Sue Bowman Rural Ramblings

There’s a small, brown sandstone church I’ve occasionally driven past near the rural village of Kleinfeltersville in eastern Lebanon County, Pennsylvania. A sign identifies it as Albright Chapel. I knew it had something to do with the founding of the United Brethren denomination by Jacob Albright, but the church seemed like it no longer had a congregation.

I’ve always been drawn to old churches, especially small ones in the countryside, so when Dennis and I saw a notice announcing a worship service at Albright Chapel on the Sunday morning of Memorial Day weekend, I was excited to go. I was even more delighted to see that our good friend, Pastor John, would be the preacher at the special service.

Since parking was limited at the chapel, we left our vehicle about 1/8 mile away in the lot of Trinity United Methodist Church and joined a line of other worshippers hiking along Albright Road on a sunny May morning. It was lovely to look across the surrounding farmland on the way, where cattle were grazing peacefully and corn was freshly sprouted.

The doors to the old church had been thrown open and we walked up several sandstone steps to become part of those gathering inside. Pastor John greeted us warmly. It was his first time inside Albright Chapel, too, and he was quick to point out some of its unique features, like mirrors above the central chandelier’s seven kerosene lamp globes, as well as behind the two sconces in the pulpit area, to amplify what would be the only sources of light at a nighttime service.

Pale, blue-gray walls and rows of low, dark gray-painted pews with straight backs awaited us. In the central section of the small church, a board down the center of the pews hearkened to the time when men sat on one side of the church, while women and children sat on the other. Dennis and I selected a short pew across the aisle from the central pews. It turned out to be short because on the end, along the outer wall, stood one of the chapel’s two small pot-bellied stoves, which certainly weren’t needed on a warm May morning.

As we awaited the start of the service, we read about Jacob Albright in the bulletin. He was born to German immigrant parents in Pennsylvania in 1759. Jacob was a farmer, but made clay tiles for roofs, too. One of the tiles he’d produced was on display.

Albright was also a Revolutionary War veteran. By 1791, he felt called by the Holy Spirit to preach and witness to German-speaking people in what became a revival movement. He led the life of an itinerant pastor until May 1808 when, at age 49, he was taken ill on his way home from a revival in Linglestown, Pennsylvania. Albright was able to reach the home of his Christian friend, George Becker, in Kleinfeltersville, where he died; he was buried on the Becker farm.

I’d always assumed that Albright had preached at the chapel named for him. However, the chapel had been built as a memorial to him in 1850. Its dedication took place around Pentecost; thus, the annual service in Albright’s honor is celebrated over Memorial Day.

Albright would have loved seeing a group of 50 worshippers gathering to sing praises, pray, listen to the Scriptures and hear a rousing sermon preached. Organist Loretta Krall had to “pump it up” to play the morning’s hymns on a vintage Miller organ that used foot pedals to power it.

The hymns selected were a mixture of patriotic tunes and hymns that would’ve been sung in Albright Chapel during the 1800s. A wonderful surprise awaited us when we all sang “My Country ’Tis of Thee” as our opening song. The old organ was in perfect tune and the small size of the chapel magnified our voices’ volume to fill the old church with a joyful noise that was exceptionally pleasing. A hymn sing followed with “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” “Rock of Ages” and “Nothing But the Blood,” with the last verses sung a cappella.

Trinity United Methodist’s choir sang melodious versions of “Just a Little Talk with Jesus” and “God Bless America.” Pastor John, who towered behind a pulpit clearly made in a time when men were smaller in stature, cheerfully said, “I would gladly read today’s Scripture from the pulpit’s Bible, but I can’t. It’s in German.” Instead, he read from Joshua Chapter 4 in English.

Pastor John’s sermon was titled, “Lest We Forget.” It was a stirring sermon, yet sometimes my eyes would wander to the beautiful green hillsides and fields clearly visible through the chapel’s clear glass nine-over-nine paned windows. It was good to be able to see God’s creation in a plain setting that only emphasized the beauty around us.

The service in the little brown sandstone church left an indelible impression on me. It was a truly memorable Memorial Day and I carried with me the funeral text from Psalm 116:15 written on Albright’s gravestone: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”

Sue Bowman is a freelance writer in southeastern Pennsylvania.