History Leaves of the Methodist Tree
Compiled by Johnny Cordell
“Grins and Chuckles”
In the early days of the church, before air conditioning, the church in summertime was ventilated by opening the large windows and double entry doors creating a flow of air across the congregation. In those days of horse drawn buggies and wagons, it wasn’t unusual for the family dog to follow the family to church, and equally not unusual for these four-legged creatures to periodically venture into the church service. It was accepted practice for those individuals on the back pew to intercept these canine interlopers and prevent their access to the church service, unless quite possibly, the animal was a Methodist. In today’s church the back benchers are probably not aware of the historical significance of the position they occupy, so if they are criticized for sitting on the back row, now they have an established precedent of responsibility of which they can utilize in their defense.
At the turn of the century, family transportation to Chapel Hill was either pedestrian, or wagon and carriages. The first automobile appeared at Chapel Hill about 1909, but this is the exception and not the general mode of travel until about 1925 when the assembly line Model T Ford began selling for 300 dollars. This allowed more families to take advantage of mechanical horsepower. In the wintertime, to keep the ladies’ feet warm during the trip to church, bricks or rocks were heated in the fireplace, then wrapped in a blanket and placed into the wagon or buggy. The church was heated by a large pot-bellied stove located on the left center part of the sanctuary. In 1953, after the Sunday School wing was added, the church installed an oil furnace with central heating.
In the pre-automobile era, one of the common accessories utilized by the ladies was the umbrella or parasol (light umbrella). Not only was the umbrella a protection against the rain, the parasol was an effective shield against the blistering heat of the summer months. My daddy, born in 1896, regaled this story to me regarding his Grandmother Patience Hatfield Johnson and her parasol. Patience (Pate) was born in 1846 and died in 1937 at almost 91 years of age, and was the oldest member of Chapel Hill Church and the oldest Methodist in Sequatchie County. She was a petite, feisty individual, and walked briskly everywhere she went, and always dressed in black to honor her brother who perished during the Civil War. Today I suspect her 90-year old Great-Granddaughter Anna Mae Johnson Hartman is very similar in physical stature. Pate was the acknowledged matriarch of the church and held in high esteem by its members as witnessed by a multi-page eulogy I uncovered recently that was delivered by Rev O. C. Wright at her funeral. She had a proper, determined, and no-nonsense attitude instilled by a life of hardship, joy, and abiding faith in God and church.
According to my Daddy, it was a sultry summer Sunday morning, with women arriving at church many with parasol held aloft. Grandma Johnson (as addressed by family) arrived late and entered the church. In those days, prior to 1930, there was not a vestibule connected to the church, so the parishioners entered directly from outside into the sanctuary. Sister Pate entered a packed church, walked down the aisle, and took her seat reserved on the front pew. Normally there was nothing unusual about this scenario, except that Sister Pate forgot to lower and fold her parasol when she entered the sanctuary, even after taking her seat. The congregation was greatly amused by this modern-day Mary Poppins, complete with black parasol. Finally, a friend sitting behind her tapped her on the shoulder and pointed up. Later, Grandma told Daddy that when she realized what had happened, she exclaimed, “I was so embarrassed, I could have crawled under the pew!”
After hearing this story, I have always wondered how the minister, after witnessing this humorous event, could have preached a fire and brimstone sermon? Quite a challenge!
Last month’s question: What is the approximate membership of Chapel Hill United Methodist Church? 286
Next month’s question: True or False? The Methodist Church has never experienced a split in unity.