THE YEARS TELL OF CHANGES
There is an interesting Epitome of the Faith held by the Baptist Church of Lower Merion, or Extracts from the Journal of a Country Baptist Minister, by H.G. Jones, Jr., which is sometimes affirmed to be more interesting than historical. However, the following human interest story from the Diary of S. J. is worth passing on from the book. "Cato drove father and mother and Bess in the sledge, Brother Tom carried me behind him on the horse, while Griff and Freddy walked. The roads were pretty bad, as the snow drifted. The Meeting House was even colder than our barn, for when filled with hay and straw a barn is quite bearable. Only about 20 people out, but father preached nearly an hour and a half, and my toes got desperate cold. Griff fell asleep when the sermon was only half done, and snored quite loud, making a big noise, for he had a grievous cold. This annoyed father, and he stopped and did reprove him by name right sharp. Griff awoke and blushed, for Gwen Rhys, the pretty daughter of Owen ab Thomas ab Rhyddarch Rhys was also at meeting, and sat not far off, and Griff goes there offtimes." St. David's Day was evidently observed, for we read of deer meat, turkeys, ham and boys carrying guns for fear of Indians. This part is quite olfactory: "All had leeks in our coats and women pinned them to their dresses as a sort of posy. The smell in the Meeting House was quite strong, for some would eat of the white ends, and the odor was greatly pungent."
Church business is recorded, but Church services are not. For instance, there would not have been a record of the funeral of the Secretary of the Continental Congress had not a gifted reporter happened along and give the compelling account. For that matter, the minutes from January 1844 to April 1859 were lost or stolen from the carriage of the clerk. Ideals are given, vision is caught, lives are changed, character is built up, and no record is made. One would like to catch something of the thrill of some of those days of power when the community was stirred and those calmer days when a quieter work of grace was going on. But it was essentially the same as now. The Saviour was uplifted, the Holy Spirit was at work, the good news was being told, consciences were being stirred and folds were entering into fellowship with God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The silent congregation, the spiritual dynamic of people at their best seeking to become better, the earnestness of the minister, the solemn prayers, the reverential reading from the Great Book, the light and lift of the sermon, the meaningful and appealing hymns, and the benediction with uplifted hands all conspired to exert formative influences on the making of souls, especially of the young, which bore fruit in a holy and useful living throughout the years.
Sermons were more theological. Nowadays we do not emphasize eternal election and final perseverance, nor do we specifically preach against antinomianism and arianism. One of Dr. Jones' extant sermons is against arianism at the Gulph. More attention is given now than formerly to worship and a more enriching ritual is in use, notably at the morning service.
In some of the earliest Baptist Churches the singing of hymns was not engaged in, as unspiritual persons might do so wrongly, but here the advantages were seen from the first. In 1808 Mr. A. Levering was requested to lead the music of the Church and Mr. Lemuel George to be his assistant. Long ago an organ is mentioned and the movement for the present pipe organ is duly recorded.
Other instruments, in memory of Mrs. R. J. Burdette, by R. J. Burdette, and of Mr. Joseph L. Richards, by Mrs. Richards, have served their day well here, and been passed on to mission Churches. For generations, choirs have led the praise in the sanctuary. At one time orchestral music was heard in the Church School.