By Neil Joiner
Snow United Methodist Church is a short drive west of Unadilla on Highway 230. I was there in November of 2017 for the funeral of a long-time friend, Charles Jones. Charles and I were in the Unadilla F.F.A. String Band together in the late 1960’s. He mostly played bass guitar, but sometimes took a turn on piano, or plucked a bluegrass classic on his mandolin. Like his father, Horace Jones, Charles could play just about anything with strings on it.
Jerry Pickard was one of our fellow bandmembers. He played “Last Date” on the keyboard at Charles’ service. Jerry and I then played a duet of “Down Yonder.” Jerry made a lighthearted comment that “Down Yonder” seemed like an odd title for a funeral song. The congregation laughed, knowing that Charles had a long history with that old country standard. He had played it countless times in duets, first with Jerry, then later with me. He would grin comically and bounce along the piano bench as he pounded out the rhythm on the lower keys.
I can’t help but wonder if Charles nudged Saint Peter and said, “Pete, I’ll bet you haven’t heard that at a funeral before!” Charles had a contagiously joyful approach to life.
Deidre and John Hibberd have been attending Snow UMC since 1974. At Charles’ service Deidre invited me to come back in the spring to celebrate Homecoming and the 175th anniversary of the church. She knows that I am easily tempted by a combination of good friends and fried chicken. They were both plentiful that Sunday in April.
I learned that a nearby spring once bubbled with sand as white as snow, hence the name of Snow Springs. James Ray Irwin has been around Unadilla for over eight decades and has a gift for remembering details. I had seen him a few weeks earlier and asked him about those springs. He said that in his youth it was like quicksand, just like the bottomless pits depicted in movies of yesteryear.
Johnny Moore was born in 1952 and grew up attending Snow UMC. He’s heard old tales of people tying a rope around themselves and venturing into the swirling sand and water. Johnny and I graduated together from Unadilla High School in 1970. If he had been born a few years earlier, he would no doubt have been on the end of one of those ropes.
Brush arbor meetings were held outdoors before the church was officially chartered in 1843. The site was chosen because it had ample water for the people and their horses. The preaching, singing, and visiting often lasted for several weeks. A log church was built but lost in a fire. The current white frame building has been there since 1902, and remarkably still has the original stained-glass windows.
There are stories from years ago about revivals where the church was overflowing with people. Buckboards were positioned near the open windows for additional seating. I guess the preachers in those days needed strong voices, or maybe the people listened more closely.
Mrs. Marjorie Moore is 88 years old. She’s heard her share of sermons and Sunday School lessons at Snow UMC, but faithfully attends every service. Her good friend, Mrs. Alvarez Hudson, will be 100 on December 9th. She moved to Perry a few years ago but came as usual to Homecoming. The Moore and Hudson families have a long history at Snow UMC. Miss Alvarez said that her late husband, Vaude, was one of nine children. Eight of them are buried in the cemetery behind the church. In an era when big families were common, Snow UMC was surrounded by prospects.
Homecoming has been observed at Snow UMC on the fourth Sunday in April for over sixty years. This was the first time that Charles Jones wasn’t there. We sang his favorite hymn, “Victory in Jesus.” I’d like to think that he sang along, but I don’t want to ask him about it yet.
There was a good turnout for this special occasion. Like many rural churches though, the regular Sunday crowd is a lot smaller than it used to be. The days of big families have passed, and a lot of folks left the farm to live and work elsewhere. The list of potential new members is not very long.
The white sand is long gone from the spring. There are more members in the cemetery now than in the pews. That’s a sobering fact in some respects, but it’s also a good reminder that Snow UMC has been around for a lot of folks who needed it. Over the past 175 years they’ve helped quench the thirst for countless souls. The living water they offer is free to all who will receive it. It comes from a spring that will never run dry, a spring where the sand is much whiter than snow.