During the depths of the Great Depression or about 80 years ago, our country, state, and county were in a financial shortage that would be unimaginable by most living today. Not only did industries, retail stores, farmers, and families suffer, but our houses of worship were also caught in the mix, as their income was entirely voluntary gifts.
It was during this time that Scotland County’s oldest house of worship, Old Laurel Hill Presbyterian Church, began what is known today at their annual ingathering. However, you would see very little resemblance in the event held today and those held in 1933 or 1934.
The first ingathering was more of auction sales, with food and drinks provided on the side to keep people at the auction. Since nearly all of the families attending Old Laurel Hill Presbyterian Church were involved in agriculture, their contributions or tithes to the auctions consisted of pigs, chickens, bales of cotton, produce, homemade clothes, and baked or homemade canned goods in Mason jars. The late Laurinburg attorney, Joe Cox, was one of the early auctioneers.
Perhaps it was a larger farmer or even a textile mill with ready cash that could purchase the cotton bales, but the contributions of the earthly labors of the members of Old Laurel Hill Presbyterian Church sold to others with available cash kept the minister paid and the church doors open.
Old Laurel Hill continues today with what is known as the largest ingathering in Scotland County, and it is always held on the first Thursday in November during the lunch hours.
Hundreds of pounds of chicken salad are prepared using an old church recipe, over 20 hogs and hundreds of pounds of Boston Butts are placed on the grill the day before, cooked, chopped by hand, kept warm, and cooked down with the old church’s barbecue sauce added. Early Thursday morning hundreds of chicken halves are placed on the same grill, cooked to perfection, and dipped into their special barbecue sauce. It should be noted that the pork and chicken sauces are not the same.
Add to that the hundreds of pounds of cole slaw that are prepared, the sweet potatoes, and hundreds of pounds of hush puppy mix that will be fried, and you will understand the degree of voluntary labor that goes into this gigantic undertaking.
It is not only the amount of food that makes the Old Laurel Hill ingathering special. It is also a chance for church members and church friends to work together, to bond, and to build on friendships. The work is long and hard, still most look forward to the annual ingathering with the same level of excitement as a small child looks to Christmas.
There are always areas at the ingathering that have cakes, cookies, pies, crafts, and other items that may be purchased with all proceeds going to the church missions.
Today, from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m., thousands of locals and not-so locals will swarm to Old Laurel Hill to renew friendships, continue their autumn traditions, or just come through the takeout lines for a plate of delicious barbecue, barbecue chicken, or chicken salad.
It has always been my tradition to help in some small way, and that usually begins with chopping the barbecue on Wednesday night.
Other rural churches in this area have also continued the Thursday ingathering tradition that they began years ago: Centre Presbyterian Church near Maxton, Faith Presbyterian Church (formerly Smyrna Presbyterian Church,) Caledonia United Methodist Church, and St. Johns United Methodist Church – all held in October. They are followed by Old Laurel Hill and finally Snead’s Grove United Methodist Church on the second Thursday in November.
Ingatherings provide not only great food, but also warm fellowship, a historic tradition, and knowing that the work done is for a much greater cause.