The Star Democrat
Old Starr Methodist Church brings Christmas past alive
CENTREVILLE — Sunday evening, Dec. 5, the annual Old Starr Methodist Church held its annual Christmas Caroling service inside the church building, first constructed in the late 1850s and opened before the Civil War. The church building is opened only twice a year for services, once in early October for a “Homecoming” service of family members and friends who once attended the church before it closed many years ago. The second annual service is always the first Sunday in December to officially mark the beginning of the Christmas season. Both services are open to the public.
For many years, the Christmas caroling has been led by Nancy Cook, who was a longtime music director for both Centreville UMC and Kent Island UMC. She led the music again this year, and if you have never seen Cook conduct congregational singing, you’re really missing something amazing. Not only does she have a great singing voice, but she instructs with clarity and with contagious energy and enthusiasm. She is very animated, and walks up and down both aisles of the church as if to be able to hear each individual singing.
The caroling included traditional Christmas songs “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “We Three Kings,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “The First Noel,” “Joy to the World” and concluded with “Silent Night.” Bob Payne accompanied Cook by playing the piano.
Between the caroling, individual guests performed including Clint Connolly’s guitar solo, the modern day song “Mary, Did You Know?” Connolly told the audience, “Everyone, let’s keep Jesus Christ in Christmas! Please.”
Playing the church’s antique pump organ was Andrew Whaples. He also performed an instrumental solo on the organ.
Before the caroling concluded, eight young people were asked to carry lighted candles to the front of the church as Eli Taylor provided a reading, “Light,” written by former church member Mary Covington Payne about the Christmas season.
Taylor read, “One of the beautiful parts of Christmas is light, so light is our theme: light in people’s windows, outdoor lights, Christmas tree lights, candlelight services in our churches, and many more...’I am the light of the world’ (Christ says in John 8:12). ‘Ye are the light of the world,’ (He instructs in Matthew 5:7). We are not that perfect divine light, but are reflectors of His light.”
Taylor used seven words — life, fellowship, glory, joy, acceptance, guidance and salvation — to describe how people can light the world, especially at Christmas time.
He concluded, “So, when you see Christmas lights or candlelight, remember: You are called to carry Christ’s light into all the world. We are ‘little lights,’ but we can do our part. We can shine, shine, shine!”
The one-room church building has been maintained by a committee that oversees its care. Of course, visiting the building during one of these two services provides a glimpse back in time.
When the church building was constructed, there was no such thing as electricity or indoor plumbing. The windows on each side of the building are huge, very long from top to bottom, to allow outdoor lighting to illuminate the inside of the church. Other than that, if a cloudy day, original oil lamps were placed between the windows to provide additional lighting.
The wooden benches with backs to lean against were probably to highest type of seating for most churches of the era.There is also a balcony inside the rear portion of the church. It is not frequented very often, but is still accessible. The stairway is very steep, and there is no hand rail. The acoustics inside the church are outstanding, especially for singing, and so, the Christmas caroling program was a big success.
Former Queen Anne’s County Clerk of the Court Scott MacGlashan and his wife Carolyn were in attendance. Both are native QA residents.
MacGlashan said, “Neither of us had ever been inside that church building before. I had driven past it many times. I read about the service in the newspaper, and we marked it on the calendar to come this year. I also wanted to meet Dolly Taylor. I think coming to events like this will take you back to a different era in our history. Churches like this was where the community once gathered together regularly, and they saw each other in meaningful ways.”
MacGlashan, a past president of the Queen Anne’s County Historical Society, added, “I was truly impressed with the acoustics inside the building. As a musician, I have an acute ear for buildings that project sound that well.”
County resident Audrey Scott also attended for the first time. She said, “I read about it in the newspaper and it just sang out to me. Tradition and history brought together in the form of a Christmas carol sing-a-along at the Old Starr Church.What could be more perfect?”
“As the voices sang out the old familiar hymns, I imagined our ancestors singing the same songs in the same pews so many years ago.The connection was very real and almost physical, a visceral experience,” she added.
Mark your calendar for the first Sunday in December, at 6 p.m., to attend the program in 2022.
Dolly Taylor, sister of Mary Payne, was thanked for continuing to organize the annual Christmas event at Old Starr Church.