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Candlelight Service At Old Bethel

(From The Winchester Star dated 14 12mo 2012.)

Candlelight Service At Old Bethel

Posted: Friday, December 14, 2012.
The Winchester Star

     MILLWOOD — Sometimes the simplest ceremonies can be the most powerful. When the annual Lessons and Carols Candlelight service at Old Bethel Church in Clarke County begins at 5 p.m. Sunday, there will be no special lighting or sound system.

     In fact, the mid-19th century church in Millwood doesn’t have electricity, heat, or running water.

     But what the simple service lacks in pizzazz, it makes up for in heart and tradition, said Ian Williams, president of The Bethel Memorial Inc., which maintains the church.

     The current church structure was dedicated in 1830. There is a feeling of connection between the Christmas images of the 1800s and the present day when the ceremony takes place, he said. It is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

     “This Lessons and Carols service is held in exactly the same building and conditions that existed 150 years ago,” he said. “It is the continuity of that tradition that is so important.”

     The ceremony will last about 30 minutes and include traditional carols, scripture readings, and a performance by the Sixth Dimension Hand Bell Choir, said Carly Bauserman, Williams’ secretary, who helps plan the event.

     The interdenominational service will be led by the Rev. Karin MacPhail from the Episcopal Cunningham Chapel Parish in Millwood. Ron Hottle will play the organ.

     The event is free and open to the public.

     Last Christmas, more than 200 people packed the two levels of the little country church, Bauserman said. The balcony seating is limited to avoid putting too much stress on the structure.

     The church will be decorated with natural greenery that complement its simplicity and lit by oil lamps, she said.

     The congregation will sing carols such as “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and “The First Noel.”

     Toward the end of the service, people will sing “Silent Night” and the ushers will assist the congregation in lighting their candles.

     “There will be a final scripture reading, a final carol, ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,’ and a benediction,” Bauserman said. “Because of the size of the attendance and because of the open fire, we are very careful with that.”

     People are encouraged to bring little flashlights if they need more light to read or to get to their cars after the service. They should also dress warmly as it often is colder in the church than outside, she said.

     Despite the chill in the air, the service brings a sense of warmth and coziness to the building because it is simply about sharing the “joys of the Christmas story according to the gospels,” Williams said.

     “This is a place of harmony and peace and grace. People enjoy being there,” he said. “At a time when Christmas is so commercialized and they are playing ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ over Thanksgiving, it is nice to have the true spirit of Christmas.”

     The site has a rich religious history, Williams said. It originally was the site of a Quaker meeting house but became a Baptist church in the 1830s. Then in the 1940s, the church basically “went out of business” and turned over its assets to the circuit court of Clarke County. Trustees were named to manage the trust, including the building and the grounds.

     The church is open to the public for the carols service in December and an annual meeting held each August.

     The board members meet twice a year with special meetings added when needed, Bauserman said. For more information, call 540-667-1266 or email iwilliams@harrison-johnston.com.


     Bethel can be reached from Winchester by traveling east on U.S. 50 to Kennel Road (Route 625) opposite Mountain View Motel. Turn right, then make another right onto Swift Shoals Road (Route 622) before making an almost immediate left on Bethel Lane. The church is on the left at the top of the hill.

— Contact Laura McFarland at

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