Faith and Dedication Part of Our Heritage

circuit-riderWe are having more Winter this year than recently.  In fact, I have been reminded a bit of the “bad old Winters” of the late seventies and early eighties.  But perhaps it would be appropriate to remem-ber the “really bad old Winters” that some of our fore bearers had to deal with.  I shared Sunday about Methodist preacher Hooper Crews having to sell his horse, then nearly freezing to death walk-ing between appointments out in the Galena area.  This is far from the only example.

In December of 1836, Methodist circuit rider Washington Wilcox began to travel the Des Plaines circuit, which covered an area from Elgin north and east to above Libertyville, then back around to Naperville and Aurora.  The circuit had thirty-two preaching      appointments scheduled for one month.  Since the preacher was expected to take time for study, and would depart from the estab-lished appointments to “hunt up” new territory, Wilcox would    usually preach twice or thrice a day for five or six days a week.

And this was December in Northern Illinois.  After his first appoint-ment in the Elgin area, he rode through deep snow to his next      appointments, sometimes crossing broad stretches of open prairie, navigating to the trees of far off groves.  When he got to a grove (where many settlers would establish their shelters) he would ask directions, then strike out to the next landmark.

Sometimes a settler would guide him.  More often he rode alone.  When the temperature moderated, crossing rivers and streams became a challenge.  If the ice gave way, horse and rider would swim for it, arriving on the other bank soaked.  This problem was not only at river crossings.  Much of the land was marshy.  There as a sheet of ice running ten miles west from the Chicago River.  Riding through in the thaw, Wilcox and his horse broke ice at every step.  During a heavy snow, horse and rider collected so much snow on their legs that they could hardly continue.

Circuit riders were out in all kinds of weather, but Winter was particularly challenging.  However, they stuck to it through thick and thin, because they were so dedicated to bringing the Gospel to the people, native and immigrant, scattered across the open prairie.

As I have shared with our Confirmation classes, such dedication is part of our heritage.  We come from hearty spiritual stock.  People and preachers practiced their faith seriously and sacrificially.  Our membership vows of prayer, presence, gifts, service, and witness were the life blood of practical religion for them.

Perhaps this Winter weather that we are facing can remind us of where we come from, and encourage us to dedication and service that will honor God and those who have gone before.

As we thank God for the Gift of the Incarnation, let us pray that we can become God’s gift to the world around us and to those who will come after us in the Faith.

Merry Christmas
Pastor Dan


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