As much as I love contemporary Christian music both in church and on the radio, I cherish the old hymns. I miss hearing them regularly. One of dozens that resonate is The Church in the Wildwood. Even though my childhood church was not brown, it was in the vale, nestled along the east fork of the Whitewater River between steep hills to both the east and west of town. From the cemetery on the grounds, you look to the west and see a good stand of wildwood.
I have more memories than I can express of that little Brownsville United Methodist Church—from the frothy pastel dresses and white bonnets with elastic chin straps on Easter Sundays to Vacation Bible Schools on summer days with my mother serving Kool-Aid and cookies, to Sunday school classes and attending my mother’s Thursday meetings of the Women’s Society of Christian Service (WSCS), later United Methodist Women (UMW).
I loved tagging along for the times the ladies prepared and served delicious meals to community groups and I knew instinctively, a lesson I still know today, that the women in the kitchen were having even more fun than those being served. I always enjoyed listening to these women talk and laugh. They had names like Isabel, Kathryn and Katherine, Mildred, several Marthas, Hattie, Cleo, Ruby, Rhetta, Gertrude, and Phoebe.
It was in that church basement that we had Trick or Treat for UNICEF Halloween parties, where I voted for the first time in 1976, where I donned a white gown for my own wedding and where Brian and I had one of those classic 1970s punch-and-cake-in-the-basement wedding receptions after getting hitched upstairs in the sanctuary.
The ladies of the church, bless their souls, prepared funeral meals there when my parents passed. Once I stopped in to walk around the cemetery where my folks, brother, sister-in-law, a great-niece, grandparents, great-grandparents and many others in my line I’m sure, are buried. While there, along came Geneva Floyd, who in her 90s is frozen in time--still so involved in the church and serving with her dear heart for Christ and the people of Brownsville. I love her. I love them all.
A year ago, in one of those joys-of-life moments that is over far too quickly, I was the luncheon speaker for a Methodist pitch-in meal there following a Sunday-morning service. I reflected on some of these things and talked about my novel. The book has a few themes, and chief among them, is how God is with us through all seasons of life. It’s also a book about loving one’s roots and returning to them.
I so appreciate that I was made so welcome back home and there’s no better definition of back home than that little Brownsville United Methodist Church in the vale. How delighted I was that the church’s current vibrant pastor, Shelley Dodson, invited me. If you are looking for a friendly little church in Union County, I know the folks in Brownsville would be happy to see you any Sunday morning. Shelley is a hoot and keeps things there lively.
Yesterday in the mail came a surprise: church member and friend Lois Frasur sent along a new Brownsville United Methodist Church directory. It made my day! It even has photos of the members and there are many familiar, beautiful names from my past and the church’s present such as Kaufman, Buell, Scott, Snyder. A special treat came when I saw photos included from my visit last year. I made the directory!
It will go next to the 1950 cookbook that has a photo of my grandmother, Hazel Jobe inside, who was one-time and long-time church pianist, and the 1985 UMC church cookbook that is full of local Union County recipes, including my mother’s.
The church’s roots reach to 1818. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that some branch or another in my own history dates back that far there, as well. I wouldn’t mind buying cemetery plots there to one day join my ancestors. Brian, however, isn’t ready to commit. He wants to be cremated and spread on his childhood ball diamond and park. I understand that.
If you had a lovely childhood, there is for many of us an innate desire to finish where we started, no matter where we might wander and love in between.
I learned about what matters in life in that little church in the wildwood: Love God. Know His Son Jesus Christ. Love people. My mother was a quiet woman but she taught me those things as much by her own example as with words. And today, the older I get, I find myself wanting to live those principles even more passionately. I think of Proverbs 22:6 (KJV): Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
That new directory inspired a call to member Pat Buell. When I reached her this morning, she was preparing for another edition of VBS. Her son Robin is my age and I just about promise you that half a century ago, she was preparing VBS lessons and activities for us! Pat gave me permission to reprint her late mother Katherine Sherwood's date-nut cookie recipe in my next book. Pat said "that recipe has been all over the world" as her mother sent its cookies to servicemen to enjoy. She told me that her mother would be happy that I am reprinting it. (I wanted to jump for joy).
Meanwhile, just for fun, here's my mother's recipe for Crunch Top Potatoes from the 1985 Brownsville United Methodist Church Cookbook.
Crunch Top Potatoes
6 tsp. butter or margarine
3 or 4 lg. baking potatoes, pared, cut in ½-inch crosswise slices
1 cup shredded sharp cheese
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. paprika
¾ cup crushed cornflakes
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Melt butter in 9x13-inch pan. Add single layer of potatoes to pan, turn once in butter or margarine. Mix remaining ingredients and sprinkle over potatoes. Bake half hour or until done and top is crisp. Serve hot.
–Martha Jobe, my mama
Note: The Church in the Wildwood was written in 1857 by Dr. William S. Pitts, apparently inspired by a stop in Bradford, Iowa.