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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 XIII.

The pious wish of the good man was fulfilled. The work on the little Church went on slowly, but steadily, during the summer of '60, and every leisure hour of the Missionary was passed in superintending the details. The walls, of upright planks, battened, and painted white without, were neatly plastered within. The roof was open showing the timbers. As soon as the building was fairly enclosed, the services were held there. The entire cost of the Church was $700, of which more than one-third was given by the Missionary himself. It was his wish that St. John the Baptist should have windows of stained glass. The wish was gratified; the windows, simple, but pleasing, and appropriate in design, were sent by Mr. Sharp, the skilful artist in New York, at a reduced price, and Mr. Evans gave $40 towards the cost. Probably those coloured windows were the first brought over the rough roads of the [128/129] Blue Ridge, into the isolated valleys of that region.

The dark war-cloud of the period was slowly gathering over the country. Its shadows fell heavily on every Christian heart in the land. William Skiles loving, and peaceable by nature, felt these disturbances deeply. He now met with peculiar difficulties in performing his pastoral duties. The people of his scattered flock were divided in their opinions, some leaning in one direction, some in the other. Still, every Lord's Day, when the roads were at all passable, he mounted his horse "Henry," and rode out to keep some appointment. At most of the stations he still found a good attendance, but the hearts of the people were somewhat chilled, and more indifferent to religious subjects. During part of the winter the mountain roads were impassable from the floods, the streams were all swollen to torrents. Still he kept up monthly services at St. John the Baptist, and at Pisgah. In May he sent to the Convention the Report of his year's work:

"I have held Divine Service at the following places: At Lower Watauga; Elk Cross-Roads; Valle Crucis; Upper [129/130] Watauga; Cranberry Forge, and Richlands. I established a new Missionary station on the Linnville, where I have held monthly services, and with the aid of a few zealous members of the Church, there has been established a flourishing Sunday School. The attendance at the services of the Church have been generally good, such as to encourage me in the hope that the seed sown may yet bring forth a fruitful harvest. Since last Convention I have finished a small but neat and comfortable Church at Lower Watauga, which is now ready for Consecration, for which I feel very grateful. Baptisms 10; Confirmation I; Communicants, 32."

Bishop Atkinson was prevented from visiting the Watauga Country in 1861. But in the summer of '62 he came into that region, and one object of his Visitation was to consecrate the little Church at Lower Watauga, which stood awaiting the solemn service, entirely finished, and free from debt.

The 22nd of August 1862 must have been a happy day for William Skiles. On that day the beautiful Consecration service was performed and he joined in the solemn prayers of dedication:

"Vouchsafe, O Lord, to be present with us, who are here gathered together with all humility and readiness of heart, to consecrate this place to the honour of Thy great Name; [130/131] separating it henceforth from all unhallowed, ordinary, and common uses; and dedicating it to Thy service, for reading Thy holy Word, for celebrating Thy holy Sacraments, for offering to Thy glorious Majesty the sacrifices of prayer and thanksgiving, for blessing Thy people in Thy Name, and for the performance of all other holy offices: accept, O Lord, this service at our hands, and bless it with such success as may tend most to Thy glory, and the furtherance of our happiness both temporal and spiritual; through Jesus Christ our blessed Lord and Saviour."

How heartily must the spirit of the good Deacon have entered into that prayer!

The Bishop preached an impressive sermon from the text: "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and forever."

During the service a lame young man, anxious to be present, was brought in by his friends in a chair, and placed in the open space facing the chancel. The Bishop's eye fell upon him while preaching, and he alluded to the fact:

"People brought their sick friends to Christ, and He healed them. You have brought your friend here to-day in his chair, and we feel sure He is just as ready to bless that helpless one, and all now gathered in this place of worship, as He was then to bless those who needed healing, and forgiveness. The [131/132] blessing may be upon the soul now, but blessings to the soul, are even more precious than healing the body."

There was a crowd of the mountain folk attending the service, both within, and without the white walls of the church.

The solemn service over the Clergy left the little Church, and the next day went on their way to other appointments.

William Skiles never saw again the Church of St. John the Baptist. The holy desire of his heart had been granted; in poverty, and failing health, he had been enabled, by the blessing of God, to build the Church, to perform many services within its walls, and at length to take part in its Consecration. He left Watauga the day after the Consecration, with Bishop Atkinson, whom he accompanied to the house of Colonel Palmer in Mitchell County, where other duties awaited him.

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