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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Alleghany Mennonite Meetinghouse, Berks County PA
Last night we attended an old fashioned Christmas Carol Singalong at the Alleghany Mennonite Meetinghouse in Berks County, PA

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"Love's Pure Light"

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).

Last night we thoroughly enjoyed an acappella hymn sing. Over one hundred people gathered to pack a country meeetinghouse built in 1855. The Alleghany Mennonite Meetinghouse was built in Brecknock Township, Berks County on land donated by Solomon Weber (I know of no relation, but was pleased to see he spells Weber the way mine is spelled).

The building has been closed for regular services since 1954 but special services are scheduled several times a year. With no indoor bathrooms or electricity we were fortunate that the temperatures were unseasonably warm. Wherever I have lived people like to sing and really, the best congregational singing we've heard is right here in Penn Dutch country.

Alleghany Mennonite Meetinghouse interior, Berks County PAThe majority of us have not had the rich musical background of learning to sing in harmony but the Mennonite/Brethren people here in Lancaster County not only learned four part harmony but they sang acappella over the centuries. Some still practice this method although most congregations now incorporate instrumentation. It goes without saying these people know harmony very well and several times I just wondered if we were going raise the roof off the small meetinghouse.

In addition to the robust singing, contemplating the meaningful lyrics, and seeing friends from Lancaster County we had the special pleasure of hearing "Stille Nacht" sung by Greg Gehman. Of course most of our readers will recognize or guess that I'm speaking of Silent Night sung in the original language of which it was written by Joseph Mohr.

"Silent Night, Holy night, Son of God, Love's pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace

Jesus, Lord at Thy birth, Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth."

After singing the third verse of Silent Night Greg sung John 3:16 to the same melody as Silent Night. "God so loved the world that He gave His Son..." It was beautiful. It brought a grateful, warm expression to my spirit as I considered the amazing wonder that God would give His only Son to atone for my sins.

John 3:16 begins with the glorious phrase, "God so loved the world". Amen, He sure does and He specifically loves you and me this day and everyday. You may have experienced a loving earthly family as I thankfully have, but scores of people have not. Undoubtedly some have had a very difficult time in life and still do. Brooksyne visited with an officer of the Salvation Army yesterday and heard of the scores of people who struggle day in and day out, whether it's joblessness, drug addiction, hunger, homelessness, you name it. And it's not just at Christmas time.

There are also those of you reading our message who've had an abusive childhood or a relationship that carries deep scars. The sacred trust between an earthly spouse, parent, authority figure, or sibling was violated. 

Those who bear deep scars especially take note. You are now learning to trust your heavenly Father who is altogether trustworthy. His steadfast love never ceases. I know many of you have long ago memorized the daily verse. It's perhaps the single most memorized verse in the entire Bible. Hide it deep in your heart.  I find it helpful to personalize it. "For God loved me so much that He gave His one and only Son, that as I believe in Him, I will not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). Indeed, God's pure light is given to us through the person of Jesus Christ. We cannot earn it but we can receive it. Won't you receive Him today!

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Praying manDaily prayer: Father, any gift under the Christmas tree pales in comparison to the unending gift of Your pure love given to us in the person of Jesus Christ, Your only begotten Son. We are so grateful that He willingly laid down His life that we might inherit eternal life if we only believe. Not only do we receive a future eternal inheritance but we have the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome the daily struggles of this life and any baggage that weighs us down from our past. Thank You for Your redeeming grace that was provided to us through the birth of Jesus, our Redeemer. Amen.

Brooksyne's Note:  Though we often try to hide scars they're actually indicative of healing where once there was a wound.  When Ester was quite young she was very sensitive about her "zipper" that was opened and closed repeatedly over her chest cavity when she underwent numerous heart operations.  And she now has two unsightly scars where the pacemakers were inserted.

We can see only the outer scars of others, but I wonder what kind of emotional scarring God sees when He looks beneath the surface. Medical doctors are limited to treating our physical wounds, but only the Great Physician can tend to the inner wounds where healing and forgiveness must be applied; where love must replace hate, where trust must replace fear. God is in the process of preparing our hearts for eternity where pain, sin, and sorrow will no longer exist.  As you fully receive God's love and provision for your life healing will come, if not fully in this life, it will come in the eternal life God has made possible for "whoever believes in Him."

Alleghany Mennonite Meetinghouse water pump, Berks County PA
The Old Hand Pump at the Meetinghouse

Alleghany Mennonite Meetinghouse outhouses, Berks County PA
If needed there were bathroom facilities around the back of the meetinghouse!

Alleghany Mennonite Meetinghouse hymn sing 12/3/12, Berks County PA
The Meetinghouse is arranged with bone bare pews on four sides and the table in the middle, just as it was arranged when services were regularly held. Men and boys sat in the rows facing each other and the ladies were seated to the left, as was typical and continues to be in old order meetinghouses today, though there was no special order last night. Lovely candlelight helped to light the room as we awaited the time for the service to begin. Off to the right you can see the moderator's notes and the song leader's hymnal. We didn't have music in our hands, but it certainly came from our wonderful memory bank.

Gathering at Irvin and Louise Martin home 12/3/12
Afterward we gathered with the Martins and Sipes where we had tasty snacks in the Martin's lovely home. (L) Irvin, Louise and their son, Mike Martin. (R) Ron, Shirley, and their daughter, Nicole, who is married to Mike.

Pennsylvania Dutch Shoofly pie
Irvin slicing the delicious shoofly pie he made for the occasion.
Shoofly pie is a molasses pie considered traditional among the Pennsylvania Dutch. The pie may get its name because the molasses attracts flies that must be "shooed" away.

Irvin Martin Winross truck collection
I have a number of friends in this area who collect miniature Winross trucks. Irvin, who is also a pastor, has shelving built around his office wall displaying his truck collection.

Today's Suggested Music
and Supplemental Resources

"Silent Night"  Video  Herb Basso  Herb was a very colorful Italian who attended our church in New England who passed away last year. He had a wonderful voice and great skill on the harmonoica. Before we moved from New England he and his wife, Cecelia, took us to the Federal Hill section of Providence, Rhode Island to eat at an authentic Italian restaurant in Little Italy. I remember Herb eating Escargot, slurping the snails down! This is among the numerous fine memories we have. In this version hear Herbie's rich voice and harmonica along with violinist Laura Silvia, the daughter of a pastor friend of ours who now lives in Wyoming.

"Silent Night"  Video  Jack Marti with Eric Davis on Mandolin   Here's a version incorporating John 3:16 similar as we heard last night

"Stille Nacht"
 Video  sung in German

"The Mennonite Doxology".  Video  The service concluded last night with this lengthy version of the traditional doxology, "Praise God from whom all blessings flow" with multiple vocal parts. It's a powerful way to end a service!

Here's an article about the Alleghany Mennonite Meetinghouse

Historical Note: Ruth Ann Weber Hollinger, who attended services at the 1855 meetinghouse prior to its closing for worship in 1954, organized a hymn sing there September 20, 1954. “The little stone building was and still is a place where singing the great hymns of our faith sound more beautiful than any other place I know,” she said.

Weber Hollinger has memories being in the distinctive space. “The services seemed so long to us children, but we knew if we misbehaved it would be seen, as the benches were facing each other on all four sides of the room,” she said.

One Sunday a few boys decided to act naughty anyway. “Preacher Mose Gehman paused in his sermon and they quickly got quiet,” she said. “Then, in a gentle voice, he said, ‘Boys, I know how hard it is to sit still all morning. I was once a young boy too. If you look at the bench in front of you, you will see the initials MG carved into it. Those were made by me when I was about your age!’”

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Scripture references are from The Holy Bible: New International Version. © 1984 by International Bible Society; NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, New King James Version (NKJV) Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. and the King James Version.

Personal Mission Statement: "I am created by God to bring Him glory. Through God's Son Jesus Christ I have been redeemed and I make it my life's goal to please the Lord. My mission in life is to honor God through my faith and obedience and to prepare myself and all whom I may influence for eternity."

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