For years, I had wanted to go back to revisit a single happy scene from my childhood. My father had driven us children from our Baltimore home to attend a homecoming event at Batesville Methodist Church, the rural church of his childhood in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Last year, on our way home from attending plays at the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, my bride and I finally satisfied that urge.
The building occupied by Batesville church today is a modest brick structure on the north side of Plank Road, an inviting two-lane byway that takes off of VA 250 south of I-64 a few miles west of Charlottesville and angles about 5 miles southeast to connect with US 29. This is where my father, his two brothers and two sisters faithfully attended Sunday School and church in their childhood and youth about a century ago. Batesville church started in 1830 and was located nearby on the corner of farm land owned by the Shepherds, cousins of my father’s family. Dad’s father, for whom I was named, was a church leader, and Dad’s younger brother, Jack, became a Methodist minister. I had no idea what a homecoming at a church was like, but that childhood trip showed me that it included delicious home-cooked food served “on the grounds” following the worship service. I still remember that fried chicken.
Rev. Liz Buxton, the current pastor, met us at the door as we arrived on our visit last year on a sunny Sunday morning and gently warned us not to expect too much. When the service started, our congregation totaled six, not including Rev. Buxton and a gentleman who showed up to play hymns on the organ. Everyone knew everyone else, and they all welcomed us warmly. A couple of these women rose to read the scripture and lead other parts of the service and gave the impression that they do this every Sunday. I could the presence of my father and his family looking over my shoulder as we recited the Apostles’ Creed. Despite our small number, we all sang the familiar hymns lustily. It was a spiritually nourishing experience for me, over too soon.
There’s an old hymn that summarizes it well: There’s a sweet, sweet spirit in this place,
and I know that it’s the spirit of the Lord; there are sweet expressions on each face,
and I know they feel the presence of the Lord.
Today’s word: amount or number? Use number for things you can count, such as people, trees and puppies. Use amount for things you can’t count, such as water, faith and happiness.
[Warm welcome to all readers, including new ones. You honor me. I hope my humble writings might occasionally entertain or inspire you. Feel free to comment. Loving congratulations to the Rev. Kathryn Henderson, dear friend, who has been ordained as a minister in the United Church of Christ.]