Sunday, September 16, 2018

A 'Soft Sunday Hush, the Distant Humming of Bees, the Sleepy Twitter of Birds' — Sunday Mornings at Church, 1892

Sarah Eva Howe recalls the beauty of the recently renovated Carrollton Methodist Episcopal Church South (1891-1892), where her parents, uncles, aunts, and grandparents contributed much time and considerable resources over the years. Her description of a typical Sunday service includes words and rituals still in use today at Methodist churches today.

The church was all done over around this time ... This is as good a place as any to tell about how beautiful it looked. The organ, that first year we were there ... was in the back part of the church up against the window, where the entry is now. There
was a door on each side, and through those doors decorously passed the members, divided into two groups, those who went up to the left side and those who went up the right side. That is where that cleavage started, which continued with us children even when both doors emptied into the same entry. Still, like the lemmings in Norway, we turned to the two staircases, just the same, tho we couldn’t go thru the wall, where the doors had been bricked up.

If the doors as they are now are typical ... the other way was also typical of the intense
One of the windows installed in 1891-1892
sectarianism of the time, for “never the twain should meet.” Many of the members upstairs had not been on the other side of the auditorium from theirs for many a day. The Howes always sat on the side next to our house, the east, and were rather peeved when this window1 was placed on the west side (tho they said nothing, but I used to sit and look at it and wonder about it). 

There is a beautiful window in the tower that no one ever sees now; it is never lighted from the inside at night, and of course no one looks at it from inside by day. In those days, tho, the tower door was open more often than not, so we could see it. I have stood by the bell rope (which went on downstairs when Frank Whitehead, the colored sexton — you remember him — rang the bell at 8:30, at 9:00, at 10:30, at 10:45 and a few daps at 10:55 and so on for all services on Sunday. ... The [wall]paper was brown (so as not to show dirt I imagine) and it worried me because there was a false alcove on the flat wall behind the pulpit; that is, there was the shaded appearance of one in the pattern of the plain paper. I have traced that alcove hundreds of times with my eyes, wishing that just once I could step inside it. I have now, for the organ and the rooms behind it have been put there, so that when I go in, I have a sort of “Back of the North Wind” feeling.

Before the organ was moved up there, the church was very square and flat, with rows of seats on each side making the “Amen Corner” where older people, slightly deaf or extra devout, would sit. When the organ was put there after the revolutionary door closing at the rear, all that was changed was that instead of two amen corners, there was just one — the choir sat facing the preacher sideways, on a slightly raised platform, on three or four benches set one behind the other. (No one ever sat on the front one unless there was a revival and an extra big choir.) 
Carrollton Methodist Episcopal Church circa 1895

You don’t remember the organ, which is now in the Ghent church, but it was a Pilcher organ and had a lovely tone when Mama played it! Mr. Pilcher supervised its “moving up,” and Mama became acquainted with him, as she was just taking over the organ then. (I am pretty sure now this was in 1891.) He showed Mama a little about the pedals, which so thrilled her; she was always trying them out after that — but always afraid she would step on the wrong one!

The floor was bare, but there was a strip of Brussels carpet up each aisle. One pew, I forget whose, had a strip of red carpet under it and a cushion on it; the lady there had said she was cold! We regarded this as the height of effeminacy, tho we didn’t consciously call it that. As to kneeling benches, of course, we had none; all except the sick, the hardened, strangers, or the fashionable (or perhaps infirm or old) knelt facing the pew. There was carpet on the double platform (one smaller, on a larger one) in which the pulpit stood, surrounded by the altar rail, at which we knelt for communion, and for prayers at different meetings. Tho there was no outward altar, I know that in the hearts of people like my father and many others there was surely an invisible one, before which they knelt at this rail. ...

However, the drabness of the church was transformed and glorified by the sunlight pouring thru the lovely windows, eight of them, and three at the back of the church. I’m inclined to think those were there always, tho the other windows were frosted white glass when we came. ...

I can close my eyes now and go back to that summer Sunday morning of 1892, with the lovely windows opened to let in the soft air (also bees and an occasional bird) and the scents from the flowers (at our house and yard) and the grass of the old, sweet churchyard, and the wild roses. There was a soft Sunday hush over everything, just the distant humming of bees (there was probably always a swarm in the tower, along with the pigeon’s nests) and the sleepy twitter of birds, then the soft drone of the preacher’s voice, or the organ music in the “voluntary,” “offertory” or “processional.” We had probably sung “Welcome, Delightful Morn” and meant it with our whole hearts. 

Then the “opening hymn” standing and the second hymn sitting (or the other way about, perhaps), then the prayer (ten minutes at least, and were those who came in and had to be seated after the prayer looked on with critical eyes!). Then the anthem, the lesson read by the preacher, the announcements, sometimes made by Uncle Will,2 a second hymn (sitting), the collection, while Mama played an “offertory,” then the sermon. The Gloria Patri was only sung on special occasions, generally to take the place of the Doxology which otherwise closed the service (plus the benediction). However, a good many ministers called for a final hymn, in which they “opened the doors of the church,” sometimes they sang one verse after another of this if it looked like more were coming, and some ministers had another prayer after the sermon, which could last another ten minutes. 

We never recited the Apostle’s Creed — it was just something on the back of the Sunday school magazines and in the back of the songbooks; it was just as well, for if anyone had mentioned The Holy Catholic Church3 at that time in our pews, half the congregation would have wailed in horror.

The “lesson” was generally quite lengthy, for they read the old and new testament lessons both, often from Deuteronomy and Romans, or Leviticus and Hebrews, and therefore hard for an eight-year-old to follow, tho I made a polite attempt, generally, but fell over against Mama’s shoulder midway.

Afterwards, we met ... in the back of the church, and then went home to such a good tho easily prepared dinner — sometimes taking company, or perhaps a whole family would eat at a brother’s or sister’s house and “spend the day,” or if the Presiding Elder was there, all would vie in inviting him home. He was “Brother” Vaughn for four years. (They told me afterwards to call him “Dr.” It was the first time I had known you could call a preacher that!) We almost always had a beef roast for dinner. Papa was felt to be extravagant in paying 40 cents for his, but we used it in “sliced cold roast beef” for three meals at least afterwards. ... He could slice it right across in such thin, lovely slices — he was an artistic carver. 


1Possibly the new stained glass window contributed by brothers William Ficklin Howe, Joseph Brown Howe, and Robert James Howe. William was married to Louisiana "Lou" Winslow, sister of William Beverly Winslow, who with his brother George Bohrum Winslow was instrumental in organizing the purchase and installation of new windows for the church in 1891-1892. (Source: Our Church: A History of the Carrollton United Methodist Church by Hallie Masterson)
2William Ficklin Howe, brother of Sarah's father
3In the Apostle's Creed,"catholic" is not capitalized; it means "universal."

Images courtesy Carrollton United Methodist Church, Carrollton, Kentucky.

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