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.
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.
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.
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.
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.