Voice of the Kingfisher speaks out …from a different perspective
by Elinor Montgomery
August 27, 2013
On the Sunday morning of August 29, 1819, two adults and sixteen youths boarded a large skiff on the north shore of Hay Bay, in Prince Edward County. It was a beautiful morning and the waters were calm when the little group began their journey, just as it was a beautiful night and the waters were calm when the Titanic completed its journey.
Some had ventured into the boat, but had then stepped out again, deeming it too dangerous to cross the 1½ mile stretch of water to their destination of the Hay Bay Methodist Church on the south shore of the bay. One Gilbert Bogart actually cried for his brother, Peter, who would not get out of the boat with him. It would be the last time he would ever see his brother alive again. However, Barnard Cole, the owner of the skiff, and his wife were in the boat, and he assured everyone that it was quite safe, and that he had no concern for the safety of his precious cargo.
The journey began smoothly, with everyone singing popular revival hymns of their day until, half-way across, they noticed the boat was leaking freely and water was collecting around the long skirts of the young girls, causing the boat to settle lower into the water. They had failed to take the precaution of bringing a bailing scoop with them, so the men at the oars began to row with all their strength. It finally occurred to one of them to use his Sunday hat to scoop out the water, but to no avail, for the water was pouring in too quickly.
One young man offered to jump into the water and swim to shore, but, in doing so, he caused the boat to tip, resulting in its being swamped with water. The young women tumbled from the boat into the water and, being unable to swim in their long skirts, they clung to each other and to the swimmers as they screamed and thrashed about in the water. They had only about 1/8th of a mile to go, before reaching their destination, but in the panic that ensued, ten of the young people drowned.
Inside the church, a special, quarterly meeting was being conducted by Rev. Isaac Puffer. It had just begun, when the sound of screams caused him to look out over the water to see the terrible scene and the frightening struggle of the young people for their very lives. It was said that the gathering had just prayed “to make this a day long remembered”, when parents, relatives and friends of the drowning crew raced from the church to the shore’s edge to see the frightful sight before their eyes. Some have said that the scene on the shore was even more heart-rending than that in the water, as parents helplessly watched their children struggle to live, only to have to watch them disappear beneath the water as the screams subsided.
Seven survivors were eventually picked up, and Mrs. Cole who was found floating on her back, was revived to survive with her husband and three of their four children, the fourth of whom was a young girl engaged to one of the young men who survived. She was said to have had a premonition of sudden death in a dream the previous night.
Long has been remembered this drowning incident, which took place exactly 194 years ago today, though all are gone now who witnessed it, those many years ago. There is nothing left but a memory and a few grave markers, which were planted across the road from the church and protected by a little, white, picket fence. Yet, in the minds, such as in mine, of the descendants who built this little church, is the tragic memory of an event portraying even a greater disaster in the making, of which the present-day Christian church plays a major part.
The saga begins in 1709 with a group of families, living in the lower Palatinate district of the Rhine River in Germany, departing from there together, first, to settle briefly in England and then, go on to settle in Ireland’s county Limerick. Having spent a very few years there they continued their trek by sailing to America where they settled briefly in New York City in the 1760’s. While there, they applied for and received land grants in a lonely upper New York valley called the Camden Valley, near Bennington and Saratoga, only to move on from there as loyalists to the Hay Bay district of Prince Edward County in Upper Canada.
During all these moves, the group of German families intermarried and remained together during the entire journey of one resettlement after another. They were part of what was known as ‘the great Exodus’ of Protestants from Germany. Many were Lutheran at heart, having strong ties to the Reformation of Martin Luther, their fellow countryman who would have greatly influenced their strong puritanical beliefs.
While in Ireland, one of the family members by the name of Philip Embury was greatly influenced by John Wesley who came to their German settlement in Ireland to preach. It would seem Wesley was not only impressed with Embury as well, but he was also impressed with the faith of this entire German group of settlers. They quickly adapted to the pure teaching of Wesley to become Methodists, and before they left for America from Ireland, Philip Embury was established as a Methodist preacher.
Having arrived in New York City, it was there that Philip preached the first Methodist sermon in North America to begin the second wave of the puritanical, church movement to the New World. This move would play a major role in establishing America under God’s ruler-ship, which would lead to its becoming the greatest nation in the world as the land of liberty to which the rest of the world looked with envy.
The writer and philosopher, Alexis de Tocqueville, a French politician and historian came to America about 50 years after these families arrived in New York, seeking to discover what it was that made America great. By this time Methodism had spread to the pulpits of America. What he discovered were these pulpits, which were alive with a burning fire, and he declared them to be the reason America was great. He stated categorically that if the pulpits ceased to be alive with the fire of sin being preached, America would cease to be great.
The epic tale continued with Philip Embury, his three brothers and a certain cousin, Barbara, and her husband, Paul Heck, setting about with their fellow Methodists to build the first Methodist church in North America on John Street in New York City, where it stands to this day. With this small beginning, the Methodist church would go on to become the largest Protestant denomination in the entire United States. They were the second and third generations of these German families, who came to Canada to become part of building the Hay Bay Church, the first Methodist Meeting House in the Canadas.
The Methodists would later go on to become a part of the union in 1925, which would make up the United Church of Canada. It is here that the waters begin to darken like those, which filled the boat to drown the children. The dark, spiritual waters would threaten the very existence of the pure church, which landed on the shores of America a mere 160 some years earlier. Church history in America was about to take a disastrous turn in the road leading to nowhere good in the future. The children of future generations were then placed in one very leaky, spiritual boat.
In Germany, many of the men of these families were vinedressers of the Rhine wine industry. The Embury men were particularly raised to be carpenters and teachers, as well as preachers of the gospels. Their response today to the direction the church has taken in the 240 some years of its existence would be much the same as that of the parents and relatives who stood on the shore of Hay Bay as they watched their children, friends and relatives disappear beneath the waters. It was so very little different from the response of the survivors of the Titanic, who were forced to watch from their lifeboats as their relatives and friends disappeared and slipped away into the deep, with their screams no longer to be heard.
In 1925, the move toward ecumenicalism began with the new United Church of Canada’s doctrine taking a back seat to unity. The move was leading toward the One World Order of Religion (U.R.) with its ties to the Canadian Council of Churches (1944) and the World Council of Churches (1946) being firmly cemented. On the inclusiveness front, all barriers have been removed to allow gender and sexual orientation within the ministry. On the marriage front, marriage is no longer as God ordained it – between a man and a woman. On the equality front, the United Church purports that there are many paths, other than the way of Jesus, to God. On the abortion front, it is deemed the right of women to murder their unborn children, as long as they do it safely (I did not know there was such a thing as safe murder for killers).
On the native Indian front, the church is apologetic for denying the equal value of pagan, native spirituality to that of the spirituality of the church. Well, perhaps it is right on this front, for the spirituality of the United Church is a very questionable thing indeed. Though their doctrine concedes that the Bible was written by people inspired by the God of truth, they believe He made up stories for the world to remember that are not true, nor can be taken literally. Its doctrine claims that the circumstances described in the Bible are of no value to our lives today, for they were only for a particular place and time in history. On today’s political scene, this church is vocal in its support for Palestinian rights at the expense of the nation Israel.
In the big picture, the United Church has become the ‘Big Tent’ meeting place with little, if anything of the Methodist, purity movement left, as it welcomes atheists into the fold. Its former Moderator, Bill Phipps, elected in 1997, changed the entire dynamics of the Wesleyan church by stating he did not believe Jesus physically rose from the dead. In a meeting, I was able to put the question to him as to whether or not he believed Jesus was a liar in declaring Himself to be the way, the truth and the life, as well as being the only way to the Father. In red-faced anger he responded that he could not answer that question.
It is as though I am watching that 1819 drowning all over again. The United Church has become blind and deaf and can no longer hear the call of the Spirit and the bride, to get out of the sinking boat, which they call a church. Millions are going to flail in the dark waters when that great and terrible Day of Judgment comes. Yet, the truth is that each and every one in the long skiff on that clear, August morning of 1819 saw no danger and chose to get into the boat. The sadness is that I weep with my ancestors, even to this day, for those who made, and are still making, such foolish choices.
All that is left of the Lutheran-inspired, Methodist movement in America is the shell of an institutional church, out of which God will pull His true, apostolic church for the third puritanical move in this land, in which He will tolerate no leaven in her at all on the eve of the final Passover into the kingdom. Yes, we weep for the lost, but there is rejoicing in the salvation of those who survive the wilderness ordeal of the long journey through history, which began with a call from God to Abram to come out of his country, to a land that He would show him.
What a disaster when there is such a very short distance to go!
Now the Lord had said to Abram:
“Get out of your country,
From your kindred
And from your father’s house,
To a land that I will show you.
I will make you a great nation;
I will bless you
And make your name great;
And you shall be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
And I will curse him who curses you;
And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3).”
Reference: To Their Heirs Forever by Eula C. Lapp. A history of a group of closely-knit families, whose story begins in the great Exodus from Germany in the 1700’s and ends in the founding of the Methodist Church in North America.