What is May Meeting? How did it begin?
May Meeting evolved over the years and is a variation of a tradition the early settlers brought from the Church of Scotland. In the earliest days of our congregation, when there was not a full-time minister, the Synods of New York or Philadelphia sent Presbyterian ministers to churches in the backwoods of North Carolina in the spring and in the fall to hold the sacrament of communion and to baptize children and adults since these sacraments could only be performed by an ordained minister. It seems that the spring communion service has always been the first Sunday in May. The fall communion service has moved around to different dates. September Meeting is now the second Sunday in September.
May Meeting begins with Sunday School classes for all ages at 10 am. The worship service at 11 am
includes communion. During the early days of our church, which was organized in 1751, the sacrament of communion was not observed as often as it is today. There was a seriousness associated with this sacrament. Prior to May Meeting Sunday, there were Preparatory Services each evening for a week to prepare the hearts of the members for the Lord’s Supper. For many years the Scottish tradition of giving
those who had attended the services a token which they would turn in on the Sunday morning of May
Meeting in order to receive communion. The theory was that only those who had attended the Preparatory Services were mentally and spiritually ready to receive communion. For much of the twentieth century, there were Preparatory Services on the Thursday and Friday evenings prior to May Meeting. No tokens were distributed or required on Sunday, but it harkened back to this earlier tradition. Due to decreased attendance, the Preparatory Services were discontinued some time ago.
Dinner in the Grove around two long wire tables between the sanctuary and playground follows the worship service. Folks bring favorite foods to share along the table. There is no organization to the food. Each family just puts all the foods they bring together on the table so they can find their empty dishes later! Plates, utensils and napkins are scattered along the length of the table so there is no specific starting place. You can just peek in and see something you want to eat, ask the person closest to the table to let you jump in and get what you want, then move out. Or you can walk down the length of the table and find what you want to eat. Tea, water, juice, lemonade, colas that folks bring are placed on a table where ice and cups are available.
For many years, families ate together whatever food their group brought. Different families staked
out specific areas of the grove and returned to those family spaces year after year. In 1949, the Wilcox Education Building was dedicated at May Meeting. This was a long-awaited event, so the Women of the Church organized everyone coming together to gather around a single long table instead of splitting up into family groups. It was such a success and so much fun being together that the current tradition we enjoy was born.
May Meeting has always been a time for special events at our church. For many years,
babies were baptized at May Meeting. Records from the 1800s show that some years there were over thirty children baptized and many people united with the church at May Meeting. The current sanctuary was dedicated at May Meeting in 1861. As noted above, the Wilcox Education Building was dedicated in 1949. In 2013, the ground-breaking for the new education building was at May Meeting and that building was
dedicated on May Meeting in 2014.
The spring down the hill from the playground is owned by the McCachren family. When Rocky River
Presbyterian Church built its third sanctuary in what is now the cemetery behind the current (4th) sanctuary, the McCachren family gave the congregation use of the spring as long as there is a church at this location. Families in those early days got water from the spring to have with their May Meeting meals. Walking down the hill on those wide steps to the spring was a May Meeting tradition for children and families for many years – and possibly still is a tradition for some.
Until around 1980, there was also a worship service about 1:30 on the afternoon of May Meeting.
Again, a decrease in attendance led to the demise of this tradition. This service probably started when families coming from long distances who maybe did not get to worship services every week wanted the opportunity to worship a second time on that special day.
The roots of May Meeting go very deep at Rocky River Presbyterian Church. It is one of the traditions that is unique to our congregation. May Meeting has evolved over the years to the special Sunday we now know, but it has always been a special time that draws those who love this church back year after year. There are people who come back “home” to Rocky River every May Meeting. Others who have only heard of our church through family stories often develop a new tradition of coming to May Meeting to feel a kinship with past generations of their families. Many families end the day with a walk in the cemetery. At
May Meeting more than any other Sunday, the connection is felt to earlier members of our church and the
“cloud of witnesses” who have sat in those same pews we now occupy.
Third Sunday in May
The third Sunday each May is “Bellefonte Sunday” when the congregations of Rocky River
and Bellefonte Presbyterian Churches worship together. In even-numbered years, like 2016, the congregation at Bellefonte is invited to worship at Rocky River. In odd-numbered years, like 2017, our congregation is invited to worship at Bellefonte. This annual joint worship service is also an exchange of pastors since the minister of the visiting church preaches and the visiting choir sings. This year, Bellefonte Sunday will be May 15th when Rev. Dr. Greg Davis will preach and the Bellefonte choir will sing.
During the ministry of Rev. James Murray, the session invited Dr. Davis to preach at September Meeting. He replied that this would leave his congregation without a minister that day. The session responded by inviting the Bellefonte congregation to come to September Meeting. There were also joint officer training classes with Rocky River, Bellefonte and Harrisburg churches during Mr. Murray’s pastorate.
After Rev. Dr. Corey Ingold became our minister, he and Dr. Greg Davis, pastor at Bellefonte, discussed worshipping together. The Bellefonte session invited us to worship with their congregation. On April 18, 1999, at a called meeting of the Rocky River session a motion was passed to accept the invitation to worship together at Bellefonte Presbyterian Church on May 23, 1999. It was purposefully set as a worship service without any extras no refreshments, no meal, no communion served. This way each congregation could look forward to the fellowship of worshipping together without the stress of other activities.
During Rev. Dr. Kyle Hite’s ministry, these annual services continued. At some point, the
two ministers decided to have two joint special services together each year. The two congregations have the Ash Wednesday service at Rocky River and the Maundy Thursday service at Bellefonte.
Bellefonte Presbyterian Church was organized in 1867 by Rev. Dorland of what was
referred to as the “Northern Presbyterian Church.” The black members of Rocky River Presbyterian Church were now free and ready to organize their own congregation. In 2017, Bellefonte Presbyterian Church will celebrates its 150th anniversary. They are planning a special service for the third Sunday in May, 2017 to which Rev. Murray, Dr. Ingold, Dr. Hite, and Dr.
Carter will be invited to take part.
Make plans now to be at worship on May 15th and enjoy fellowship with our sister church.
Tip: The members of Bellefonte pronounce the name of their church this way---
Bell – like ringing a bell
Font – like the various scripts available when printing