From the time of settlement of the wilderness of Virginia, traveling preachers have been the norm in the Lost River and South Branch valleys. The immigration routes (squatters, really, on Lord Fairfax’s land grant, but that is a different story) came from the east as the Scotch-Irish moved from the Piedmont to the Shenandoah Valley into the Potomac Highlands, and the “Dutch” (Germans) came south, following the rivers upstream from New York and Pennsylvania. With them, they brought their religious heritages, which at that time were relatively new denominations: Presbyterians, Methodists, Dunkards (Baptists and Bretheren), and Mennonites. Their communities were distant from each other (as well as the Pope and Archbishop of Cantebury), and congregations small. To fill their need for church leaders, the tradition of the itinerate pastor worked well.
This tradition continued well into the 20th century, and for some smaller communities continues today with some ministers using vehicles to go between 2 or 3 churches each Sunday, or in a circuit on sequential Sundays . In the 18th and 19th centuries, horse travel could take 2 or 3 days to reach this region through Brock’s Gap and over Crider’s to Peru. The return trip would be the same. Thus, the traveling minister could be in the Highlands for several weeks at a time, stopping for a few days at a time in different communities. He would perform worship services, conduct funerals and marriages, and commune with the families, with whom he would stay. Communion was both the service and the time together, in the spirit of “where two or three are gathered, there am I”.
For the local communities, work did not stop during these visits. The farm, field, and homestead had chores to do every day of the year. The preacher would not sit in the shade of the porch, waiting for the labor to be done, but would join in. Farming, carpentry, fixing things, and educating children were as much the pastor’s labor as the worship and rituals. The days were filled with working the earth and the evenings with song and lessons. Even today, here in the mountains, this tradition continues. Many of the local pastors run farms, build houses, fix things, and teach, while ministering to their congregations and preparing for Sunday services.
My brother, The Vicar, whose comments you have read in these blogs, and his wife recently visited, much in the tradition of the itinerant preacher. Our time was spent between touring, working in the garden, and visiting over meals in the evening, with a tune or two here and there. But, first, was the traveling to the mountains. Modern
airplane travel brought them from the West to East Coasts, to Balitmore-Washington International Airport. Modern interstate travel would bring them to the mountains, a three-hour drive away. In contrast to our expectations for quick transportation, having a slower transition, gives one a sense of distance and effort. We also stopped in Washington, D.C. for a few hours to attend the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival, for a little cultural exposure, and to get hot in the summer sun. Time and perspiration also make traveling feel more strenuous.
Our other two days of touring were day trips to Stauntan, VA, to visit the Woodrow Wilson Birthplace and Library, and the Frounier Culture Museum (hey! old farms you can walk around), and to Montpelier,
James Madison’s residence north of Charlotsville, VA. If one is interested in our nation’s history, espeically the founding and Civil War periods, this area is a place to spend some time.
Our other days were spent around the mountain. Berries are in season, and the Vicar learned that picking wineberries (wild raspberries) are easier than blueberries. One of our goats had kids a few days before their visit. They needed bottle feeding
several times each day, with all the cuteness and cuddliness of any baby, assuming that you had the bottle for them. The other goats, of course, wanted attention, which meant pulling up grass and other plants here and there to toss over the fence for them to forage on. Digging up things is a major task in gardens. The wives dug new potatoes for dinner, day lilies to thin out and plant elsewhere, and lots of weeds (to feed to the goats). The Vicar & I dug up the mailboxes, which he shall write about in a guest blog soon.
In all these activities, we conversed: news from home; catching up on events since my last visit to California 9 months ago; learning how much our vocations are alike in helping people. Preparing meals and eating together was a social event, enjoying the flavors of food picked fresh from the garden & enjoying the flavors of often told stories, humor, philosophy, and religion. We shared music, from the Dixie Cups (“Chapel of Love”) at the Folk Life Festival, to my renditions of the Native American flute from Monument Valley around the fire pit, to Wednesday Swing Dance night, and some You-Tube videos from Westgate Church, and Ray Stevens (“The Day the Squirrel Went Beserk, In the Self-Righteous Church…”).
The inevitable end of the week came. We left early (6 a.m.) for BWI, arriving in good time. I think that they arrived back in California about the time I returned to the mountains, as I had a 10 mile back up on the highway between construction closing it down to one lane, and then parallel accidents in the right and left hand lands. Fortunately, I knew back roads around all that, and which took me for a stop at Trader Joe’s to stock up before returning to the quiet life among the trees.