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Holiday spirit warms cold church at annual service

(From The Winchester Star dated 19 12mo 2010.)

Holiday spirit warms cold church at annual service

Posted: Sunday, December 19, 2010.
By Joel Danoy
The Winchester Star

     MILLWOOD The warm feeling of fellowship and worship heated Old Bethel Church Sunday during the Annual Lessons and Carols Candlelight Service.

     More than 160 people gathered in the one-room, mid-19th century church in rural Clarke County to sing traditional hymns and hear the story of Jesus Christ's birth, said Ian Williams, president of Old Bethel Memorial Association Inc.

     The service comes with a slight hitch for worshipers - Old Bethel has no heat, electricity, or running water.

     "The cold doesn't bother me at all - I love it," said Mary Shockey, a church board member. "We are country people out here. I have my big hat and jacket on, but nobody cares. That's what is great about this. It's a tradition."

     The program featured the 6th Dimension Handbell Choir and an a cappella performance of "O Holy Night" by Debbie Piplani, a vocalist at Calvary Episcopal Church in Front Royal.

     Williams said worship services at Old Bethel have changed little from the 1850s, when Baptists worshiped there. The church became non-denominational in the 1940s.

     Before the Baptist era, a Quaker meeting house stood on the site.

     Williams said Lessons and Carols, which he has helped manage since its inception about 25 years ago, was created as a "simplistic and traditional service."

     The glow of candlelight dominated the the 30-minute service - with light being provided by 10 oil lanterns mounted on two chandeliers and candles held by worshipers.

     Flashlights were also used by those helping with the service.

     "I imagine the service is similar today to what it might have been like years ago," he said. "The cold doesn't seem to be an issue. We have the same people coming back each year."

     Williams estimated 160 people attended the service - a slight decline from the 250 people who came to Old Bethel on Va. 625 two years ago. Last year's service was the first-ever to be canceled because of snow.

     "I was very pleased with the turnout this year," he said.

- Contact Joel Danoy at

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