Article by Fred Anderson.
The wintry weather forecast gets mixed reactions. Children are gleeful that the expected snowfall likely will cancel school, and—with any luck—school could be closed for a week. Persons considered “essential employees” groan, knowing that they must persevere.
Church folks are in a dither wondering whether or not church activities and worship will be canceled. Church treasurers (and the BGAV treasurer) fret that offering receipts will be down. And all of this because of tiny flakes of condensed moisture which piled one upon another can alter our lives.
George Braxton Taylor, a native Virginian, had left the warmer winters of Middle Georgia to return to Virginia in 1894 when he accepted a “field of churches,” Liberty and Hebron in the Appomattox area. The winter of ’95 proved to be one of the coldest on record. One weekend began with a bitter wind, deep snow, and “the mercury standing at 24 degrees below freezing.” By Sunday there were clear skies but bone-chilling cold.
Hebron was 10 miles from the parsonage. The pastor’s head deacon, as well as his physician – who usually loaned him a horse – warned him not to attempt the journey. But as “the new pastor,” George Braxton Taylor did not want to miss a single service.
Taylor was a young widower and realized that being single meant that he only had to listen to his own inner voice. “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,” observed Taylor in an account of his Sunday sojourn. “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 ‘arctics’ 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 white 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 that their new pastor, city bred, would be there.”
One reason that the new pastor might have felt compelled to make the formidable journey was his own conscience. Just before leaving Georgia, he had preached a sermon entitled “On Church Going.” His text was Hebrews 10:25: “Not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together.”
He confessed that he had delivered the sermon “without enjoyment.” In his sermon he lambasted the “stay-at-homes” as “pleasure seekers, workers, and resters.” In a day before automobiles, he said: “By inquiring at the livery stable [you will find] that many teams were hired on Sunday for country trips.”
Even a day of “blue laws,” he said: “I heard a church member explain why he did not come to church by saying, ‘I am too busy.’ Many fail to arrange their business so as to be at prayer meeting.” As for “resters,” he described their Sundays: “A late breakfast, slippers and the Sunday newspaper and the cigar.” He also chastened “church goers” who only come “to be seen or to see.”
Perhaps that sermon contributed to his decision to leave Georgia. In any event, after such a message, the preacher could not let even a blizzard of epic proportions prevent keeping him from his duties at church.
Taylor’s story from an earlier century is remarkable on several accounts: his tenacity, his faithfulness, or his stubbornness. Who among us today would walk miles to church in deep snow drifts in freezing temperatures? And he was not alone. A congregation had assembled.
In telling the story from long ago, this writer is not attempting to pile guilt as high as a snow bank. When the roads are impassable, he will be the first to suggest that we do not attempt the trip. However, I also know that most likely my church will be holding worship services even if only a few modern sleighs and carriages are able to get there.