By Janet Nelson
RENSSELAERVILLE — On Saturday, Dec. 1, fog had settled in the valley over Bates Hollow just outside Potter Hollow. A light snow on the sides of the road highlighted the route to the Bates Hollow Church.
About 160 people found their way to the church on this foggy winter night. Kerosene and battery-operated lanterns graced the outside of the church to welcome us in, as there is no electricity here. Stepping inside the lantern-lit church, we found that Glenn Hallenbeck had a welcoming fire burning in the old woodstove. The church filled quickly with people of all ages — babies to those in their nineties.
We were transported back in time in this delightful old country church.
The program began promptly at 7 p.m. with Dorothea Cotter’s welcome, noting some history of the church. We surely appreciate her dedication over several years to help keep the Bates Hollow Church alive. It survives strictly on donations. This is currently the only service held each year in this church. The money raised helps to pay the insurance and continued upkeep of the church.
Pastor Nathan Miles from the Potter Hollow Church welcomed everyone and opened with a prayer. Joshua Ryan assisted the pastor with an attention-grabbing puppet show, telling of God’s forgiveness.
Erika Ullstrom and Kayla Luce performed a graceful ballet to the song “Christmas Time.” Riley Uht performed two beautiful Irish Step dances. A lovely flute trio — Erika and Krista Ullstrom and Amber Case — played “The First Noel.”
Throughout the evening, Dorothea Cotter read from the diary of Maude Haskins, and Janet Nelson read some stories from Ralph Hull’s book A Lifetime of Memories & Experiences. These stories highlighted many interesting facts of the past.
Doug Forsthoff, an accomplished guitarist, played and sang a beautiful Christmas song he had composed.
He read the Christmas story from the Bible as many of the young children attending the service dressed as Joseph, Mary, wise men and angels performed a Christmas pageant.
Several parents of these children had done this same thing in years’ past. Thanks to Michelle Cotter and her helpers for organizing and dressing the children.
The story was mingled with the singing of Christmas carols by the congregation accompanied by me playing the old pump organ. The gorgeous old organ still is not in good working order. We will need to find someone to fix it and come up with appropriate funding. Doug Forsthoff graciously pitched in with his guitar to help with accompaniment.
Marcia Fleisher read a true story of her mother Norma’s sleigh ride as a child to the Bates Hollow service in years’ past. As she was reading, I could just picture my grandfather Poultney hooking up his horse and sleigh on snowy winter nights to drive these same roads taking my grandmother, Mary, and mother, Joyce, to the Bates Hollow Church for church services.
My mother was very young but always had vivid memories of this nostalgic time. Can’t you just hear those sleigh bells ringing?
All of the Ralph Hull family attending sang “Frosty the Snowman.” Doug Forsthoff led the audience in singing “Happy Birthday” to Ralph Hull who turned 94 on Dec. 3.
As Doug and I played “Jingle Bells,” a jolly Santa (played by Ken Makely) appeared at the church with his bag full of candy-filled stockings. Several trays of delicious cookies were passed around and what would the Bates Hollow service be without Ralph Hull’s popcorn balls! He has made and brought popcorn balls to share every year since 1956.
So many people work to make this a memorable evening. Among those not mentioned previously are Linda Mormile, Pat Boland, and Liz Hirsch along with Dorothea Cotter who clean the church; Kermit Jackson brings in the tree; and GNH donated four kerosene lanterns as several of the church’s lanterns are old and in need of repair to function properly. There are too many to mention but thank you one and all!
An evening at the Bates Hollow Church service to many denotes the true meaning of the Christmas season. The Bates Hollow Church service is held the first Saturday night every December. See you there next year! Merry Christmas to all.