Many locals mark their calendars every year in anticipation of seeing loved ones at the Annual Community Candlelight Service. Attendees usually enjoy the sweetness of the evening at the Old Salem Church on Route 42 and reminisce about childhood Christmas’s.
Approximately 115 people attended the standing room only and signed the registry book that sat by the lit antique oil lamp.
The beautifully decorated fence that had battery lights draped on it, created a warm welcome as people drove in.
People stood outside the door with candles and extended hands to help everyone as they entered the old-fashioned one-room church that has no electricity or running water.
The softness of the oil lamp chandeliers gave a warm and welcoming ambience. Hugs, smiles and gleeful chatter came in abundance.
The wood stove provided heat from the chilly and rainy December evening, yet the windows and door had to be opened. “I think this is the first time we have ever had a service where we left them open,” event organizer Jean Bradley said. As a child, Jean attended the church.
She had help from many volunteers, including her family and friends. “I couldn’t do this by myself, and I’m afraid if I start listing, I will forget someone,” added Bradley.
Kathy Jones lent a helping hand, and Leeann Mattox added the beautiful décor, including hand-made garland. Mattox is the sixth generation of her family to participate in the church’s events.
Those who came early enjoyed a smorgasbord of delicious snacks and hot apple cider.
The pine tree was decorated with white doves and placed on the front of the hand-made podium was a simple wooden manger. Tiara candles lined both sides of the podium, and handmade garland delicately draped the altar.
Robyn Foster and Victor Huffman sang, accompanied by D.R. Looney who began the evening’s service. As they collectively sang ‘Let there be Peace on Earth,’ many joined in.
Sput Jones and Delores followed, singing a cappella ‘Beautiful Star of Bethlehem.’ People could not help but join in, creating a lively, but peaceful atmosphere.
Jones gave the special Christmas message. He started asking people to open their Bibles and joined everyone in laughing. “You can’t see them if you had them, so you got to take my word for it,” he said.
He asked for a show of hands who had never complained about something. People laughed, but no hands were raised.
On complaining, his message was on quoting scriptures from the Bible. He began by talking about people going Christmas shopping at Valley View Mall, and knowing that there will be hoards of bumper-to-bumper traffic.
“You know it’s going to be that way, yet the first time someone pulls out in front of you, you hit that horn don’t you,” said Jones before adding, “You still start fussing and complaining.”
Jones then asked for a show of hands of who had said, “God just don’t love me anymore.”
“Be honest now, I don’t want to hear any timbers cracking,” he added. “Just like those in Egypt when they grumbled after getting out of bondage, we complain too. My daddy use to call it ‘belly-aching.’”
He added that in the Bible, God wasn’t with them at that time, as when people rebelled, God ‘turned a deaf ear’ to them.
Jones quoted John 15:16, “You have not chosen Me but I have chosen you.” Adding, in Revelation, that “Jesus stands at everyone’s door and knocks for permission to come into your lives but you have to let Him in and let Him help you.”
Jones also quoted the book of James, “Count it all joy when you face trials of many kinds…as Christians, we are to count it all…joy and not complain. Isn’t that hard to do?”
Jones also explained that if you don’t want to get caught doing drugs, drinking or stealing, then just don’t do it. “You don’t have to because when you are a Christian, you are expected to walk, talk and act like a Christian, and be a good example for our younger kids.”
Jones reminded everyone that you do things because “you choose,” and because Jesus has given you everything you need to participate in His divine nature.
Jones told his story of when he ‘came out with a mouthful’ of things he should have never said. “It felt like Jesus came and went down my throat and pulled my guts out when I said that. I got under such a conviction that I couldn’t even speak. He delivered me,” he said.
Jones also told stories that farmers can do some things that are ignorant, addressing Ralph Bradley as Ralph tipped his hat showing a few cuts on his head, grinning as others chuckled in relation. “But we have to have joy during our trials,” noted Jones.
The message of being more accountable, as well as not complaining and instead living a life filled more with joy even during life’s trials, resonated with people.
The evening concluded with the song, ‘Silent Night’ as the young ones lit everyone’s candle which created a bright glow in the little church.
It took many a long time to leave as they used the opportunity to enjoy one another’s company. Bradley thanked everyone for helping, and also invited all back in the summer for the annual picnic.