Re­mem­ber how strong re­li­gion and faith was to our an­ces­tors

Ap­pre­ci­ate and draw par­al­lels to ear­lier Pil­grims or Pu­ri­tans to un­der­stand how life was then and the driv­ing force of re­li­gion

The Southern Berks News - - LOCAL NEWS - Richard L.T. Orth

As we see our church num­bers seem­ingly dwin­dle ev­ery year and only some­what fill­ing dur­ing the Christ­mas and Easter times, we should take a step back and re­mem­ber how strong re­li­gion and faith was to our an­ces­tors. Driven to pave the way and per­se­vere in a new and un­know­ing World with un­par­al­leled brav­ery in cross­ing the mighty At­lantic and the tremen­dous hard­ship, they faced in death of loved ones, cold, hunger, and doubt. Even if your her­itage is not Penn­syl­va­nia Dutch, per­haps one can read, ap­pre­ci­ate, and draw par­al­lels to the ear­lier Pil­grims or Pu­ri­tans or one’s own an­ces­try to un­der­stand how life was then and the im­por­tance and driv­ing force of re­li­gion.

These ear­li­est of churches that still dot our countryside have for around 300 years been in­sep­a­ra­ble from com­mu­nity life, and thus ( re­li­gion) had al­ways been a daily af­fair here, never a so­cial nicety. There were no pres­ti­gious salar­ies for the clergy or for fancy church ed­i­fices, but the pure and sim­ple coun­try church gained dig­nity from pass­ing time and use. The in­ge­nious val­ley folk, fur­ther­more, fol­lowed a church calendar year that was an in­te­gral part of agrar­ian life and the plant­ing of crops was never done on Good Fri­day or As­cen­sion Day, but in­stead days given to fel­low­ship with one’s neigh­bors at a farm sale or get-to­gether. Dur­ing this pe­riod of time when the ex­er­cise of re­li­gion in Amer­ica has been on the de­cline, the ver­sa­til­ity of the val­leys’ folk re­li­gion has sus­tained its ex­er­cise and folk calendar in the ru­ral countryside still prac­ticed.

The churches of the PA Dutch had long been ba­si­cally Protes­tant-Ger­man, and as such, fol­lowed the broader, early Amer­i­can folk re­li­gious cus­toms known of the Penn­syl­va­nia Dutch. Shrove Tues­day, for ex­am­ple, the day be­fore Ash Wednesday is still for some a day to store up on fast­nachts, a deep fried cake sim­i­lar to a dough­nut be­cause lard could not be used dur­ing Lent. Hunt­ing young dan­de­lion on Holy Thursday (Green Thursday) is still prac­ticed by a few for mak­ing a hot salad, but has by and large a cus­tom fallen by the way­side. Harvest Home, though very im­por­tant to the Penn­syl­va­nia Dutch peo­ple, was cel­e­brated at the end of the grow­ing sea­son and a time to adorn the church al­tars with the fruits of a la­bo­ri­ous and hum­ble peo­ple.

Re­li­gion was once known only a few gen­er­a­tions ago as sim­ply lis­ten­ing to the com­mu­nity’s chil­dren re­cite their Christ­mas pieces from the al­tar while seated in the quaint choir loft of church, tak­ing Holy Com­mu­nion dur­ing a show­ery spring Sun­day with home baked bread and home­made el­der­berry wine rep­re­sent­ing the body and blood of Christ. To share daily news at church quilt­ing so­cials, see a neigh­bor spill his com­mu­nion cup and say “Oye du Gott”- there goes God’s blood, or eat­ing ket­tle soup at one of the church pic­nics. Older mem­bers of the com­mu­nity are ea­ger to share their fon­d­est mem­o­ries with those in­ter­est­ing in lis­ten­ing, es­pe­cially over the holiday sea­son.

In fron­tier times though priests and var­i­ous clergy did not have a con­gre­ga­tion, just the im­me­di­ate neigh­bor­hood, but did God’s bid­ding by trav­el­ing a num­ber of miles to see their flock in fron­tier abodes they had built to se­cure a liv­ing for them­selves and their off­spring, but most im­por­tantly, mak­ing sure each one was bap­tized. Cer­tainly, the Ger­man press of Penn­syl­va­nia was cru­cial for print­ing Ger­man Bi­bles and nec­es­sary re­li­gious doc­u­ments to sup­port Ger­man-di­alect teach­ings by nu­mer­ous re­li­gious sects and churches in a day when ed­u­ca­tion was al­most non-ex­is­tent for the com­mon man.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

A com­par­i­son in re­li­gious wor­ship quar­ters of Penn­syl­va­nia Dutch cousins be­tween a sim­pler Plain Dutch Men­non­ite meet­ing­house ver­sus an ex­trav­a­gant brick Worldly Dutch his­toric church built in 1822, which traces its Re­formed wor­ship beginnings to 1736.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

The Fleet­wood Meet­ing­house was built in 1952 to ac­com­mo­date a grow­ing Men­non­ite colony in Kutz­town that was spread­ing west­ward.

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