From far and wide, more and more people turned into the driveway of the Old Salem Church for its Annual Homecoming picnic. “I think this is one of our biggest picnics we’ve had for a while,” Jean Bradley, coordinator and caretaker of the church and its annual events, shared.
Handshakes, hugs, big grins and ‘I haven’t seen you in years!’ seemed to be in great abundance. The picnic tables were lined up under the shelter and the ‘pot luck’ smorgasbord of food was ready to be consumed.
Though there were almost 100 people in attendance, it seemed that there were enough leftovers to feed another 100. “This is such a wonderful event,” many agreed. “We hope that Jean keeps this up as not many churches have homecomings anymore.”
After everyone got their ‘fill’ of food and delicious desserts, they headed to the sanctuary of the church where The Craig County Boys had already started playing music. Fans were fanning and the happy chatter seemed to coincide with the upbeat atmosphere of music the band was playing.
Kathy Jones and Lois Elmore had decorated every window and table with hand-woven baskets, real wildflower arrangements and this year, pictures of Jean Bradley’s sister-in-law, Mary Ann Bentley Reynolds, who passed away in March of this year. “She is the reason I am here,” Bradley shared as she held back her tears. And, in trying to overcome her emotions, she added with a grin, “I’m scared not to!” Reynolds had also done many drawings and paintings of the church within the community.
A treasurer’s report was given that they had $5009.78 in the account that would be used towards many needed repairs. “We thank you so much for those donations you give,” Bradley shared. “It’s how we keep this little church going.”
People tapped their feet to the tunes that The Craig County Boys were playing and some sang along to the old hymns and upbeat tunes that seemed to bring deep-hearted smiles to many. Junior Christian, Ronnie Price, Daniel Smith and Timmy Rhodes plugged a little ‘HeeHaw’ moments at times to add to the already, jovial atmosphere. “This is the first time Ronnie has ever had to play a fretless bass!” Christian said with a smile. “There’s no numbers on there for him to look at!” Everyone laughed, knowing that Price could play with his eyes closed.
‘Old timey’ songs such as, The Old Country Church were played with great joy. Many seemed to echo the heartfelt words of it. “Oh the joy they bring to me…my friends at the Old Country Church.”
Cody Rader, pastor of The New Castle Christian Church shared his message, ‘Are you living the story you want to tell?’ He asked if anyone had memories there and many hands were raised. People gave their life to Jesus, had weddings, Christmas programs and funerals there. “You walk in here and you feel ‘at home’,” Rader shared. “Yet, he added that if it wasn’t for the people that there would be no need for the church building, because we are the church!”
Regardless of the things that everyone has done, the memories all have had, Rader said that amidst the bad and the wrong, the good and the wonderful “There was God.” He added that everyone had his or her own story to tell. “God is always present in our stories if He is allowed to be the Author and to lead the direction of your story.”
Rader asked, “Are you choosing the pen and paper moments to be those in which you made the decision of where God led you to and are the transitions of your story where God is working and moving in your life?” He asked all to ‘tell your story’, because there are those out there who could be encouraged by the victories and learn through the failures.
“We really don’t realize the impact we have on people’s lives until we or they are gone,” Rader said. “One day, like this church, someone is going to tell your story, so is it one that you want someone to tell and is it one that you want told?”
Rader joined The Craig County Boys in singing and everyone joined in the song, Will the Circle Be Unbroken. At one point, the band stopped playing and the melodious sound of the A cappella voices seemed to match those of angels.
After all was over, many mingled to talk. Virginia Reynolds Veasey drove in from North Caroline just to be at the homecoming picnic. “I was ten years old when I came here and gave my life to Jesus!” she exclaimed. She’s a vibrant young 88 now.
Vicky Smith, from Craig Woods said she seen the article in the paper the previous week and decided to attend. “My father was a Baptist minister and we use to have homecomings like this,” she said. “I haven’t been to one since I was a little girl and this was so wonderful…I loved it!”
As people started leaving, many gave Bradley hugs and encouraging words. It appeared that no words were missed by her as her depth of smiles seemed to create an ambiance of love to whomever she hugged. “Y’all come back next year!” she always seemed to add.