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Snow Days

Sunshine over a snowy Baptist church
Photo Credit: Flickr user Elizabeth Albert

Looking out my window the remnants of the latest snow of the long winter of 2014 can be seen as if, in the words of the folk saying, they are “calling for more.” Snow causes havoc for Sunday and mid-week worship services. It is blamed for declines in offerings during the winter. (In the summer, vacations can take the blame.)

The winter of 1895 was one of the coldest on record in Virginia. In the Appomattox area the churches were contending with the snow but there were no thoughts of canceling worship services.

One weekend began with a bitter wind, deep snow, and “the mercury standing at 24 degrees below freezing.” (Note that it is an accurate measurement without accounting for the modern-day “wind-chill” factor.) By Sunday morning there were clear skies but bone-chilling cold.

George Braxton Taylor was the new young pastor for a field of churches around Appomattox including Liberty and Hebron. The latter church was ten miles from the parsonage. Taylor’s head deacon as well as his physician – the man who usually loaned him a horse to keep his ministerial appointments – warned him not to attempt the journey.

But Taylor, still “the new pastor,” did not want to miss a service. Taylor, a young widower, also did not have the prevailing good sense of a wife who might have cautioned for wiser judgment.

He later recalled: “As I was alone in the parsonage, I had no one to panic at my plan or to protest, so my decision was made: I would walk to Hebron!”

He had his “Saturday night tub and a shave” and early Sunday morning he determined to keep his appointment. “The sun rose clear and calm on a cold, crystalline, snowbound world. Breakfastless, I started, for had I gone to the boarding house, they would have sought to prevent my trip.”

“I prepared myself for the bitter cold by putting on two overcoats, a pair of ‘artics’ and leather leggings coming above my knees. The first lap of my walk was three miles up the railroad and, as the wind had swept away the snow, so far my path was clear. Next came four miles through the woods, an unbroken track. Neither wagon nor walker had passed this way since the last while fall.”

“The road was by no means easy. I was in danger of losing my way. There was not a dwelling on this road nor in sight. I became a human plow.”

“The farther into the woods I went the deeper the snow. On and on I trudged. Now I grew hot and almost faint and wondered whether my strength would fail me. The last mile was down a long hill and up another sunken road; the snow here was half a foot deep everywhere and, in drifts, many feet. This was for me a valley of humiliation and the ‘hill of difficulty.’”

“Now I wished I had not put on so many wraps. They became impediments. After two hours, I arrived at a deacon’s house. They caught their breath in surprise at seeing me. ‘Come in!’ There was the roaring open wood fire, big enough to roast an ox. ‘Up near the fire.’ Thank you, no; as far from it as possible.’ I was perspiring furiously and in danger of developing pneumonia.”

“After a bite to eat, in a buggy the other three miles were covered. I was on time at the church and there was a congregation of 49 who had come in 12 sleighs, by carriage and on horseback, little dreaming their new pastor, city bred, would be there.”

They did not know that one of Taylor’s favorite passages was Hebrews 10:25: “Not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together.” In his former city church he once preached on the topic: “On Church Going.” In his message he took to task all the slackers who found excuses galore to avoid attending worship services. He was determined that he would not be found outside his pulpit even in a blizzard.

 

Fred Anderson is the executive director emeritus of the Virginia Baptist Historical Society as well as the Center for Baptist Heritage & Studies.