Mount Carmel Methodist Church
Near Berry’s Ferry (Clarke County), Virginia
Built (circa) 1760
Mt. Carmel Church Spans the Generations
Mt. Carmel Church has weathered bad times just like its exterior has outlasted the ravages of storms over the ages. Its congregation has dwindled over the years but something always brings the people back. A recent visit to services was like a breath of fresh air in a society where the tendency is toward a remote God, who exists out there somewhere and has little “hands on” operation of day to day affairs.
Not at Mt. Carmel. The service is a mixture between worshipers and the presider. If the minister says something that needs additions and corrections, she is so told on the spot. When it comes time for remembering those who need prayers, the call goes out to those present to report on the progress of those on the list. Those who are now well, are removed; others are added. Some are in need of financial help and that brings an outpouring of the people who open their coffers to those in need. While the collection might be considered sparse in larger communities, it was reminiscent of the widow’s mite a few Sundays ago, when the congregation gave all of the past week’s collection to help one family.
Visitors are greeted as long lost brothers and sisters. Some are there, remembering the days when they learned about God in a simple but lasting way, as they grew up in the mountains. Others are looking for a place to worship that fits their needs. All are welcomed and taken in to become one with those who are there weekly. They come from the mountains and from the surrounding area and together help to keep Mt. Carmel Church a living, breathing place to worship their God.
There are children, while few in number, who are learning to know God. Over their time there, they will undergo a maturing process that will last them a lifetime. Some will stay in the mountains; others will leave to find their life in far away places. One thing is sure, they will not regret their times at Mt. Carmel.
What is the thread that brings them all together. Is it the edifice? Hardly, for one doesn’t have to search hard to find a place of worship more stately than Mt. Carmel. Is it the people? Maybe, but there are fine people everywhere that will welcome the stranger. Is it the preaching? Certainly, it’s a part of it as the message is a simple but sincere one that appeals to those who face life, sometimes at its cruelest.
But I think that the thing that brings it all together is the music. While they are operating at the moment without an organist, the congregation sings acappella the hymns that have been there over the ages. As patriotic songs stir the heart to rally around the flag, so does the music bring one closer to God. For one who has been away for many, many years, the hymns take you back in time. “Blessed Assurance”, “I Come to the Garden Alone”, and “Beautiful Words, Wonderful Words” are hymns that were sung when I was growing up and are being sung today and I might guess that they were sung for many generations before and will be by generations to come.
I somehow imagine a scene in Heaven where St. Peter comes into our Lord and says it’s time to listen to the beautiful music being played down in the Basilica, and his reply, “In a moment, I’m talking to my people down at Mt. Carmel.”
If you happen by the church around 10:00 AM on Sunday morning, near the intersection of Route 50 and 606, roll down the windows. The sound might just make you turn that steering wheel into a life simpler and gentler than the one you know.
Mark Royston 9/15/04