Holy Neck marks 270 years

Published 9:55 pm Monday, May 22, 2017

One of the city’s oldest churches celebrated its 270th anniversary earlier this month.

Holy Neck Christian Church, 4400 Holy Neck Road, has been in existence in some form since 1747. The church held a special service on May 7.

Morgan Carr, chair of the anniversary committee, said about 200 people were in attendance. The church served a meal after the service.

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Carr said many in the church family pulled together to make it happen.

“It’s easy to coordinate when you’ve got people willing to work,” he said.

Records show that a Quaker meeting was held on the spot as early as 1672, according to a church history handed out to congregants on May 7. They called it “Holy Neck,” a term believed to come either from the Native American word “husdenor” or so named because of the “neck” formed by two bodies of water and the fact that the site was already a gathering place for religious services.

In December 1747, the Episcopal Vestry of Upper Parish of Nansemond County decided to build a “Chapel of Ease” on the site, according to the church history. The order is entered in the vestry book to buy land and build a chapel there for the use of the parish.

The chapel built in 1747 was 50 feet by 26 feet and used for 87 years.

The first ministers of the church returned to England prior to the Revolutionary War, the church history states. No Episcopal service was held there immediately following the end of the Revolution.

In 1793, the Rev. James O’Kelly preached at Holy Neck, and Holy Neck Christian Church was organized. The church has been a powerful influence in eastern Virginia, giving birth to Bethany, Franklin, Berea, Damascus and Hebron churches and giving members to the organization of many more.

Holy Neck played a part in educational opportunities, too. It had a seminary for girls, which was revived as a boys’ school after the Civil War. The church later gave its influence to the establishment of Suffolk Collegiate Institute.

A son of the church, the Rev. Robert H. Holland, ordained the first black Christian minister in the area, Justin Copeland. On one occasion in 1848, representatives of three races — white, black and American Indian — preached on the grounds on the same day at a great revival, according to the history.

Holy Neck became a Congregational Christian Church in 1931. In 1961, it became part of the United Church of Christ, and in 2005, members voted to leave the United Church of Christ.

The church welcomed its first female deacons in 1948. Many of those from the church have become ministers themselves.

The church was expanded many times until the present sanctuary was built in 1916. A wing including Sunday school rooms was added in 1949, and in 1963 a wing including a fellowship hall was added, according to the history.

The current pastor is the Rev. Danny Owens, who is an intentional interim.

Carr, who has attended Holy Neck Christian Church his entire life, believes the church has survived for so long because of its family atmosphere.

“It’s family-oriented,” he said. “Anybody that has come here and been asked the question, ‘What did you like about Holy Neck?’ It’s always the warmth. They felt welcomed. They treat you like you’re one of their own.”

Carr said the church does have its ups and downs, like any church.

“We’re no different from any other church,” he said. “We have our ups and we have our downs, but when it’s all said and done, we all pull together.”