Sunday, August 28th, 2016 was a special day at the Oak Dale Church of the Brethren. Maybe you noticed the horse and buggy drawn up in front of the church or noticed several of the congregation dressed in dark clothing—much different from what those who worship regularly wear on Sunday mornings.
Those ladies in their long dark, plain dresses—without ruffles, wearing traditional prayer coverings or bonnets worn more than a hundred years ago when the first Oak Dale church was completed, and the men happy not to wear neckties—but they donned their black, wide brimmed hats created a “flash-back” for this Centennial Celebration.
Pastor Mike Bernard welcomed guests and a special preacher, well known in Brethren circles, Jim Myer of the White Oak, PA congregation, came from the Lancaster, PA area to bring the morning message…”Appreciating Our Brethren Heritage.” Hymns were sung a cappella during the morning service.
Brethren are known for plenteous feasts and the ladies at Oak Dale had enough food left over to feed the crowd again—after guests and those who “came home to Oak Dale” from Virginia, Maryland and many parts of West Virginia (more than fifteen churches were in attendance) had enjoyed a fellowship meal together.
Indeed, friendships were renewed, cousins exchanged hugs, people interested in history of the congregation spent time enjoying the excellent display prepared by Shelley (Johnson) Thorne, archivist for Oak Dale, who just happens to be the granddaughter of one of the founding fathers, Albert Johnson, of this lovely church…by the side of the road…to Scherr on Rt. 93.
ORIGINS of the Oak Dale Church date back to 1850-51 when a church house was built near Scherr and people from Paddy’s Land area walked or rode to services there. In 1863, this church building was burned by Confederate soldiers.
After the Civil War, about 1875 or 1880 worship services were started in the old Paddy’s Land Schoolhouse which stood across the road from the present Oak Dale Church. This structure was destroyed by fire, as was a second Paddy’s Land School that was on the location of the current church.
The present day Oak Dale church was built and completed in 1916. Nearly all the lumber for the building was donated by church members and most of the labor was donated by community people who attend this place of worship. Old records show the total cost of the 1916 church was about $500.00—and a collection taken during the dedication service in the fall of 1916 covered those expenses with a few dollars left over.
Oak Dale for many years was yoked together with the Brick Church a few miles away. On September 16, 1988 Oak Dale became an independent congregation. In early years of Oak Dale, “free-ministry” pastors carried out the preaching duties, so that in fact, since 1988 as a congregation, they have had only four full-times pastors.
Abe Evans one of the speakers during the afternoon remarked after examining the archival displays…”When you look at the archives of the church, you realize how we get to the present…”
Several other speakers brought up in this church shared memories of Sunday School, Bible schools, the uncomfortable poplar benches replaced by padded pews, the pot belly stoves used to heat the church. Cleo Hawk told how the Bayard School bell came to be used here, another granddaughter of Rev. Albert Johnson gave some biographical information about his role in getting the building ready and his time as “free minister”, Bill Ludwick of Bridgewater, Va, grandson of another “free minister” the late B.B. Ludwick who served here in the early 1920’s, was on hand also. Kendal Elmore, of Oakland shared “recollections” of a Union soldier who survived measles while stationed in the old Greenland church destroyed in the Civil War, which had been published in Kansas City, MO in 1910.
Brent Ebert one of the younger members at Oak Dale shared how his family roots have been here from the beginnings and how he loves his Brethren heritage and what it means in our world today—which is so different from one hundred years ago. Grover Duling, one of the Oak Dale members who invested much time and effort in the preparations, expressed his pleasure at the group who came to participate in this “special day for Oak Dale.”