A month ago Kathy and I drove to Guilford, Pennsylvania. Guilford is a few square miles of farmland just outside of Chambersburg, not far from Gettysburg. It’s hilly and in April it was very green and lush.
We were looking for a cemetery where the Tritles and Snyders and Cookes are buried. Beside a Lutheran Church on Grindstone Hill we found them just beyond the creek.
Eight generations ago, in the 1750s, Jacob Tritle came from Germany and settled with his wife Anna and teenage son Johann and farmed in the valley of Guilford. Through the next century they remained and married Cookes and Snyders. After the Civil War, George Tritle took his family west, first to Indiana, then Iowa. Ultimately the Tritles would spend fifty years in South Dakota until they traveled west again to Washington settling in the Wenatchee River Valley till this day.
I have walked many graveyards, but there is something different when you ramble through markers of your ancestors. We were walking over generations. I took some photos but mostly I tried to find a sense of place. What is this place?
When we left, I asked my phone for directions to Chambersburg. The phone said, “turn left” as we drove out of cemetery. But I didn’t turn; I paused. I stopped the car and looked ahead. I felt pulled to go forward, not left. So we went straight.
Consider the generations who walked before you, sat in your pew, sang the same hymns. Imagine our lives as a confluence.
Within a few hundred yards of the cemetery we found ourselves on a narrow twisting road following a creek. The road rose and fell with the ground. All of sudden, I realized what I was driving on. We were following the path that the families would have taken on foot, on a horse, in a wagon to come to church. For generations, my ancestors walked here. It was more than a road to take; it felt more like a way to keep.
With each dip and twist in the way there was a sense, a feeling, of movement. We were going with them on the path to burials and baptisms, weddings and Easter mornings. And we were heading home. There was a coming and a going. It was as if I could see them making their way to worship, to joy and sorrow, to beginnings and endings and then the slow walk back to fields and farms. I am sure there are some who find this a bit too strange, the feeling of being pulled toward something, drawn, and
that is fine. Yet, as I have spoken to people, they, too, have had a moment in a house, in a town, on a hillside where they were pulled forward.
Eight generations, 270 years ago, is a great distance. There is no way to look at such a distance and speak of being determined or influenced by people who lived so long ago. They are names on a tombstone. Yet, the moon is a great distance away and it pulls the tide. There is an invisible connection of gravity moving the sea.
In the moment where I was told to go left and I went straight there was a sense of tidal movement. There was no grand epiphany or hidden treasure at the end of the creek. But there was a sense of confluence, a communion, being drawn together.
As a pastor I am ever mindful of the generations that come and go in a church. To baptize your child here, to bury your beloved here, to see a wedding, to join your voice in the candlelight singing of Silent Night on Christmas Eve, these moments fill us, restore the beauty of our soul. The gene-rations need not define or determine the church. So often those who glorify the past do it the least service. The church is ever a living out much more than it is a museum of former glory. Better to live out these days knowing such was the challenge of those who came before. They too had to live out their days.
As we move toward a moment of true regathering, where we can join our voices in song, consider the ground, the path to the sanctuary. Consider the generations who walked before you, sat in your pew, sang the same hymns. Imagine our lives as a confluence.
Let us be drawn together.