As you drive through several communities in Western North Carolina, you will see wooden crosses dotting the countryside. These crosses are free-standing, about ten feet high, and bear a message, usually something like “Jesus Saves from Sin” or “Jesus Died for Sinners.” These are found in front of Baptist churches in the area, and occasionally in front of private homes.
A weird chain of events led to an interesting investigation into history tangentially related to my family. This morning I participated in a webinar on the South Carolina Digital Newspaper Program, sponsored, in part, by the University of South Carolina Libraries. One of the presenters mentioned the possibility of doing genealogy research using the archive. I decided to try a few search terms associated with my family history to see what I found. I actually didn’t find much about my family, but I did find another tale, full of conflict, misunderstandings, racism, and corruption.
The newspaper archives are hosted on the Library of Congress website as part of their Chronicling America series. The newspapers cover all states from 1836 – 1922. Any family search would have to be within those target dates.
I decided to start with my grandfather, Rev. O. E. Taylor, since he would fit within the tail end of that time frame. I restricted my search to issues of the Laurens Advertiser. Unfortunately, his name didn’t return any hits, even when I expanded it to all newspapers in the state. It did return a Rev. E. O. Taylor, who was an episcopal bishop in the state at the same time.
I changed tactics and started searching for churches where I knew my grandfather had preached, and there I hit pay dirt. The first term I tried was “Long Branch.” I grew up in Long Branch Pentecostal Church, which was founded by my grandfather and which my father later pastored. My grandmother taught at Long Branch School, and I have lots of other relatives in the area. The term returned several hits in The Laurens Advertiser, almost all of them relating to an issue of religion being taught at the public Long Branch School. (more…)
The name is long in our family lore. The church was established by my grandfather in 1911, as were many of the Pentecostal Holiness churches of this area. My father pastored the church for most of the 1960’s, and it is here that I have my earliest memories of church.
The church was small, and our large family made up a sizable bit of the congregation. My father preached and led the singing, and my mother played the piano after Mrs. Annabelle Brown left that position. It was just a tiny, unique country church, but its effect on us was indelible. The place is etched in our memories, and the myths and legends of Long Branch have grown over time, and have been embellished through retelling. So, today, nearly forty years since I last set foot in the church, I decided to see how close those myths were to today’s reality. (more…)
This is also the first full moon after the vernal equinox, and Easter is always the first Sunday after the first full moon after the equinox. Easter, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, and Pentecost are the original “moveable feasts,” so-called because the dates are variable. However, all are calculated from the Paschal Moon.
So, let’s say you don’t have a calendar handy, but need to know the date of Easter for some random year. There are are some algorithms you could use. If you have your copy of “Practical Astronomy with your Calculator” by Peter Duffett-Smith you could use that. Duffett-Smith used an algorithm by Samuel Butcher published in Nature in 1876 (Nature, 1876 April 20, vol. 13, p. 487.) It was described by M. J. Montes as follows:
This algorithm holds for any year in the Gregorian Calendar, which (of course) means years including and after 1583.
In the text below, / represents an integer division neglecting the remainder, while % is division keeping only the remainder. So 30/7=4 , and 30%7=2 .
Easter Month =(h+l-7*m+114)/31 [3=March, 4=April]
Easter Date=p+1 (date in Easter Month)
The algorithm uses a series of successive divisions to reach the answer. In case you don’t have your calculator handy, but do have online access, I’ve created a Google Docs spreadsheet that does the calculation for you. All you have to do is enter the year in question. Of course, you could just use this handy form, or refer to this chart.
Saturday I attended the William Walker Memorial Shape Note Singing at Wofford College in Spartanburg. This was a special occasion, marking the bicentennial of Walker’s birth. An entire weekend of events had been planned for the event. In addition to the singing, there would be an evening showing of the documentary Awake My Soul, and on Sunday a special service at Morningside Baptist Church celebrating the life of William Walker.
Despite the rain, a good crowd gathered for the singing. I showed up armed with all of my cameras and recording gear, and immediately fell into the “documentarian’s dilemma.” It’s very hard to both record and participate in an event. If I’m going to sing I have a hard time also taking photos. I set up the camcorder and portable field recorder in a corner and just let them run. I would take photos as I could during the singing.
The morning started with singing school. Jonathon (aka The Melodist on Flickr) did a great job explaining the four shape system of the Sacred Harp and the seven shapes of Walker’s The Southern Harmony. He also explained the mechanics of being a song leader, differentiating the “song leading” style with normal choral conducting.
At 10:00 am things really got under way. This event always begins with songs from The Sacred Harp in the morning, then after lunch singing from The Southern Harmony. The tradition is to begin with “Brethren, We Have Met to Worship” followed by an invocation.
This is a very participatory activity. People sign up to lead songs, and the chairman (chairwoman, in this case) calls out the next two leaders, giving the second person a head’s up so that they can get their song prepared. The songs are first sung through on Fa-sol-la or Do-re-mi syllables, depending on the book, then we sang two or three verses from each song.
As with most of these singings, I found myself stumbling over the syllables, or simply singing “la” just to learn the part. Often I would use the syllable verse to take a few pictures, then rejoin the singing when we got to the text.
The chairs are arranged in “four square” arrangement, with basses, altos, trebles, and leads (tenors) facing toward the center. Anyone can really sing any part with which they feel comfortable.
I had foolishly signed up to be a leader. I tried my hand at it at last spring’s singing at Furman, and thought I would be OK leading a song. For my song I picked a familiar one – “How Firm a Foundation.” Below is a video of me leading:
What I didn’t realize was that the names on the leaders list rotate. So the second time I was called out to lead, it really caught me off-guard. I had to scramble to find a song I knew passably well and that I could lead. I wound up leading four songs – two from The Sacred Harp in the morning and two from The Southern Harmony in the afternoon. The best sound is where the leader stands in the four square arrangement, so everyone should try leading at some time.
There were several familiar faces, folks I recognized from the Owings and Furman singins. There were also a couple of Shape Note luminaries in attendance. Hugh McGraw is the editor of the 1991 edition of The Sacred Harp, and even has a couple of his songs published in it. Harry Eskew helped organize the William Walker singing at Wofford fifteen years ago, and is a regular participant.
The tradition at this singing is to head out to William Walker’s grave in Magnolia Cemetery and sing a final song. Since it was raining I decided to skip that portion and head on home.
I was able to get lots of good audio and video footage from the singing. I’ll try processing it and posting online when I get a chance.
Last week I mentioned about my chance encounter with a book in the South Carolina Room of the Greenville County Library. I had picked up a random book off the shelf entitled “Life Sketches and Sermons” by “Reverend N. J. Holmes and wife” and had opened it to a random page to find my grandmother’s name.
My sister, Glynda, had read about my encounter here, and over dinner last night was asking if the book were available. My reply was that unless she could find it somewhere else, she would have to read it in the SC Room. Well, guess what? I found the book.
I’m not recommending this book for everyone. I find it interesting from a family history standpoint. Prior to entering Pentecostalism, my family had been Presbyterian. The book gives some insights into that transition and conflicts that arose. It’s also interesting to see the history and attitudes of a traveling tent evangelist in the days long before televangelism besmirched the field.
I had written several weeks ago about this being the earliest Easter any of us were ever going to see. With temperatures dropping into the 30’s at night and flowers just now opening, it does seem like Easter is too soon. Regardless, we decided that early must be the theme, so we went to the early service at Fourth Presbyterian.
Easter Sunday two years ago was my last Sunday as choir director at Fourth. While not exactly two years ago, it still amazes me that it’s been that long. Last Easter we were pagans – driving back from Florida on Easter Sunday instead of attending church.
Hank Hinnant had been doing some wonderful things with the choir throughout Lent. However, since usually attend the early service, this was the first time we had heard the full group in quite awhile. Both the early and late service choirs combined for the special music this morning, and were joined by several musicians. The music was quite good, and this year’s rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus was the best I’ve ever heard them do it. The new organist, David Cole, is phenomenal, and ended the service with the rousing Widor Toccata.
I’ve completed a Lenten quest. I’ve listened to the entire King James version of the Bible as read by Alexander Scourby. I wasn’t sure if I could do it all within the time constraints of Lent, but I made it with room to spare, finishing up Revelations during Holy Week. I accomplished this by downloading the MP3 files to my iPod and listening to these while driving to and from work. I also listened while working around the house.
Listening to the entire Bible in such a compressed format really highlights common themes. For example, when a prophecy from the Old Testament is referenced by a New Testament verse, it’s still in recent memory, and I remember the context in which it was first written. You also get a feel for the amazing amount of repetition in the Bible. I guess the authors felt that if it was important enough, it bore repeating.
Some of the sections were more endurance than edification. The Book of Numbers is a prime example – tedious lists of how many were in each tribe that came out of Egypt. The endless lists of genealogies are another. You have to wonder why some of this was included.
Regardless, it was an interesting challenge for Lent. I know I couldn’t have made it if I’d been reading rather than listening. While I would have preferred a more modern version such as the NRSV, Scourby’s voice lends an air of authenticity and poetry that other audio versions seem to lack.
On my way back from one of my schools this morning I spotted this sign…
My first thought was, “Oh boy, yet another pastor who is ignorant of church history, and who buys into that ‘War on Christmas’ junk.” About.com gives a nice concise description of how the phrase “Xmas” came to be.
It is said that when the Emperor Constantine had his great vision that caused him to convert to Christianity, he saw the Greek letters Chi and Rho intertwined. Chi is written as an ‘X’ and Rho is written as a ‘P’, but they are the first two letters of the Greek word Christ ‘savior’. ‘XP’ is sometimes used to stand for Christ. Sometimes X is used alone. This is the case in the Chi (X) abbreviation for Christ in Xmas. Thus, Xmas is not directly a way of secularizing the holiday, but since ‘X’ is not Chi in English, we read the word as X-mas and see no connection with Christ.
In those very early days printing and writing was an expensive endeavor, so abbreviations were often used as a cost-cutting measure. Regardless, the X stood for Christ, and is actually closely related to the little fish symbols seen on many Christian’s cars today. The letters for “fish” in Greek (ixthus, or icthus as it is pronounced today) formed an acrostic meaning “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” The letter “I” was used in place of “J” for Jesus. The second letter, the “X”, stood for Christ, and the traditional icthus symbol used the fish’s tail to form the “X”, emphasizing the word Christ. In this case, use of the icthus was meant to convey secrecy, rather than save printing costs.
The last sentence from About.com’s comments get to the heart of the matter. Those of us who don’t speak Greek and don’t know the history of Constantine don’t see the connection between Christ and the letter X, so many find “Xmas” offensive. It’s certainly not the first time a symbol’s meaning has been altered. The swastika was originally an ancient Sanskrit symbol, which to Hindus meant any lucky or auspicious object. Its use by the Nazi’s changed its meaning to something abhorrent. Likewise, the Confederate Battle Flag may have stood for state’s rights and Southern heritage at one time, but it’s use by racists and the KKK have made it offense to most today. Society tends toward the latest, most current meaning of a symbol or phrase.
Some like to pick and choose which meaning to use, whether the current or historic. I saw a bumper sticker with a rebel flag that said, “If this offends you, you need a history lesson.” I would contend that the same could be said for those that are offended by the term “Xmas.” However, here in the South it’s been my experience that those that are offended by Xmas are often the ones quick to defend the rebel flag. I can’t help but laugh at both the irony and the ignorance.
[tags]xmas, War on Christmas, symbols, Confederate flag[/tags]
Today is the first Sunday of Advent. For those of us who refuse to live by the commercial calendar, it’s the start of the Christmas season. Well, not really that even, but the preparation for the Christmas season. I’ve mentioned before that one church where I worked, the minister would not allow any Christmas music until Christmas Eve.
I enjoy the music of Advent – O Come, O Come Emmanual being one of my favorites. Strangely enough, I didn’t hear it or get to sing it today, even though I went to two different churches. First, we went to Fourth Presbyterian. It was Communion Sunday, and so the musical portion of the service was a bit abbreviated.
My cousin, Sam Taylor, had invited me to sing at his church, St. Mathew Methodist, at the 11:00 am service. Their choir was singing the Vivaldi Gloria, and they needed someone to fill in on the bass. A string quartet accompanied the group. They, too, were having communion, so I took part there, as well.
It was interesting to see how the two services were conducted. The Methodist version was actually much more formal than the Presbyterian. I guess there are variations according to the desires of each congregation and pastor. On the way home I was scanning channels and came across Tabernacle Baptist Church’s broadcast. No mention of Advent, only continual blathering about how the King James version of the Bible is the only way to be saved. Oh well.