Sunday, October 28, 2018

Oct. 28, 2018, column:
Unexpected delights
Visit to small Maryland church overshadows Museum of the Bible, Library of Congress
By Mike Haynes
            For a believer who loves the history of God’s Word being transmitted through the centuries, a day at the Museum of the Bible and a half-day at the Library of Congress ought to be the highlights of a trip to Washington, D.C.
            And those visits this month were fascinating. On the first day, curator Norm Conrad gave our
Linganore United Methodist Church in Union Bridge, Maryland,
is on the site of one of Francis Asbury’s 16,500 sermons,
preached during his 1792 visit. (Photo by Mike Haynes)
group of 20 a special tour through MOTB, and on the second day, four Library of Congress experts arranged for us a private showing of 19 documents, including a page from the 1455 Gutenberg Bible and the small Bible used first at Abraham Lincoln’s 1861 inauguration and later by Presidents Obama and Trump.
            Strangely, it was the third day’s activity, a drive to a little Methodist Church north of Washington, that stuck with me more.
            The International Society of Bible Collectors is a small, pretty specialized group of people who know much more than I do about Bible history – from 2,000-year-old Greek papyri to 21st century native American translations. So yes, the Dead Sea Scroll fragments, a copy of Martin Luther’s 1530 New Testament and the rest of the glitzy, $500 million MOTB were enough to draw us to D.C.
            The wood-paneled room in the Library of Congress where I restrained myself from touching that Gutenberg leaf, a 1640 Bay Psalm book from Massachusetts and an 1830 first edition of the Book of Mormon was in itself worth the trip.
            So in comparison, I didn’t expect much on Day 3, when we drove to Linganore United Methodist Church in Union Bridge, Maryland. The Rev. Stephen Ricketts, one of the ISBC members, is the pastor there, and the schedule called for us to hear two speakers and see his Bible collection.
            If you’re paying attention, though, you might experience unexpected delights.
Local church members served lunch to visiting Bible collectors
Oct. 6 in a traditional fellowship hall setting at Linganore
United Methodist Church. (Photo by Mike Haynes)
            Ricketts said his church’s location in the rolling, wooded hills northwest of Baltimore had hosted worship since the early 1700s and that the current brick building had been on the site since the late 1800s. He didn’t say Washington had slept there, but maybe more interesting to me, he told us that Francis Asbury had preached on this spot.
          Asbury (1745-1816) is one of the most well-known names among Methodists. The Englishman is said to have traveled 300,000 miles in America while preaching 16,500 sermons. Church founder John Wesley had ordained Thomas Coke and sent him to the new United States. In 1784, Coke ordained Asbury, who became a superintendent of the American Methodist Episcopal Church. Asbury later called himself “bishop,” although Wesley didn’t like the title.
            In the sanctuary of this small (attendance the previous Sunday had been 54) but historic Maryland church, our group heard author Laurence Vance discuss the “History of the King James Bible” and retired Wesley Theological Seminary Dean Bruce Birch explain “How Did We Get Our Bible?”
            Between the talks, I felt like I was in a rural church in the Texas Panhandle.
This tombstone in Union Bridge, Maryland,
indicates that Sarah Dorsey took care of famed
preacher Francis Asbury when he fell ill in 1792.
(Photo by Mike Haynes)  
            Three “ladies of the church” and one of their husbands met our every need during lunch in the fellowship hall. The long tables with folding chairs, the kitchen in the corner, the tidy window curtains, the decorated bulletin board – all reminded me of the church basement where I grew up.
            I loved the connection. This Maryland church has families going back more generations than
any in our part of the country, but the hospitality was the same that’s been offered for four generations by my friends and relatives in Texas.
            After marveling in late afternoon at the pastor’s collection of books and Bibles, I couldn’t resist taking pictures in the adjacent cemetery, which had graves almost 300 years old.
            Looking for a couple of the oldest tombstones, I noticed one partially covered in moss that had the upper right corner broken off. I snapped a photo, then read the inscription:
            “SARAH – Wife of – ELI DORSEY – Died 1798. –
            “June 1792 nursed Bishop – Asbury through a serious – illness at her house.”
            Francis Asbury’s visit obviously had made an impression on the congregation.

            I greatly appreciated all the remarkable activities provided for our group. It might be the subtle surprises, though, that I remember the longest.