Shakespeare & Company A Body of Water June-July 2024

THROUGH THE WOODS: Rural family worship


THE CHURCH WAS ALWAYS IMPORTANT to my family and most of our rural farming community as I grew up in the 1950s. It was the main social event of the week. Before and after the services neighbors and relatives caught up on things and might learn if someone was ill or in need. I was baptized in the Harlemville, NY Methodist Church that stood where the Hawthorne Valley School parking lot is located. The church was taken down in the 1950s and my mother’s brother, my Uncle Harold Wambach, made rigging to lower the Miele Bell from the steeple and moved it to the North Hillsdale Methodist Church. He and his wife, Mary, were members of that church. I remember hearing him interviewed on the radio which was an exciting event. The Harlemville congregation was combined with the Philmont Methodist Church. My father’s family worshiped in Harlemville, and several generations of Kerns are buried in the Harlemville Cemetery located just east on County Route 21C.

Our farm was located about a mile north. People took Saturday night baths, dressed up on Sundays, and drove their horse-drawn wagons surreys, or sleighs to church. We didn’t go by horse, but I remember the old road to Harlemville being drivable by car or truck from our farm. The Emanuel Lutheran Church was located a few miles east at the intersection of County Route 21C and Pheasant Lane. It closed a few years ago. Its cemetery is located at the intersection of Ten Broeck and Harlemville roads. This was my maternal grandparent’s church, Frank (Gramp) and Helen (Gram) Wambach. Gram was a Methodist and attended her husband’s church. Their service was in the afternoon when the minister of the affiliated Hudson Lutheran Church came out and conducted services. I went to our church in the morning and went with my grandparents in the afternoon. Their service was usually in German and was very different.

Methodists were warm and welcoming. The Lutheran church was stern and stricter. Women sat on one side of the church and men on the other. Gram and I didn’t understand it and just sat quietly behind the other women. Since we were not confirmed Lutherans, we could not take communion with the others. I think Gram liked me there for moral support. Her handbag was always at the ready with a handkerchief, throat lozenges, money, and Band-Aids.

Winter worship could be even more difficult. Charles Czzir, Sr. of Harlemville started the wood stove to heat the church before the service. The temperature could vary from freezing to roasting so we wore lots of warm clothes to be prepared. It was fascinating to watch the long stove pipe which leaked smoke that you could see and smell. The pews were hard oak which kept you awake. When we got home Gram would laugh because the men took turns pulling the rope to ring the bell and sometimes, they would toll it, which was supposed to be for funerals. It should have rung ding, dong; ding, dong. Not bong, bong, bong.

I always learned a lot and got to know more of our family and neighbors. In later years the services were in English, and I could sing along as Minnie Wambach played the old foot pedaled pump organ. I felt more welcome by then. My mother said it was like that when she was a child. Gramp said they went by horses and wagons when he was a child. He was one of 10 siblings and if they misbehaved, they were horsewhipped when they got home. I behaved in church, but I am glad I didn’t live back then.

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