Beginnings in Ministry

On December 17, 1938 the Salem Seventh Day Baptist Church, where I had kept my membership to that time, acted officially to license me to preach. It was thrilling to become involved in the life and program of a church so vital and dedicated. It was heartening to have the people accepting of my ideas and patient with my inevitable mistakes.

I submit that there were few rural churches with music programs of the quality we enjoyed in Alfred Station. The adult choir was blessed with good voices in all four parts and under the professional direction of Mrs. Lois Scholes the choir sang the most uplifting choral church music.

Mrs. Scholes was a rare soul with whom Madeline and I became warm friends. Coming to our church to direct the choir–two trips a week–was a labor of love with her. She did insist on being paid $1.00 a trip because, she said, “If you pay me, you can fire me any time.” Lois often made suggestions for changes in the worship services that I was reluctant to introduce for fear the congregation was not ready for such innovative ideas. It was a joy to work with her and I learned many lessons as I came under her dynamic spirit.

Madeline, whose music education in college was extensive, organized and directed a junior choir in the church. Robes were sewed for them and they made a fine contribution to the church worship when they sang.

One idea I had difficulty selling to the church was the conducting of Friday night (Sabbath Eve) worship services. I felt that welcoming the Sabbath with a service in the church was highly appropriate and that such services could bring in community people who would not otherwise be served. Our farming people who lived some distance from the church, liked to take their baths and study their Sabbath school lessons Friday nights.

At one diaconate meeting I pressed again to begin Sabbath Eve services and Deacon Fred Pierce said, “The Pastor wants Sabbath Eve services and I move we let him have them.” That could have been interpreted more than one way but we did plan and lead a long series of services on Friday nights that were well received and attended. I believe those service outlines are still in my files.

After Madeline came to Alfred Station she continued to write her column for THE ALFRED SUN with the title, DAYS TO REMEMBER. The new demands on the Parson’s wife made it seem wise to discontinue the column after a few weeks.

The Boy Scout Troop continued to be active. He put a ping pong table in the front room of the parsonage and the boys were free to come any time. In the spring, after a hard sleet storm, the Scouts came to the parsonage with a strange bird in a cardboard box. It’s feet were webbed and its eyes were red. There was a topknot on its head that raised and lowered. It had been beaten down by the storm and was very weak. We knew it was a water bird so we filled our bath tub and set the bird in it. Our avian guest was obviously pleased when we dropped several of our goldfish in the tub and he swallowed them. When the goldfish were gone the Scouts caught minnows in the creek for him to eat. A bird authority at the university identified this bird as a Horned Grebe.

Our stranded Grebe stayed in our bath tub over the weekend, eating minnows and gaining strength. When we needed to use the bathroom, Scouts and children had to be shooed away from the edge of the tub. The bird bit little Anne’s finger with no serious results. On Monday we crowded the Grebe and eight children into a car and drove to Andover. First we took the bird to be banded by Mr. Watson. He was greatly pleased to band a bird that was only passing through. After the banding we went to Andover pond and set our guest down in the water. Immediately he dived several times and then took off to fly one lap around the pond and land almost at our feet. What a thrill It was like he was saying, “Thanks for everything, folks.” Mr. Watson reported to us that our bird stayed on the pond two or three days before continuing his migration to Greenland for the summer.

Dad and Mother Watts came to spend his vacation with us every year. One year he told me he had been reading a book on Amateur Telescope Making and wanted to grind a mirror for a telescope. My first reaction was to be skeptical. I knew he was an excellent craftsman but I feared grinding a telescope mirror might be too much for him. When I took Dad to visit professor Potter, physics professor at Alfred University who had ground mirrors, it was evident that Dad was already well read on the procedures of telescope making.

Our next trip was to the Corning Glassworks, in Corning, New York, where we interviewed Dr. Gates. Dr. Gates was one of the scientists who worked on the 200 inch Palomar telescope mirror. His son had been at Camp Gorton when I was director. He was most helpful, giving us two pyrex six inch mirror blanks and a source for Dad to order the supplies he needed for the grinding work.

When the folks visited the next year, Dad had the mirror ready for polishing. He set up the mirror on a barrel in the basement and proceeded with the polishing stage. He called me down one day to help him test the mirror, using a knife-edge test he had set up. There were two facing pages in his telescope making book with pictures showing how the mirror should and shouldn’t look with the test. I determined clearly that he had succeeded perfectly with the mirror. Dad had the mirror silvered commercially and their testing confirmed our opinion. He completed his first telescope by building an aluminum tube and a portable mount. Dad gave the finished telescope to me and I have enjoyed excellent viewing with it for more than fifty years. In the ensuing years he ground several mirrors. His crowning achievement, shortly before his death, was the completion of a twelve-and-a-.half inch mirror that is now in use in the John Watts Memorial Telescope at Camp Paul Hummel. More on this at a later point in my life story. I was so proud of Madeline’s Dad!

During our pastorate with the Second Alfred Church, Madeline had the rewarding experience of singing in a trio organized and trained by Mrs. Lois Scholes. Lois was a soprano and Madeline an alto. Betty, whose married name eludes me now, was the third member of the trio that achieved a near professional level of performance. They memorized their programs and sang them a capella. There were many requests for them to sing in our area. Mrs. Elma Strong, a close friend who sang in our church choir, replaced Betty.

Mrs. Scholes also organized a choral group called, Friends of Music. I believe Madeline and I both sang in that group. Music has enriched our lives.

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