By Jasmine Willis
COHOCTON — For over seven decades the faithful have gathered at the old Zion Lutheran Church to honor those who have walked the halls before them.
On Nov. 3 All Saints’ Day is practiced by several churches all over the world. However, none so beautiful as the small church on the hill in Cohocton. This 150-year-old church lights up the walls, windows, aisles, and pulpit with candles to signify the message of the special day.
The 70thAnnual Memorial Candlelight Service was dedicated to Albert Mann who passed away recently at 104-years-old. Jack Fredericks sang a special 1860s song called “Goin’ Home” for a friend of his that passed on. Many parishioners were able to purchase candles in honor of loved ones who have passed away and their ancestors. A small booklet with hundreds of names were mentioned in memory. At the end of the service a bell tolled for all those we lost in 2019; which was 59. The service began with the hymnal “For All The Saints” and ended the beloved hymn “Amazing Grace” as the candles were blown out.
Rev. Deborah Johnson gave a heartwarming and inspirational message on this historic night.
“All Saints’ Day means so much more to me now. Somehow over the years it has grown in significance to me. It is the sound of the bells that ring as the names are read. It is the lighting of candles remembering those who have died. Prayers of remembrance and special foods. All Saints’ Day the day that typically falls on the day we get an extra hour of sleep,” she said. “Today we fall back, not just our clocks, but also we fall back upon our memories. Our memories of loved ones gone from this world. We fall back on the emptiness we still sometimes feel. We fall back on our gratefulness that such a crowd of witness came to know them. We fall back upon our faith. Just as the Holy walls with them so does the Holy walk with us. Today, let us also fall back into the arms of loved ones still with us. Today, let us fall back into the arms of The Holy One.”
“We lift up the saints in this place. For here at this place since 1949, people have gathered on All Saints’ Day. To lift up saints who were born into the world only to later leave it. Thousands of lives have been lifted up here; those who have gone before us. It seems as we get older that list just grows and grows. Ones whose life and death intersect with our own. A whole life that brought light; a light of a saint,” Johnson continued. “None of us is immune to it. Death surrounds us all. At times it comes when we least expect it. We gather to stop the world that says to move on, but we know that we need to be here. Tonight, we heard life giving passages that assure us of God’s presence throughout our lives. First we have a Psalm of comfort in a world that seems so broken; a reminder that it is God who is with us. It invited us to be still. God serves as a refuge and a place of safety in these times. Remember who God is, and remember the saints who have gone before us.”
“God is the only one we can count on in a world of weakness and darkness. In a world full of grief and despair. God is in it until the end of time. God understands the pain of loss. The death of his only son of the cross. God is the one who makes things all bright again,” Johnson added. “Be still and know that I am God. Fall into my arms; friends and family look all around you. See the flickering of candlelight and remember we are to be the light of Christ. This light that just keeps on glowing. IN this place we are renewed with the light of the saints who have gone before us. God can be depended on and does not abandon us. You know the stories of those who names are spoken and written ahead. Tell the stories of your loved ones to others. Tell others about Christ’s light that was shown through them as they walked this earth. This night is about remembering our loved ones who died, but it is also about those of us who remain.”
The church gathered after the service to share stories of those who touched so many lives. There were stories of baptisms, weddings, funerals, candlelight services, picnics, and how everyone loved the old wooden church that rests on top of the hill. It guards the ancestors who rest behind it on Holy Ground. The candles stay lit to guide their way home, and bring light into a seemingly dark world.