Remembering Those Who Planted the Seeds

With the recent celebration of our congregation’s 135th anniversary, I’ve been reflecting on our past and what it means for our future. The changes in technology, culture, morality, and a thousand other aspects of our society since our church was founded in 1878 are almost incomprehensible. In the year of our church’s birth, telephones were still a rarity in our nation. In 1878 the first electricity for homes would be offered in the northeast but it would be years before it came to Verona. The universal right for women to vote in our nation was still four decades away. The physical scars of the Civil War were all-to-evident in Augusta County—it had been only 14 years since General Philip Sheridan had laid waste to the Shenandoah Valley as a means to destroy “the breadbasket of the Confederacy”  and cut off the railroad crossroads of Staunton from Richmond. And despite the abolition of slavery as a result of that war, the movement to further segregate the races was gaining strength.

         Ahead of our church lay a devastating, world-wide flu epidemic in 1918, two world wars and numerous “lesser” conflicts, and a crippling Great Depression. A few years into the future there would be the first automobiles touring up and down Route 11 and the first planes flying overhead.

         All that lay ahead in the unknowable future. In 1878 we were primarily an agricultural community. Attending church services was not just an hour or two obligation. Mipowahami Children came to play and learn. Adults had the opportunity to share news of their families and farms with each other. Yes, they came to worship. But the gathering was also a social event that grew relationships and enlivened lives hungering for an interruption to the mundane routines of hard work and sacrifice required to simply survive. Without telephones, cars, malls, supermarkets and Facebook, the Sunday worship gathering was essential to the spiritual, social, and mental health of the community.

           I have a copy of a photo from a church I attended in Spotsylvania County before I was called to ordained ministry. The photo is of the church’s congregation standing outside their modest church building in the 1880’s. What is most notable is that while the men, women and children have dressed in their best for the occasion, their clothes are still thread-bare and many are without shoes. Where the pants and coats are too short, you can see skin and bones and little to spare.

         Life was hard for Virginians in 1878. It was, after all, just 13 years since the end of the war. And yet, here in Verona, a small group of dedicated members of The Church of the United Brethren in Christ decided that another preaching point was needed, a place where seeds of the Gospel could be planted and God’s Kingdom could grow. I can’t help but wonder what they would think of their spiritual descendants in 2013. Would they judge that we spend too much time examining and complaining about microscopic splinters in our hands, forgetting that for 135 years, they and others have worked their hands to the bone to serve God through our church?

          Perhaps an even more provocative question:  what will our descendants in 2148 say about us? May God grant us His grace so that we might be inspired by the past, prepared for the future, and worthy of the high call of God in Christ Jesus.