United Methodist Church
Serving Our Lord Since 1854
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1 Corinthians 15:51-52 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed-- in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. (NIV)
"If These Walls Could Talk"
February 1, 2004
John McDonald, local storyteller, dressed as an old-time trapper, sauntered to the platform in the Washington Boro United Methodist Church's sanctuary as gentle sounds of bird calls and flowing water were heard. John seated himself on a hide-draped stool and arranged his papers on a stand he built from branches. As the music faded, John began his tales of what WBUMC's walls have seen 150 years ago.
"In This Very Place"
Four hundred years ago, long before this church was build, 2500 Susquehannock Indians lived near, drawn by the river's rich fishing and trapping. A peaceful life? Hardly. Ferocity was required to rule their branch of the Iroquois Nation, protecting their territory which stretched from the Chesapeake Bay to the New York line. For twenty-five years, the tribe's Village Site was located 500 yards southeast of the church as proven by recently dug post-holes from their long-houses. At least two springs used by the Indians are still active: the one in Shultz Town and the other, 150 feet to the immediate south of the sanctuary by Haverstick's (our next door neighbor) big sycamore tree.
French fur traders arrived here first, but eventually trappers from across Europe were drawn by the lure of handsome profits from this area's lush harvest of furs. The Susquehanna River's natural resources later attracted farmers, then women, children, doctors, tradesmen and teachers.
In 1827, Charles Town and Washington were incorporated. John piqued the congregation's interest by challenging them to place the location known as "in the Burr at the Ram". Only a few recognized his reference to Haverstick's hydraulic ram, installed before electricity.
The melody of "Amazing Grace" played as seven women, one man and a boy in period-costume mimed home worship in an 1834 parlor. The group's spiritual contentment attracted neighbors and larger quarters were needed.
The fledgling congregation purchased a lot near the firehouse for one dollar and built a frame building. Circuit-riding Methodist preachers augmented the group's lay leadership. In 1854, they signed a deed for the present property and built this sanctuary overlooking the Susquehanna River.
"Echoes Of War"
At the sound of drums, two Civil War re-enactors entered in historically-correct costume. Reverently they removed their military caps as they entered and knelt in prayer. John explained that the color of a person's skin prevented some from experiencing freedom. Result? The Civil War, a conflict unlike any we'd known. Brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor, especially here near the Mason Dixon line.
In June 1863, the Confederate Army reached Wrightsville, just across the Susquehanna. Heavy smoke over Columbia would have been visible from our church steps. Burning bridge timbers floating downstream in the night resembled burning ships. John described the confusion and fear of those who waited for a volunteer to gallop into Columbia to learn what was happening. Had the Rebels crossed the River? Were they burning Columbia? What fervent prayers these walls must have heard.
Just a few days later, 50,000 lay dead at Gettysburg! John explained that more than 30 local men fought in the Civil War, including Joseph R. McDonald, his great-grandfather. Bringing us back to our own time, John quoted the words of local Vietnam veteran, Harold Gerlach, from Veteran's Day 2003, "Remember, freedom is not free."
"A Family Changed Forever"
After the soldiers departed with resolve, "Just As I Am" was played and a world-weary couple entered to kneel brokenly at the altar. John explained how demise of the river trade dramatically changed life for many in the Boro.
John told of an early pastor here, Tom Jackson, who was appalled to see stars through the holes in the church roof. One Sunday, Pastor Tom astonished the congregation with his announcement, "We have enough money to complete this church!" After a long pause, John continued with the second part of Pastor Tom's words from folklore, " But the money is in your pockets!"
John continued with the story of Barbara Kise and Amos Mann, a local couple who married here before their fourth child was born. Eight years later, in 1888, first Barbara and ten days later, Amos, converted and spiritually turned from darkness to light. Seven of their children lived into adulthood and all of the younger children were baptized and raised in this church. Their youngest son studied for the ministry and preached in this sanctuary. This family was changed forever, for Eternity. Their Membership Certificates are believed to be the oldest surviving documents of that type archived by the Lancaster Historical Society.
"If It Needs Doing, Do It!"
The Mann couple left, leaning with a new closeness into each others arms. Then children's voices were heard singing, "Let The Little Children Come". A weary workman carrying a shovel and lugging a bucket of dirt entered and knelt in exhaustion at the altar rail.
John continued his story of this church's need for children's Sunday School space. He told how the men of the congregation spent weary years, eventually digging out an entire basement under the sanctuary by hand. He explained how the boys helped and told of the church women's supportive role. One man remembers that working down there was like being in a dungeon. Why did these men do that nasty job? Because it needed to be done! So, with God's help, they did it.
John related the story of the huge boulder the church men discovered while digging. Painting humor with truth, he reminded the congregation that the boulder is still there, that WBUMC is both figuratively and literally, "built on a rock, built on The Rock."
As the workman stood and left the sanctuary, a familiar melody filled the church, "If Ever I Loved You, My Jesus, 'Tis Now." John explained that this last tale he knew firsthand for he remembered Maggie. As he spoke, a mature lady stood in the back of the sanctuary and walked slowly and painfully toward the front. As John continued, she leaned silently against the piano.
John described Maggie as a robust, energetic lady, a community icon with a heart for God. He explained that with limited means and menial job skills, Maggie was blessed to be able to purchase two Jeeps so missionaries could reach isolated villages with the Good News of Jesus. "She did amazing things," he said, "because God provided both the will and the way for her to do them."
"At the end of her earthly life," he explained, "Maggie bequeathed her new house to WBUMC to be used as a parsonage." It currently supplies monthly rental income.
"As her legs failed her," John continued, "Maggie lost the ability to worship in church because she couldn't manage the steep front stairs into the sanctuary. Instead of being immobilized by sadness, Maggie reached out to others beyond her lifetime by including in her Will the funds for ground-level doors at the east end of the sanctuary. So, for all those Sundays since Maggie's time, physically handicapped people have routine access to worship at WBUMC because, 'if ever Maggie loved Him, it is still now.'"
The haunting solo played again and the lady representing Maggie walked over to the brass plaque bearing Maggie's name to continue haltingly through the wide double doors and out of the sanctuary.
"Yes," John repeated, "if these walls could talk, they would say a lot about God's love and direction for the people here." Pointing to a youngster in the congregation, John asked, "Fifty years from now, on WBUMC's 200th Anniversary, what will he say about us when he considers what we did with our time here?" If these walls could talk.....
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