Section 16

Berwick
Its People and Institutions as I knew them about Sixty Years ago.

D. O. PARKER.

Wednesday, June 23, 1897


The VALLEY MEETING HOUSE where
The Old Folks went to meeting.

The scenes of my boyhood are treasured with care,
Respecting the ways in the old house of prayer;
That house in the Valley, where the elms yet grow,-
That hallowed old spot in the green Long Ago.

A passion for worship the people possessed;
The young and the aged were anxious for rest;
The man and the matrons, the girls and the boys,
Came longing to drink of its pleasures and joys.

They came to that house in the Valley of old;
The home of the saints, and the Shepherd’s safe fold;-
They came from the east, and they came from the west,
And down from the mountains they came to be blest.

The preacher was perched in a box in the air,
Like a bird in a cage when shown at a fair,
And over his head hung a board from the sky,
To keep all his words from soaring too high.

And under the pulpit and filling their place,
The deacons sat gravely with smooth shaven face,
Unseen by the preacher yet known to be there,
The sermon to follow with well worded prayer.

The sermon is done, and aloft from his cage,
The preacher looks downward his help to engage;
The silence is broken, a voice in the air
Is heard:- "Brother Skinner, please lead us in prayer."

That deacon responding, stands up in his place;
His soul overflowing with glory and grace,
And prays that the gospel, "Right onward may go,
As oil from the vessel to vessel does flow."

Meanwhile, all the people stand up in their place,
According to custom, and right about face;
Their backs to the preacher, their eyes to the door,
Inspecting the girls, and the bonnets they wore.

The preacher now reads for the choir to sing,
A hymn to the praise of his Saviour and King;
Not from the New Hymnal, but Winchell and Watts;-
Most precious in lyrics and beautiful thoughts.

The man in the choir who leads in the song.
The master of music who never does wrong;
A pipe from his pocket he takes,-gives a toot;
And people enraptured in silence are mute.-

The songs of that choir tho’ ancient and rude,
If now, in the light of the present were viewed,
Tho’ wanting in culture, and musical art,
Had much of the music that comes from the heart.

NOTES.- The old Valley Meeting House was raised about 1828, and was used unfinished with rough seats and single floor for several years, when it was neatly finished, after the quaint style of that period. It was for many years the headquarters of the Baptists for all western Cornwallis. Mr. Chipman officiated here for thirty years, during which time it was the scene of many and powerful revivals of religion. It was taken down some years since, and portions of it were used in building the Grafton Meeting House. The ground on which it stood was the gift of Rev. Wm. Chipman, and is yet encircled by a grove of large and beautiful elms planted by Professor Isaac Chipman and Sidney Shaw. It had two tiers of windows like a two story house, and the gallery covered nearly the whole second story. The pulpit was about as high as the gallery and was little more than a neatly made box with a side door at the top of a high flight of stairs, and over it was a sounding board, hung by a chain, and under it, in front, was a hinged shelf, used for a communion table. And here, too, were the orthodox seats of the deacons, who always sat there, away from their families, entirely out of sight of the preacher, and facing the congregation. At the close of the sermon it was quite common for the preacher, leaning over, and looking downward, to ask one of the deacons to speak, or lead in prayer. The pulpit was painted white, and the pews yellow, and the outside yellow. The congregation sat during the singing and stood at prayer, and as they stood up turned their backs to the preacher. At the time of my earliest recollection Allan Sharp was the leader of the choir and always set the tune with a toot on his pitch-pipe. There were no chairs, not even in the pulpit. The pews were little more than small closets, with perpendicular backs with a thin rail on top projecting inward, perfectly constructed for provoking weariness and wakefulness. The quaint Old Covenanter Meeting house in Grand Pre, which greatly interests the American tourists, is in much the same style.


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