By Thomas B. Fowler
Schuyler Baptist Church celebrated 100 years at its homecoming on June 5; and while it may not be as prominent as larger churches elsewhere, it is a significant mile marker in the mountains of Virginia.
At its 100th anniversary celebration, church members wore old-fashioned clothes and a new cookbook entitled “A Taste of Heaven” and commemorative plates were sold to mark the occasion. The family of Jimmy Fortune, one of the Statler Brothers, was on hand to offer special music. There were guest speakers ranging from a representative from Habitat for Humanity to former speaker of the house, Vance Wilkins-a long-time friend of the Schuyler community.
Part of the celebration was marked by the completion of the newly-restored sanctuary, refinished from floor to beamed ceiling. The singing never sounded more full and wonderful than that homecoming Sunday. About $20,000 of volunteer time was donated, including carpet and materials.
With a standing-room only crowd, and a nearby field filled with three rows of vehicles, the church began a new century of celebrating its faith and service. It was reminded by the speakers of its volunteerism and assistance with projects like Habitat. A traditional dinner-on-the- grounds was enjoyed around the new pavilion.
One of the more famous quotes in the history of the church goes back to the organization of the congregation and a plan to construct the church building. L. Peyton Little, pastor from 1904-1907, said: “The Schuyler saints are engaged in pushing very vigorously a church building that will be a credit to the town and surrounding country, although they are aiming to build just as plain a building as will suit their needs.” That building served its purpose very well, including being the foundation for Earl Hamner Jr.'s writing about Baptists in Virginia. Many will recall his famous words about Christmastime at the Schuyler Baptist home and church:
“All year we kept an eye open for the Christmas tree. We had found this one in July while picking blackberries up on Witts Hill. A week before Christmas we brought it inside and set it up in a corner of the living room. It was as if we had captured some wild thing in the woods and tamed it with decorations.
“Ideally snow would begin during the day. If the flakes were small my grandfather would predict it would continue for days. Sometimes it would stop at dusk and we would look out on a frozen cathedral of trees with crystal icicles clinging to the branches.
“On Christmas Eve, bundled against the cold, we crunched our way down the snow-covered path to the Baptist church. The white clapboard building beckoned with the warmth of a pot-bellied stove and the sounds of voices celebrating the birth of Jesus.
“When the service was over Santa Claus arrived. From a burlap sack he distributed a single orange to each of the children. We walked home through a frozen landscape, the sounds of our footsteps muted in the snow, the melodies of the old-time carols still resounding in our ears. The crystals of snow sifted down through the crusted overhead branches. In our hearts the spirit of Christmas had awakened. We did not feel the cold. We held oranges in our hands.”
We are still those children, holding oranges in our hands, grateful to the saints of the past.
Thomas B. Fowler is pastor of Schuyler Baptist Church in Schuyler.