Old Bethel service goes back in time

Posted: December 20, 2013

The Winchester Star

Millwood — A simple candlelight ceremony will take on special meaning Sunday night for a few hundred visitors to Old Bethel Church in Clarke County.

The church’s annual Lessons and Carols Candlelight service is a return to a simpler time, when music and a message with a heart were all the special effects anyone needed, said Ian Williams, president of The Bethel Memorial Inc., which maintains the church.

The service that begins at 5 p.m. Sunday at the mid-19th century church in Millwood is short but poignant, he said. It is free and open to the public.

“It comes across as a service that would have been conducted in 1850,” he said. “It is almost like they would have done then with the same sort of lighting, the same pews, and the same building and none of the modern amenities that churches have today.”

New this year, the service will be followed by an 1850s-themed reception at Long Branch Plantation in Millwood, which has been decorated for the holidays, said Cassie Ward, director of public programs at the historic site. The reception is free and open to the public.

“Old Bethel is about a mile from Long Branch. We wanted to welcome everybody in the community to come here after the service so they could continue the celebration of the holidays,” she said.

The church service will last about 30 minutes and include traditional carols, scripture readings and a performance by the Sixth Dimension Hand Bell Choir, Williams said.

The ceremony is kept short out of necessity since the building lacks electricity, heat and running water, he said. Despite the coldness of the building in winter, “there is a tremendous amount of spiritual warmth in that assembly. If you would feel anything, it would be a feeling of warmth and comfort from the experience.”

The Rev. Karin MacPhail from the Episcopal Cunningham Chapel Parish in Millwood will lead the interdenominational service, and Ron Hottle will play the organ for the 10th year.

Hottle, of Clear Brook, said he enjoys playing the pump organ in the old church, which he needs “strong legs and a good heart” to operate. He loves accompanying participants through songs, such as “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World.”

“When they sing ‘Silent Night,’ they are lighting the candles. When the song is over, the entire church is lit with candles. It is a beautiful, well-lit candlelit service,” he said.

About 200 people usually participate in the carols service, one of two times a year the church is open to the public, Williams said. An annual meeting is held there each August.

People are encouraged to bring flashlights if they need more light to read or to get to their car after the service, he said. They should also dress warmly as it often is colder in the church than outside.

Williams said he was pleased with Long Branch’s “neighborly” offer to open its doors for fellowship, which usually isn’t possible at the December meeting because of the cold.

The 1850s Christmas night will run from 5:45 to 8 p.m. at the house, 830 Long Branch Lane, Ward said.

The evening will feature old time string band music from the group Tuckered and Plum. The house will be decorated in greenery, fruit, and other simple decorations in keeping with the 1850s theme.

Boyd’s Nest Restaurant in Berryville will cater the event using recipes from an 1847 cookbook by Miss Leslie, “The Ladies Receipt Book; A Useful Companion for Large or Small Families.”

The recipes from a Christmas dinner have been used to create a variety of appetizers that will still allow people to “get a taste of the 1850s and what would have been served,” Ward said.

There will also be hot drinks so people can warm up and the new exhibits will be open so people can tour the house, she said. “Old Bethel doesn’t have heat, so it will be a perfect place for people to come and warm up after the service.”

For more information, call 540-667-1266 or email iwilliams@harrison-johnston.com.

Directions

Bethel can be reached from Winchester by traveling east on U.S. 50 to Kennel Road (Route 625), opposite Mountain View Motel. Turn right, then make another right onto Swift Shoals Road (Route 622), before making an almost immediate left on Bethel Lane. The church is on the left at the top of the hill.

— Contact Laura McFarland at lmcfarland@winchesterstar.com