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William West Skiles

A Sketch of Missionary Life at Valle Crucis in Western North Carolina 1842-1862

Edited by Susan Fenimore Cooper

New York: James Pott & Co., 1890.

Chapter V.

In August of 1847 the Rev. Mr. Buxton left Valle Crucis, and entered upon missionary and parochial duties at Asheville, where he still remains after a ministry of forty-two years--1889--one of the most respected among the clergy of the Diocese. [Dr. Buxton has lately resigned his charge at Asheville, to take effect March next.] Thanks be to God for this and every other long pastorate!

The Rev. William Glennie French was then placed by the Bishop at the head of the Institution, in 1847.

Important changes took place at Valle Crucis during the year 1847. The work became strictly religious, including the Divinity School and Missions. The school for boys was broken up, and the few lads remaining in the valley were sent to their homes. The store was closed, the goods on hand being sold at cost, or given in some instances to the poor. [56/57] There were at that date three religious services in the Chapel every day--full Morning and Evening Prayers, and also a short noonday service, in which all took part. Mr. Skiles not infrequently read the Lessons. Great attention was paid to training the young men in singing; all who had good voices were required to practise Church music regularly, and the result was remarkably successful. The chanting was unusually good. A clergyman of long and varied experience declared recently that he could not remember ever hearing the Church Anthems so effectively and so nobly sung as by the choir of men and boys at Valle Crucis, whether at the daily services, or at the Holy Communion in that old basement Chapel, in the scattered school-houses, at Mission services, or when gathered about the grave of some poor member of the flock.

The Mission work was pushed forward with energy. The seed sown earlier by the first missionary, the Rev. Mr. Prout, was now yielding good fruit, and the zeal of the young men at different outlying stations produced happy results. The rural population were softened by [57/58] these charitable labours in their midst, the influence of the Church and her system was felt and acknowledged. The good people learned the chants and anthems, and took pleasure in singing them in their rude but kindly homes. Little bands of men and women, after leaving the schoolhouse or cabin where a Sunday service had been held, would often go on their way through the forest paths chanting the Bene-dicite--a holy song of praise never before heard in those ancient forests. And these were people who could not read. It seemed as if the Church were about to be cordially received into the hearts of the simple backwoodsmen. The Chapel on the hill-side was much improved, within its walls, at least, and with a suitable chancel and furniture received a more religious character. [The Bishop's chair, ingeniously constructed out of laurel by a member of the Mission (Rev. Mr. Bland) still may be seen at Valle Crucis, a valued relic.] Many of the country people from the neighbouring hills and valleys now attended the Sunday services regularly, and occasionally a few would come in for the daily Prayers. There was a little colony of [58/59] German Lutherans at no great distance, who gladly became connected with the parish at Valle Crucis, bringing their children for Baptism, and receiving Confirmation and the Holy Communion in the Chapel. Several Baptists and Methodists also became connected with the parish. These worthy mountaineers were naturally intelligent, and their hearts opened readily to receive the good instruction offered to them. Their ignorance of letters was very touching, when combined with natural shrewdness, and willingness to receive religious teaching. The good Lord had given them the hearing ear, and, receiving holy truths into the "honest and good heart" of the parable, many brought forth blessed fruits. They were deeply impressed by the reverent solemnity of the Holy Sacraments. And the noble, ancient chants of the Church seemed to penetrate to their very hearts' core. At times they sang them with tears in their eyes. The mode of instruction employed by the missionaries was well adapted to their condition. Direct, earnest, plain, catechizing, the heart-stirring Liturgy, the noble chants, with short, simple [59/60] sermons, assumed something of the character of the ancient Gospel instruction, when books were few, and the faithful were hearers rather than readers. The missionaries, however, pressed on the secular schools at the same time that their daily religious instruction was necessarily in a great measure oral and catechetical, among a people who could not read. They were looking anxiously forward to the happy moment when the Holy Scriptures should be read in every household, when the good people should come to the Lord's House bearing the Prayer-Book in their hands. Ignorance is an element never yet fostered by our Church. A number of these humble believers in the wilds of the Watauga country seemed to receive the Christian Faith as in very truth the Pearl of Great Price, to be regarded as their greatest treasure. One of the older missionaries remarked that "it seemed as if Christ was indeed their Life."

Among the converts was a poor woman whose previous life had been one of gross sin. She was very ignorant, but wandered into the Chapel on some occasion and listened to [60/61] the service. She returned again. Her heart became deeply touched by the Confession, the Prayers, the Lessons, and the preaching. Again and again she returned to occupy a seat near the door. At length she seemed to follow instinctively in the steps of the Magdalen, throwing herself at the Lord's feet, and opening that poor, sinful heart to the fulness of lowly, penitent faith. Many were the tears she shed. She seemed never to weary of the holy services. Quiet, earnest, reserved, she now walked humbly day by day in the paths of penitence and love.

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