Catawbans missing Easter worship

Sylvia Ray
Staff Writer

When the pioneer settlers of what is now Catawba County came south from Pennsylvania and Virginia to make a home in the New World, they brought their religious heritage with them. There were Germans who were Lutherans and Deutsch (soon altered to “Dutch”) Reformed, Scots-Irish who were Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists and English who were Episcopalians. And there were Roman Catholics, but—in this region—fewer than Protestants.

In those years of the l7th and l8th centuries the highlights of the Christian congregations were Christmas and Easter—traditions which have remained sacred on the calendars of local churches and their congregations ever since then.

There have been very few times in these several hundred years that war, weather extremity or rampant disease have prevented those two high moments from being observed by our churches.

Tragically, the pandemic of Coronavirus has taken from us the opportunity to worship together in our “house of God” this weekend to mark Easter, the highest and most sacred occasion for Christians.

Few—if any—churches are having worshippers in their sanctuaries Sunday morning. Most will share a service with members electronically. Some have planned interesting alternatives, such as a drive-up service on the church grounds with a loud speaker delivering the sermon being spoken and music played indoors.

Dave Lingafelt, maestro of the airwaves in Newton, said WNNC with both his AM and FM facilities will broadcast a sunrise service at 6:30 a.m. from historic Old St. Paul’s Lutheran Church near Newton and at 7 a.m. on his WAIZ (formerly WIRC) both AM and FM stations from St. Peter’s Lutheran Church near Conover. He will have other church services on the air Sunday morning at the worship hour.

Sadness about our missing sunrise worship in Newton’s magnificent Eastview Cemetery on a hill where the chilly daybreak attendees would see the sun rise in the east, and sharing hymnals to sing the beloved old Easter hymns and hear a pastor proclaim salvation bought for each believer by the blood of Jesus the wandering preacher from Galilee has been felt in thousands of homes locally.

With that in mind, many relatives and friends of a Newton-Conover couple who were fortunate to receive very special Easter greetings from them are treasuring the unique communications. The envelopes held a folded sheet with a poem printed on it, a poem composed for this religious weekend by the wife of the two “good neighbors.”

Denise Wright who resides with her husband, Recil Wright, in a historic house on Newton’s South College Avenue, is already well-known for her writing skills. Several years ago she wrote a valuable history of Balls Creek Camp Meeting, the Methodist old-fashioned Southern summer tradition in the Balls Creek community that was founded in 1853.

Several years ago she and her husband moved to the twin cities when the widening of Highway NC 16 necessitated the removal of his business offices—now in downtown Conover. Recil remains chairman of the board overseeing Balls Creek Camp Meeting.

Their Easter greeting letter shows a reproduction of a magnificent medieval painting showing Mary at the foot of the cross looking upward toward her Son. Denise’s quote says: “I wrote a play called “At the Foot of the Cross” many years ago. This was the part of Mary. I have used that script to rewrite this into a poem.”

This is the poem, entitled “How Mary Must Have Felt”:
So much has happened in just a few days
My Son was betrayed by one of his own
Jesus was turned over to Pilate
He was beaten in so many horrific ways

I stood there looking as they nailed Him to that cross
I have cried until there are no more tears
Yet, I can’t do anything else
I just don’t see how I can take this loss

O! my Son how can they do this to you?
Your hands—your feet—even a crown of thorns
How can they be so cruel?
If I could just hold you like I used to

I remember the night that you were born
Your first cry, your tiny little face
Your life was so full of promise
On that first precious morn

I held you tight against my heart
I sang you a lullaby
The angel told me from the start
You were the Son of the Most High

Jesus, I love you, my Son
If only I could get close enough to touch you
I need to let you know I’m here
When will this agony be done?

I hear your voice whisper—“I thirst!”
Dear God, have mercy on my Son!
I had to cover my ears to block the jeering crowd
I think my heart will burst

I hear Jesus pleading with God to forgive them
His hours on the cross seem unending
How much more can He take, dear God?
As I now find myself at the foot of the cross

I look up into the eyes of my dying Son
But in all his agony He sees only my grief
He looks at me with love
As He turns and says something to the thief

Jesus my Son, my precious Son
I gaze into your beautiful face
Suddenly, the crowd grows quiet
As my Son speaks with loving grace

As I look up on that cross
I do not see the face of my Son
I see the face of my loving Savior
It is finished, it is done!