Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Down a Country Road

Sunday morning was a whirlwind of new faces and experiences. I got up early and drove the thirty-minute drive from my house to Sandy Plains Church for the first time. In my CD player, M. Ward played some soothing rural-sounding music, and it was early, so the sun was casting its warm rays against the sweet-corn fields and old tobacco barns that line the roads to Sandy Plains. There are signs of the culture, too: feathers, dream-catchers, and the like were common among the cars I passed, and I crossed over the Lumber River several times along the way. Small businesses along the way also give some indication of the culture in the area—there’s the Lost Colony Trading Post, for one, and signs for Lowry’s Luxury Suites, Bear Swamp Baptist Church, and an old sign for The Law Offices of Locklear, Jacobs, Hunt, and Brooks.

Sandy Plains Church lies just north of Pembroke, NC, and is in the heart of “Lumbee Country.” Most everyone who lives in the area is a member of the Lumbee tribe. I already know that much of this summer will be spent learning about the Lumbee, and about those specific people who call themselves members of Sandy Plains. Historians believe the Lumbee to be descendents of the Hatteras and Sir Walter Raleigh’s “Lost Colony” of 1587. Others think that the Lumbee descended from the eastern Souix, and some see the Lumbee as an amalgam of races.

On the way out to Sandy Plains, I couldn’t help but notice the land, and connect—in my own mind—the Lumbee people to the land in an intimate way. What was a hunch on the drive over has borne out into reality—a little historical research confirmed my suspicions. As the Scots settled the area in the early 1700s, the Lumbee saw that it was necessary to divide up the land and seek official deeds to property that had been cultivated and collectively owned for many years. The names on these deeds are still prominent in the community surrounding Sandy Plains: Locklear, Oxendine, Bell, Cumbo, Hunt, Chavis, Brooks, Jacobs, and Lowry are some of them. Often, a Lumbee is reluctant to part with his or her land; land seems to stay in a particular family for years. As Joseph Michael Smith writes, “no one who really knows the Lumbee people can deny their attachment to the land, their religiousness, nor dismiss the sense of community.” As this week has so quickly passed me by, I've noticed evidence of this strong community bond among the members of Sandy Plains UMC.

Ownership of the land is connected to its natural resources—those early land deeds were marked in relation to the Lumber River, and area swamps, like Bear Swamp. These provided protection, fertile soil, and abundant plant and animal life in the area, and still do. I’ve already met several people who live on land that has "been in the family" for generations. I would guess that members of Sandy Plains are farmers, and many have parents who were farmers--it seems that everyone speaks so naturally about the land.

As I’m getting to know the people of Sandy Plains, I’m learning that they are indeed connected to the land. I am anxious to talk to others here at Sandy Plains—to ask about their individual connections to the land, how it speaks to them—how they speak to it. For the moment, though, I’m content to thank the Creator for the blessings given to us in the rich soil and water still present in our surroundings, for those drives through the country where one feels at one with the earth, and for an introduction to a community pregnant with possibility for learning about ministry.
I see the old, old trees;
and for my people
the woods, the river
and the open fields
are all alive
I live with them
and in their spirit.

I know how to speak to the land
and how to listen
to what it tells me.

I take no more
than what I need from it,
and keep its secrets to myself
because I know,
it will never betray
the heart that loves it.

--“Land of the Lumbee”
by Barbara Brayboy-Locklear

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