In the Name of …

Week 10: #52 Ancestors – Worship

By Eilene Lyon

There’s no question that my ancestry is steeped in Christian culture. Though there is some hint of Ashkenazi Jewish DNA from the wayback, my heritage is very much white Protestant European. For myself, I choose “none of the above” with regard to deities.

I confess that the universe is more vast and complicated that my puny brain could ever comprehend. Heck, I don’t even understand my miniscule corner of it: southwest Colorado, United States, Planet Earth, Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy. (Does our solar system even have a name besides “Solar System”?)

I was brought up in the Methodist Church and various non-denominational Protestant churches—not given a choice in the matter until I turned 18. The last time I checked, my dad was still a deacon in the Methodist congregation, his wife, Episcopalian.

My mother, in her advanced state of dementia, probably has only foggy remnants of her former devotion. The facility where she lives is owned and managed by the Society of Friends, the last religion she chose to partake in, completely unaware of her deep ancestral connection to the Friends.

She once sat on the board of this very institution. I can’t praise them highly enough in the quality of care they provide, and at a very reasonable price. Mom did well in her decision to spend her final days there.

The Pisgah Church near Elmwood, Saline County, Missouri, established 1883. My 4th great-grandmother, Sarah Hamilton Davis is buried in the cemetery. She died in 1863, twenty years before this structure was erected. (E. Lyon 2012)
Sarah Hamilton Davis’s gravestone is very nearly illegible now. (E. Lyon 2012)

On Mom’s side, her Quaker lines date back at least to the days of William Penn, with our immigrant ancestors in the Zane and Jenkins families settling in and around Philadelphia. The Bedfords were also members of the Philadelphia meeting.

My father, too, has some Quaker legacy on his Fawcett, Faulkner, and Painter branches. They might have had a connection to George Fox, the Society founder. Many of them settled in New Jersey, then Virginia, but later relocated to Ohio to distance themselves from slavery.

The Moscow (Idaho) Methodist Church where my Davis ancestors worshiped. (Latah County Historical Society)

Both my parents have more recent connections to the Methodist Church, grandparents and great-grandparents having belonged. Grandma Smith played the organ for the Methodist Church her mother, Clara Ransom Davis, supported. Grandma eventually joined the Presbyterians, along with Grandpa Smith.

My Grandma Halse also belonged to the Methodist Church in Corvallis, Oregon, the same one my parents married in in 1957. In her later years, though, she had little connection to the church. Her fraternal organizations seemed to take that role in her life, particularly the Pythian Sisters.

The Big Canoe Lutheran Church in Highland Township, Winneshiek County, Iowa. My 3rd great-grandfather, Robert Halse is buried in their cemetery across the street. (E. Lyon 2012)

Most of, if not all, my many German ancestors came from the Lutheran tradition. One Christian religion that rarely shows up in my tree, and only by marriage, is Catholicism.

In my gold rush book, Fortune’s Frenzy, my ancestors speak at length of their religious faith (Quaker-turned-Methodist). This faith clearly helped them deal with the distressing hard times they frequently suffered: poverty, children’s illnesses and deaths, legal troubles, etc. But not all my family lines belonged to a church.

When my 4th great-uncle Humphrey Anderson lay dying in New Orleans’ Charity Hospital in 1851, a nun asked him if he had religion, and he replied that he did not. I think this was typical of his family, and his sister’s family, the Ransoms.

Humphrey’s father, William C. Anderson did seem to settle in communities founded by Quakers, though he clearly was not among their ranks. It’s a little odd, given his family background on Maryland plantations that had enslaved people.

Frequently, I fail to find a religious connection for many of the people I research. Unless there is a church baptism, marriage, or funeral, they leave no record. Sometimes it is only the obituaries that reveal the depth of religious commitment—at least according to whomever wrote it.

Great-great grandma, Olive Springer Gusso, is lauded for her commitment in this obituary from the “Northern Union Outlook” (Seventh Day Adventist).

I can still recall my days of summer Bible school, church camp, Sunday school, and formal worship services. I sang in the choir and cantatas, which I enjoyed. Even if the words no longer have any deep meaning for me, I still like Christmas carols. I closed many a prayer with “In the name of Christ, Amen.”

Though I no longer worship, or pray, no longer believe in heaven or hell, I do think that there is some essence of us that persists and dissipates in the universe. It’s not consciousness, but energy. I try to keep it on the positive side.

56 thoughts on “In the Name of …

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    1. I think it would have been more difficult in an earlier era and with certain religions. Still, Puritanism saturated much of American life for so long that the effects are still evident today.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. I’m not at all religious but the Quakers appeal to my sensibilities more than most organized religions.

    I learned a couple of years ago that my dad’s family were Quakers who came to current day Morgan County, Ohio via Virginia. They were there for the settlement of Chesterfield, a community that would be important to Ohio’s Underground Railroad. I couldn’t be more proud of these ancestors.

    Sometimes I wonder if it’s possible this part of my dna informs my belief systems all these generations later.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The Friends Intelligencer is a fascinating read, particularly Friends Intelligencer, Vol 29 and some of the accounts of William Penn on the Native Americans they had the privilege to know.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s something like 20 volumes. A lot if it is day to day living which really gives insight to how very intelligent someone can be and still hold tremendous bias.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I scoured through some difficult reading for days and finally gave up for the mean-time. I did find this gem that perhaps I’ve shared before?
        “But what is most striking in Penns delineation of the Indians character, is the often repeated eulogy of the Indians natural piety. Again and again he dwells on the fact that the Indian shames the Christian in the sincerity of his religious belief and the correctness of his moral conduct”.
        Describing the frugal meal that satisfies them, “pumpkin without butter or spice, the bare ground for a table, shells for spoons and leaves of the forest for plates”, he winds up exclaiming, “these wild men who never in their life heard Christs teaching of temperance and contentment, herein far surpass the Christian” Ten years later he goes on again with his praises; “They live far more contented and unconcerned for the morrow than we Christians. They do not over-reach in trade. They know nothing of our everlasting pomp and stylishness. They neither curse nor swear, are temperate in food and drink, and if any of them get drunk it is the fault of the Christians for the sake of accursed lucre”. They intentionally liquored the Indians to cheat them. Even when they absolutely knew that the Indian surpassed them in every way as human beings.
        He said; “meanwhile, we use the wild man for day labor and gradually acquire their language and make them acquainted with the teachings of Christ”—1687
        Friends Intelligencer,
        Vol 29, pp 68-69

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I wish I knew more about the various strands of Christianity. Isn’t Methodism far more strict that Quakerism? Is ism even an appropriate way to refer to either? As a Jew, I enjoy many of the holidays and rituals, but am still quite agnostic and often an atheist about the whole God thing. I recently visited a museum where the artist was a Buddhist; the quotes that he incorporated into his art from Buddhism made me think that that would be a religion I could best incorporate into my belief system.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Traditionally, the Methodists were no where near as strict as Quakers, which is why many people left the Friends to join the Methodists. Buddhism can go a couple different ways. In its root form it is really a philosophy. Certain cultures have adapted it to a religious practice. As a philosophy, I also find it appealing.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I hold no religious affiliation. I was raised Protestant and I’m sure there are still some residual effects of that in my psyche. Like you, I find Buddhism appealing as a philosophy. I do find sometimes people are drawn to religion for the sense of community that they receive from it.

    Your comment about our essence dissipating after, reflects my thoughts. I think there is something more after we die. I’m not exactly sure what that is, but I have had experiences that would leave me to believe that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am certain that the community aspects appeal to a lot of people. When it becomes tribalism, I get a bit hinky. No living person knows what happens after death, so we must all come to our own conclusion about it. (And I put no credence in “died and came back to life” or “near-death” experience stories- dead is dead. Show me one certifiably brain-dead person who came back to life.)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t doubt that there is brain activity being the last thing to go, as in this case. I think all kinds of weird cognitive things happen as death occurs. But this guy didn’t come back to life to tell us about it. He wasn’t brain-dead when the activity was recorded. Death occurred after that. I’ve seen some interesting speculative movies about what our brains imagine as we die and the cells get starved of oxygen. It’s a little creepy.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. My family was lapsed Catholic from the time I was old enough to get into any real trouble. The only time mom took us to church was on Christmas Eve, the midnight Mass.

    I guess every generation needs religion in order to provide themselves with a peace they might not otherwise be able to achieve. For me, faith is really complicated so my faith is and always will be a personal thing.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I was christened Catholic but never made my communion or confirmation. My mom didn’t drive, no Catholic churches were near enough to walk to and my father said he would not get up early on his only day off to go to church. So, because my mom wanted me to go to church and Sunday School, she asked if I could tag along with my best friend’s family every Sunday. That friend’s father got transferred to another state, so another friend/family was recruited to go to church with. So, I’ve been to Presbyterian, Lutheran and Catholic services. I’m flexible! And when we moved to the States in 1966, I did the same “tag-along” and went to a Baptist church with my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I have two friends who are former nuns and they never speak about their time in the convent. One has married twice – her first husband left her and their two young children; her second husband, now in his mid-60s, is in a nursing home after four debilitating strokes. My other former nun friend married an older man – they have no children. I also worked for an attorney who was a former priest. What are the odds of knowing so many people who chose religion as a vocation and changed their minds. They are all good-hearted souls who would do anything for you.

        As a kid, it didn’t seem to matter what religion it was, I was adaptable, but, as to the Catholic church, having never been schooled properly in Catholicism, I was reluctant to attend church, even when friend #1 (above) arranged a mass to be said for my mom and asked me to go. I did not attend. I did not have a funeral for my mom – it was not what she wanted (nor I), so religion/service was not an issue.

        Yes, we can seek spiritual guidance, yet need not be in a formal setting to do so. I know my friends were not comfortable with attending Catholic services on Zoom during the pandemic.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I suppose all religions have those who become disillusioned. Interesting that you se real who really took a different track. I can’t imagine church services via Zoom really filling the need.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yes, one perhaps, but knowing three is odd. I don’t see Zoom working either, but for some, that was the first time to miss church services. My grandmother never missed Sunday services except when she visited us here in the States. All the neighbors walked up the street together to St. Helen’s Church. They had services every hour, but were conducted in different languages. Portuguese and Italian people also worshipped here. Things are so different now.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Yes. My grandmother would go to an 8:00 a.m. mass because she did not want to go to others as they spoke no English throughout the service. I’m sure that doesn’t happen now – there are more separate.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I enjoyed reading about your ancestor’s religious affiliations. I have a few Methodists and Baptists in my lineage, but I was raised Presbyterian. I hadn’t thought of it until now but there are no Catholics in my family line. That seems odd but I suppose there were prejudices against them, so no one married one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it used to be much harder to buck family religious preferences back then. And Catholics did face a good bit of discrimination in this country for a long time. Now they’re pretty mainstream, I’d say.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. My family are the opposite of yours – very very Catholic and not at all Protestant except for people who married in or converted. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been in a Protestant church, apart from C of E cathedrals (which are basically Catholic!). I’m not at all religious myself, but I’ve maintained a fondness for the smell of church incense and an inclination to light candles for my grandparents whenever I find myself visiting a cathedral.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. No, fortunately not! I had to go to Sunday School until I was 16 and made my confirmation, and I had to be an altar girl for a few years when I was younger, but there was no way my parents were going to pay to send me to Catholic school when we lived in an area with good public schools, so I escaped that one!

        Liked by 1 person

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