Until a few years ago, 298-year-old Donegal Presbyterian Church did not host a Heritage Sunday worship service.
But a bus tour highlighting the history of three churches — Donegal, Derry Presbyterian (Hershey) and Paxton Presbyterian (Harrisburg) — that shared circuit-riding pastors in their early years, got church leaders thinking.
“We are first and foremost an active and worshipping church, but we’re a church with a history,” said Portia Brian, a retired history teacher who is a member of the the Donegal Society and the church’s volunteer historian. “It’s an effort to keep that history alive.”
When members of Donegal Presbyterian Church, 1891 Donegal Springs Road, Mount Joy, take part in Heritage Sunday tomorrow at 9 a.m. and 11:15 a.m., they will be using a Holy Communion set made of pewter that predates the founding of the United States.
The set includes four two-handled cups created by William Eddon in the late 1600s, four pewter plates that were crafted by Richard King Jr. in the mid-1700s and two flagons.
The two-handled cups are “different,” Brian said. Early congregants would sit on benches along the aisles of the church. The pastor and church elders would sit at the Communion table in front of the altar and pass the cups down the aisles.
“If I were taking Communion,” Brian explained, “I would sip from it, hand you the cup — you have a handle to grab — you would sip from it and pass it down the aisle.”
Stored in a vault
The Communion set is a prized possession of the church that lists May 1721 as its founding. So prized, Brian said, that it is kept in a bank vault and brought out only on special occasions.
“There was a time when our congregants were not aware that the Communion set existed,” she said.
The Communion set will be placed on the church’s pre-1740 Communion table for the service. Servers will wear period dress and the Rev. Matt Randolph will wear historically appropriate vestments.
In the early years of the church, only members who had met the pastor’s spiritual and financial thresholds were permitted to take Holy Communion.
The names of members who met those obligations were kept on file and marked with an “X.” Brian displayed a bound album containing photocopies of the 1776 “Catechising Roll” of members of the congregation. An “X” can be seen behind the names of those allowed to participate in Holy Communion.
At 7 p.m. Sunday, the church will host its quarterly Celtic Evensong service. The event will be a responsive prayer service in the Celtic tradition of prayer of the hours. The theme, said church member Mike Wills, is “Justice and Peace.” The choir will perform and the church will use a liturgy from the Iona Ecumenical Community in Scotland.
Due to storms that have damaged the church’s roof, Sunday’s services will be held in the church’s fellowship hall. The events are part of the church’s lead-up to its 300th anniversary celebration that is scheduled for May 23, 2021.
Heritage Sunday is held near the church’s founding date and coincides the Donegal Society’s 109th annual Reunion, that will be held Thursday, June 13. The society was founded to preserve the living history and heritage of the Scots-Irish who founded the church.