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No heat, no plumbing, but plenty of Christmas spirit

(From The Winchester Star dated 19 12mo 2011.)

No heat, no plumbing, but plenty of Christmas spirit

Posted: Monday, December 19, 2011.
By Vic Bradshaw
The Winchester Star

Worshipers sing Christmas carols by candlelight Sunday evening at the 19th-century Old Bethel Church near Millwood. The church closed in 1930 but began hosting the annual Lessons and Carols service the Sunday before Christmas in the 1990s.
(Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)
     MILLWOOD In a brick church without utilities atop a hill along a dirt road in Clarke County, a holiday tradition continued Sunday.

     More than 200 people gathered Sunday evening for Christmas at Old Bethel. The candlelight service featured "lessons," carols and bell performances.

     "It's like it was back in colonial days," said Brittany Smith of Middleburg, who was attending with her father, Leo, and Marnie Wilburn, both of Stephens City. "I love it."

     It was the second time the trio had attended the event, Leo Smith said.

     "I like the whole atmosphere here," he said, noting that it's a signal for him to slow down and enjoy the season.

     The celebration has been held annually since 1990, according to Ian Williams, president of the Bethel Memorial Association, the nonprofit group in charge of church upkeep as well as the Christmas program.

     In addition to the religious carols that were sung, accompanied by organist Ronald Hottle, the Winchester-based 6th Dimension handbell ensemble provided seasonal tunes. The "lessons" were scriptures read by five different people.

     Williams said he's been involved with the services from their inception. He thinks they attract so many people during the busy holiday season because of what they offer.

     "The simplicity of a traditional Christmas," he said, "in a place that is loaded with grace and serenity."

     As the sun set, the illumination from the oil-burning lanterns and chandeliers was not sufficient for most to read their hymn lyrics. Some in attendance used pocket flashlights and even the glow of cell phones to assist them.

     That need disappeared about 20 minutes into the service, however, as stick candles given to those in attendance were lit and a modest glow illuminated the sanctuary.

     About 10 minutes later, the service ended and folks headed for the warmth of their vehicles. Williams said the services must remain brief "because there's no electricity and no bathrooms."

     Money collected during the offertory hymn benefits the Bethel Memorial Association, Williams said.

- Contact Vic Bradshaw at vbradshaw@winchesterstar.com

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