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Annual meeting: Sin and redemption are Bethel topics

(From The Clarke Courier dated 23 8mo 1990.)

Annual meeting: Sin and redemption are Bethel topics

Posted: Thursday, August 23, 1990.
By Prudence Squier
The Clarke Courier

     Sin and redemption in the lives of members of Old Bethel Church in the 19th century will be the theme of the annual meeting of the Bethel Memorial next Sunday.

     The meeting will begin at the old Quaker meeting house off Rt. 622 in southeastern Clarke county.

     Historian Dr. Hugh Heclo and Cunningham Chapel Parish rector, Rev. Peter Gustin will examine the role of Bethel Church in the lives of its early members and compare that to the role of religion in people's lives today.

     Following a short business meeting, Caroline McKay, a descendant of Elizabeth Kerfoot Sowers, will open the program by reading the preface to a hymnal written by Sowers for Bethel in 1849.

     Elizabeth Kerfoot Sowers was an active member of Bethel and is buried in its graveyard.

     Selections from the hymnal will be included in the morning program and the Cunningham Chapel Choir will provide the morning's music, accompanied by Ann Hudson on the organ.

     According to Dr. Heclo, the Bethel records which he and the Rev. Gustin will refer to in their presentation, offer a wealth of information about 19th century church activities and the religious philosophy which caused Bethel faithful to break with their traditionalist, Calvinist-oriented Baptist Church and form a separate Baptist congregation at Bethel, based on reformist, missionary zeal which was a popular movement of the times.

     Bethel members' behavior was strictly enforced by the church and instances of rebuke by church elders are part of Bethel records. "Singing songs for all the world," and "Playing cards for amusement" were considered inappropriate pastimes.

     Rev. Gustin has recently taken up the post of rector of Cunningham Chapel Parish in Millwood after serving parishes in Alexandria, Springfield, Ashland and Hanover Courthouse, all in Virginia. In 1987, he received a master's degree in Divinity from the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria.

     Dr. Heclo is the Robinson Professor of Public Affairs at George Mason University. Previously, he has taught at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He holds a doctors of Philosophy degree in Politics and History from Yale University and has published six books on American Government, public policy and social welfare issues.

     Old Bethel's congregation was formally disbanded in the 1940s and the church building was later donated to the people of Clarke County and place under the stewardship of an elected Board of directors. The annual meeting is open to the public and is followed by a picnic on the Bethel grounds. Those attending are asked to bring a covered dish to share.

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