asked the Provincial

Director of African American Programming Cheryl Harry ushers campers from Sharon Baptist Church in Stoneville, NC into the brick church for hands- on activities.

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