Evan & Elizabeth Davis
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Horeb, Jackson County
n. a., 'Horeb, Jackson County, Ohio. By a Fostered Son', The Cambrian, Vol. V, No. 2 (Feb 1885), pp. 45-51.
In the following sketch I purpose to mention a few church customs, in which the Welsh people differ from English-speaking Americans. As far as I know, the people of Horeb still follow the customs that I shall describe in this paper. This sketch is intended, not so much for those who live in that vicinity, or for Welshmen elsewhere, that are familiar with the same, as for readers who are strangers to these customs. The time which I have in mind as I write, was that preceding the year 1870.
Horeb is one of the several churches in the Welsh settlement knows as "Jackson and Gallia," that belongs to the Calvinistic Methodist denomination. It is situated in Jefferson Township, Jackson county, a little east and south of the center of the township. The congregation consisted chiefly of farmers, who lived all around to the distance of four miles to the west and north, and about two miles to the south and east. A large part of the people, however, were employed in Jefferson Furnace as laborers and operatives.
THE CHURCH PREMISES
Consisted of about two acres of ground, a part of which was set apart for burying ground, a part of the church buildings and a third part for "hitching" grounds.
Of course, there must be a church edifice, but equally important was the "Ty Bach." In the rural neighborhood of that Welsh settlement, a meeting-house without the "Ty Bach." was as a soul without a body. In the meeting-house the minister served the souls and the intellects of the people with religious and mental food. In the "Ty Bach," the people fed the body of the minister with physical food.
It is not an easy matter to reckon the influence of the "Ty Bach" upon the minister, and upon the religious sentiment of the neighborhood. The ordeal to which a "strange brother" was subjected in the "Ty Bach," was trying indeed. You remember the Ephraimites who couldn't say "Shiboleth" like the other soldiers. So at Horeb, it was a matter of little importance, if in his sermon the brother made his doctrinal sibilant a little too hissing. But when he met the elders and the learned pates in the "Ty bach," his fate was pitiable, almost as if his "Shiboleth!" was not properly enunciated, or his lance not sufficiently long, or his sword keen to defend himself. Then the kindly humour and the sarcastic wit of the post-prandial conferences extended their influences over the young and the old of the congregation. The "Ty Bach" was an Athenian agora and arcopagus. The grave question of the "society" were discussed here. Philosophy and "doctrines" were discussed here. The gossip of the neighborhood was not neglected here. Here came the people to "hear and learn something new."
The church edifice was a frame building. There was nothing striking about its exterior, except that its windows were an unusually great distance from the ground. There were two entrances, both on the east side of the house. The men entered by the south door, and occupied the pews on that side of the house. The women entered by the north door, and occupied the pews on that side. The pulpit was between the doors, and the pews were arranged semi-circulatory, and in amphitheatrical style, leaving a pit of some extent in the middle of the room. The stove was in the pit, also some loose forms which were placed there for the convenience of those who desired to sit in the pit, or who, for any reason, were unable to find places in the pews. At first, the pulpit was a truncated octagonal prism, set on end and nailed to the wall. It was entered by a narrow winding stairway, and it was just large enough to hold three persons with comfort. It was so high, that the head of the minister, as he stood up, was almost as high as the middle of the wall.
This altitude was unpleasant to many ministers. Rev. Robert Williams would never preach from the pulpit, owing to the great distance that he would be compelled to be above the heads of the people in the pit. He preached from the altar. The altar was an enclosure surrounding the pulpit as far as the wall. Its floor was about a foot higher than the floor of the pit. In this enclosure the deacons sat, or rather some of the deacons, for I believe that the old patriarch, Thomas Davis (Garreglwyd), never sat in it. Between this enclosure and either door, and attached to it, was a pew in which sat old people whose hearing had become defective.
About twenty-five years ago, the pulpit, the altar and the contiguous pews were removed, and the pulpit replaced by a more modern style of pulpit, and the altar was replaced by a platform, an arrangement which yet remains.
Around the room from door to door, and back of the pulpit, at a height which a man of medium stature could conveniently reach, was a row of hat hooks. It was one of the proud moments of my life when I could, for the first time, place my hat on these nails without stepping on the seat of the pew, and I have seen pride in the same attainment gleam in the eye of many another lad.
As the congregation sat facing the doors either directly or obliquely, the late comer was obliged to make his way through a kind of chevaux de fries of gazes. To modest people this was a severe ordeal. But, on the other hand, if afforded vain and giddy people an excellent opportunity of showing their good clothes or pretty faces. I am glad to add, however, that tardiness in coming to the service was not a common thing at that church. Indeed, beginning the "odfa" (service) to the second was one of the points in the "letter of the law and testimony" which the good people of the congregation punctiliously observed. Sometimes the minister and the deacons would loiter before service in the "Ty Bach." Whenever this occurred, the zeal of punctuality would so consume the waiting congregation that their indignation often would become a sort of holy anger. They never waited long. There were always some present who deemed themselves almost divinely appointed to watch for shortcomings in the elders, and who regarded it at least a duty, if they did not feel that it was a great pleasure, to call the attention of ministers and elders to their shortcomings; and what was more unpardonable than to appoint a service for ten, and not begin until five minutes after. So, to the "Ty Bach" they would go, and the minister and the elders immediately obey their summons, and meekly receive their chiding.
Some of the ministers had a great distance to come from their homes (some about eight miles) before the service. Often they would fail to reach the church in time. I have seldom seen anything as witty as a retort which one of these ministers made when he was censured by one of the elders for his tardiness. The minister was tardy oftener than he was on time, and the people felt that he was tardy oftener than necessary. The elder, while he was not fastidious about punctuality, yet was somewhat annoyed because his brother was usually behind time, and was, on this occasion, later than usual. The elder, however, was vulnerable in one point. He would often sleep during the sermons; and candor compels me to say that he invariable slept when his brother preached. The conversation between them at the "Ty Bach" was as follows:
Elder - "I hope, my brother, that you will be on time the morning of the resurrection."
Minister - "Well, I may be a little late getting there, but I think that I shall stay awake after I do get there."
THE "TY BACH"
Before describing this church appendage, it is necessary to understand the relation which the Horeb church sustained to the other Calvinist churches in the settlement. At that time there were in Jackson and Gallia twelve congregations of Calvinistic Methodists. Their pulpits were filled every Sabbath by one of six ministers, and unordained preachers, who lived in the settlement. Each one of these would preach twice every Sunday, to one congregation in the morning, and in the afternoon to another congregation, which was sufficiently near to be reached after the morning service. And as the digestive apparatus of man or beast has never been known to rest on Sunday, or to keep the Sabbath so holy as not to require food, it was necessary to make some arrangements to meet the gastronomic demands of the "good man" and his horse. As far as the "good man" was concerned, the "Ty Bach" met these demands most sumptuously. The families of the congregation took turns in preparing the meeting-house for service, and in preparing food for the minister, and provender for his horse. The house built for the comfort of the minister consisted of a kitchen, dining room and sitting room. And this was the "Ty Bach." The English for this name is "Little house." Some people called it "Ty'r Capel" (the church's house).
At Horeb the Sabbath school was held after dinner. Nearly all the people, old and young, great and small, in that Welsh neighborhood attended Sunday school. They would attend services at ten o'clock, eat a lunch, and remain for the Sabbath school in the afternoon.
During the intermission between the preaching service and the Sunday school hour, the most important men would gather to the "Ty Bach" and discuss matters of various kinds, as stated above.
The old ladies, who had any claim of friendship on the lady who was preparing the food of the minister, would go to the dining room for "llymed o de" (cup of tea), and to hear and tell something new, no doubt. Thus the "Ty'r Capel;" was an agora and arcopagus.
The culinary features of this house were of such importance that I feel that I must not pass by them without making special mention of them; for I must confess that the savors of this department made far deeper impressions on my gustatory and olfactory nerves in my youth, than the food served from the pulpit made on my memory. Since then I have sat at sumptuous banquets, at tables loaded with viands and delicacies, richly served, yet as I write these lines, my salivary glands are excited to activity as I think of the tender chicken, the boiled ham, the rice puddings, the pies, the cakes, and the fragrant tea - rare delicacies to a rustic lad - which my mother prepared for the minister. The elders of the church were always invited to eat with the minister. While they "blessed" and ate, we children were required to remain in the sitting room to await our turn at the table. I well remember how thankful I felt that the good brethren could bless all the food, but not eat it all.
THE CLASS MEETING
I must be content by describing but one more feature of the Horeb church. The people of the neighborhood called it the "Seiat," which is a corrupt contraction of the word "society." The society met once a week. Three weeks it met Friday forenoons at 10 o'clock. The fourth week, the week that was followed by the Communion Sundahy, it met on Saturday afternoon. On this occasion the minister who was to administer the sacrament the next day, met with the society. The other meetings of the society were led by the elders.
No one was admitted into these meetings except members and their children. There were, two classes of members - those who had been received into full communion, and those who were not permitted to partake of the sacrament. The children were, by the discipline of the church, of the second class, and were promoted to full membership upon application, and an examination of their proficiency in "doctrine," and of their knowledge of the conditions enjoined upon those who would partake of the Lord's Supper. Very little was questioned about their religious feeling and experience.
I do not know to what extent other Welsh communities in the United States follow the customs that I have described. I know that this custom, which I am about to mention, is not common among churches of other nations in this country, and it is for the descendants of the Welsh in this country, who are more familiar with the custom of Anglo-Americans than of the Welsh, that I make mention of this custom of the Horeb church.
It was a rule to "discipline" members, if they should be absent from three successive meetings, unless they had some valid excuse. Thus, summer and winter, seed-time and harvest, rain and sunshine, people would go to the meeting. Some never failed to be present if they were in health. It mattered, not if the wheat was ripe, or it was a fine day to cure grass, or seed to be sown, they went to the Friday morning meeting. They took their children also, for a part of the session was devoted to the children. After the meeting had been opened (which was done by singing a stanza, reading a chapter, and prayer, the children were called, and they gathered at the pulpit platform to repeat a verse. This verse was understood to be the text which the preacher had used the preceding Sunday. The older children would repeat this in concert, and then an opportunity was given the small children to repeat their verse. Very small children would repeat, one at a time, short verses. Such as "Jesus wept", "Remember Lot's wife," &c. I recall an incident connected with the exercise that was almost laughable. Two small boys, brothers, came to the house, just as the larger children had finished repeating the regular verse. The younger was bold, self-reliant, and of ready speech; the older was shyer, and rather relied on his brother, without any invitation, or waiting to see if it was the proper time, the younger walked up to Joshua Evans, one of the elders, and said; "I laid me down and slept and rose up again, for the Lord sustained me". When he finished his brother walked up to Mr. Evans, and corroborated the statement by saying "He laid him down and slept, and he rose up again; for the Lord sustained him."
The verses having been said, the most prominent men of the society were called upon either to ask the children questions, or to give them advice. The questions related to the history to which the verse referred, or to what the preacher had said in his sermon. This was to me a very interesting exercise, both when I was a child and after I grew to manhood. I ought to say, however, that when I was a boy, I was interested by the questions more than I was profited by the advice, for many of those who advised us seemed, to my boyish insight, to be more eloquent than earnest.
But many of the sayings of the truly sincere brothers, though expressed in few words, and uanornated speech have remained in my memory to his day.
When the children had taken their seats, the elder gave an opportunity to any one who desired, to say a word regarding his religious experience. It seldom occurred that any one seized this opportunity; when I have described the order of that meeting a little further, it will be seen that there were good reasons why but few would venture to accept this invitation. Elder Joshua Evans had a little red book, in which was recorded in alphabetical order, the names of all who were members in full connection, and of the young people above a certain age, who were not communicants. At each meeting "Joshua" would call on two members, a brother and a sister, to come forward to be questioned about their religious experience. Almost without exception, the first question was "What do you think of yourself as a Christian?" And the equally general answer was: "I am far back of what I ought to be." Then came the questions, what ought he to be, and why was he not what he ought to be, and what were the efforts made to be what he ought to be.
Then the brother or sister was tested in "Doctrine," and knowledge of the fundamental principles of religion. A question that was pressed more than any other was, "Do you feel that you are a sinner," and another pressed but little less was, "Do you have family prayers?" The searching and, I might say, piercing look of the elders, as they asked these two questions, made prevarication or evasion impossible. And the plainness and the fearlessness with which they questioned one, made his "experience telling" a trying ordeal, if he were not a truthful man, and if he made no effort to acquire the "Christian knowledge."
Occasionally, the meeting, or a part of it, would be devoted to talking with some young person, who was old enough to be received to full membership, but had not applied. (I ought to say that from thirty to forty minutes were consumed in talking with each person that was called forward.)
In attending meetings among English denomination, and in listening to brethren and sisters relating their experience, that, on the evidence, I was constrained to believe, was not as candid as desired, I frequently felt that a little of the close questioning, which I witnessed at Horeb would have had a very salutary effect on their religious health. Strange to say, however, the people of Horeb became rather indifferent by being accustomed to them.
Yet it was evident that the remembrance that the "society" must be faced, and the "experience" must be related, had it restraining influence on old and young. Could the same public sentiment be infused in English communities. I am of the opinion that it would be a great help to individuals, who are professors of religion, toward living a religious life. Want of space forbids me to write of the monthly prayer meeting, and of the Sabbath-school, and especially of the semi-annual jubilees held for the sake of the Sunday-school, "Pwngc" Sunday, when the Sabbath-school would recite, by classes, some chapter, or some verses bearing on some subject; and be questioned by one of the ministers. I trust that I shall be able, in another paper, before long, to describe these, as well as to give data with reference to the organization of the church.