In an Old Country Church
April 1983

“In an Old Country Church,” Ensign, Apr. 1983, 30

In an Old Country Church

It was August 1977. My family and I were making a long-planned excursion into northern Arkansas to visit an old graveyard, now hidden in a national forest. Some of my family are buried in that cemetery, and I needed some tombstone dates to complete part of my genealogy.

As we bounced along a narrow, rutted forest road, overhanging limbs scraped our station wagon, and heavy dust billowed up about us. We tried to follow the skimpy directions given by a local resident, but the dirt road seemed to play hide-and-seek among the trees. Realizing we were lost, we stopped to pray for guidance and then proceeded with renewed confidence among the various forks of the road. At last we came into a shaded clearing and saw our goal, an old, abandoned church house and cemetery.

Notebooks and pens in hand, my wife and I eagerly approached the graveyard. Familiar family names, like old friends, greeted us as we pulled back weeds and up-righted headstones, deciphering and recording each name and date. It was hard, tiring work; briars picked at us, and our clothes soon became disheveled.

Finally, we decided we had gathered all the information possible and started back to the car. Yet I felt that there was something else to be done there. My attention was drawn to the old church house; and while my wife returned to our car to rest, I felt strongly impressed to enter the building.

I climbed the steps, opened the only door, and peered in. It was a one-room country chapel, still furnished with old, hand-hewn pews. I closed the door behind me and quietly walked up to the front. It was my intention to kneel and thank my Heavenly Father for his assistance, but, as I knelt, for just a few brief, glorious moments I could actually see the people there, filling the little church. Some were standing, others sat in the pews; all were clothed in the simple country dress of their time. Some of the men had beards or moustaches; two women held infants in their arms. They had gathered and waited for me in the little church where most of them had worshiped during mortality; and though it appeared that a few were indifferent, most were smiling and happy.

A strong feeling of peace and joy overcame me, almost unbearable in its sweet intensity. I bowed my head humbly, as grateful tears fell from my cheeks. I felt a part of that glorious eternity, an accepted part of my own family. Though we had never met before, they knew me and I knew them. No longer were they just names or dates. After a while I lifted my head to look about me again, and they were gone.

As I rejoined my wife, I knew more strongly than ever before that our progenitors wanted their temple work done. And I know, too, that our loving Father would have us all unite our families across that chasm of death with the saving bridge of genealogical research and temple sealings.

  • J. Pat Spicer, assistant professor, Industrial Education and Technology Department, Western Illinois University, is activities chairman in his Macomb, Illinois, ward.