Join us at Christ Episcopal Church on Sunday

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, October 23, 2019

This year’s annual fall worship service and free dinner on the grounds of Christ Episcopal Church, Church Hill, on Sunday will repeat a long history.

“Everyone is welcomed,” said Rev. Kenneth Ritter, rector of Trinity Church and Vicar of Christ Church. “It’s an annual celebration of faith, worship and fellowship, open to the entire Southwest Mississippi community. We invite everyone to come and enjoy a memorable autumn day in the country.”

According to Adolph Wagner, III, the Bishop’s Warden on the Mission Committee and a lifelong Christ Church member, “This event began in the late 1800s.”

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It is unclear as to whether the event was an annual affair from then until now, but Vestry minutes show that on Oct. 24, 1920, when Christ Church celebrated its centennial, there was a full service with bishops, priests and a large congregation, with remarks, reminiscences and prayers. Afterward was a social time, called “jollification,” the minutes note.

During the jollification, Wagner said, “They played a type of curling game on the lawn. The story was, they would have kegs of beer. Years ago I found a silver keg spout that verified that story.”              

The event is also mentioned in the book “Christ Episcopal Church, Church Hill,” by Ann Beckerson Brown, Elizabeth “Betty” Shields McGehee and Vona Lugenia “Lou” Little Wagner, published in 1997.

The book states, “On May 5, 1982, the dinner on the grounds began at Christ Church in honor of The Rev. Louis O’Vander Thomas and his devotion to God and to Christ Church.” It also says “The event is held annually on the second Sunday in October.”

Thomas was rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Natchez from 1946-1975 and rector at Christ Church from 1946-1980.

A journal kept by Carolyn Vance Smith notes that the event has taken place since the early 1980s.

The service has always been held in the late afternoon on a Sunday, because the Episcopal priest conducting the service has had to conduct a morning service elsewhere.    

Betty Guedon Paradise, a longtime Christ Church member says, “It’s a community event.” Paradise’s favorite part of the event, she said, is being near family members still living as well as those buried in the Christ Church cemetery. “It is comforting to know that all my family is nearby, from my great-great-grandparents on down.”

Throughout the years, music during the service has added to the remembrances.  This year’s event will feature two returning musicians to provide music during the service. They are DeVon Smith, vocalist with a music degree from Alcorn State University, and Dr. Patrick Doherty of Natchez, organist.

Following the service is a bounteous buffet meal with accompanying live music. Referred to alternately as a picnic, a covered-dish supper, dinner-on-the-grounds or homecoming, “It’s amazing how many dishes are brought,” Ritter said. “The buffet tables are crowded with everything under the sun that is delicious.”

“At first, the ladies brought fried chicken and casseroles,” Paradise said. “People sat on the tombstones surrounding the church to eat. These days people bring whatever foods they want to bring. We set up tables and chairs, and people stay and socialize and enjoy the music and entertainment.” 

In recent years, bluegrass and other kinds of music have been performed. This year, Gabe Bass and Taylor Spring, both of Natchez, will provide popular, family-friendly music “that will make you want to sing along,” Ritter said.

The entire afternoon is informal, Ritter said. “People dress casually, and during the service, the church’s windows and doors are open, the neighborhood pets wander in and out, and you can smell the wonderful food waiting outside the church.

“Thank goodness for Rose Thompson, a member of Christ Church’s Mission Committee. She keeps the dogs and the bugs away from the food!”

A free bus will depart Trinity Episcopal Church, 305 S. Commerce St., at 2:15 p.m. and return after the event ends. Christ Church is located 19 miles from Trinity Church. Those traveling by car from Natchez can either follow the bus or go north on Highway 61 and turn west onto Mississippi 553, following signs to Church Hill.

Ashley Harriss is Christ Church Mission Committee Secretary.