Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Princeton Times

December 2, 2011

Historic church delivers Christmas spirit on tiny angels' wings

PIPESTEM —  Heavenly hosts and a divine Christmas message will return to one of the region’s most historic churches Saturday, Dec. 10.

These days, Jordan’s Chapel, only hosts services twice each year — once at Christmas and once each August, when the church family reunites for a summer homecoming in the place where Ruth and Howard Albert say faithful believers are always welcome.

Next Saturday, the annual Jordan’s Chapel Christmas pageant is scheduled for 7 p.m., and the old-fashioned holiday celebration will include an authentic candlelight service, complete with metal candleholders made by hand, and a round of homemade refreshments.

This year’s play is titled, “Good for Christmas,” and Ruth Albert promised the drama will include familiar carols, friendly fellowship and the real spirit of Christmas.

The media announcement heralding the event pledged much the same, declaring, “Come receive a blessing. Everyone welcome.”

Jordan’s Chapel was built in  1852 on land donated by brothers Thomas and Gordan Jordan in what was then Summers County, Va. It was situated on the only main road that ran between Athens and Hinton.

The church’s geography made it a popular travel destination for people who lived in and near the tiny towns that emerged in the hills and valleys of the region before the Civil War marked boundaries along property lines and philosophical differences.

Wood for the frame church was hewn with a broad ax and mortised and boxed with locust pins, according to a church history provided by the Jordan’s Chapel Committee. The nails were made by a nearby blacksmith, and the lumber for the seats was fashioned with a water-powered saw.

Since its construction, Jordan’s Chapel has undergone a roof replacement, installation of a wheelchair ramp and electrical wiring, but the building itself has largely remained unchanged.

Some of the original seats still sit in the choir area near the pulpit, held together with wooden pegs. Many of the blown-glass windows used during the days of circuit-riding preachers grace the simple row of windows.

When the Jordan’s Chapel congregation was at its peak, Howard Albert told the Times he could recall revivals and sermons when the audience was so large, members spilled out to the tidy lawn surrounding the church.

“You wouldn’t believe the crowds they would gather back then. People didn’t have a TV, and very few people had a radio,” he said. “Church was their form of entertainment, and it was how they got to meet up with each other.”

While summer services could be sweltering, they were sometimes frigid in the winter.

Jordan’s Chapel’s only source of heat, aside from the sun, is a cast-iron stove situated along the right side of the church, near the center of the row of wooden pews. Faithful congregation members seated next to the stove risked the chance of roasting during a long sermon, but folks on the other side of the room braved the service in brisk weather conditions.

These days, the stove remains the church’s heat source, but Howard works especially hard in pageant preparation to make the temperature as comfortable as possible. He said it takes roughly 45 minutes to warm the one-room church.

The church stopped its regular services in the 1960s, when True Road was no longer the main route through Pipestem. As a result, population slipped in the area, and other churches were born in more traveled locations.

But, each Christmas and on the fourth Sunday each August, Jordan’s Chapel opens its doors and welcomes its faithful family home, usually hosting a crowd that could rival those in Howard Albert’s memory.

Dec. 10, church members from James and Painters chapels, along with various community residents, will revive the holiday tradition that warms local hearts and keeps Jordan’s Chapel alive and well.

To get to the church, take West Virginia Route 20 North, approximately two miles past Pipestem State Park, and turn onto True Road. The church is situated less than a mile from Route 20.

There is no admission fee, save a hopeful heart and a smile, to attend the Jordan’s Chapel Christmas pageant.

— Contact Tammie Toler at ttoler@ptonline.net.

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