Dutch Valley Christmas: Decorations connect members with memories

Dutch Valley Christmas: Decorations connect members with memories

Dianne Hackworth (left) and Judy Hackworth Catron decorate the church with fresh evergreen from the surrounding grounds.

CLINTON, Tenn. -- At Dutch Valley United Methodist, the Christmas decorations are beautiful, but they’re more than decorations. They're a treasured link to the heritage of a small rural church.

The church is decorated with greenery from the surrounding grounds where church forebearers lived and walked. Janis Hackworth Bishop remembers how her grandmother went into the woods every December to collect the “ground pine” that would adorn the altar table and rails.

Early last Sunday morning, Bishop did the same. She took a walk in the December chill to pick a bag of evergreen for the church where she and her family grew up.

“It’s a well-loved tradition,” Bishop said. “It’s a way to be with all our memories and the folks who were here before us. It keeps their memories fresh.”

To keep the ground pine fresh, her grandmother, Annie Dail Hackworth, used to store the evergreen “in a dish tub of water on her back porch.”

As the altar decorations dry out and turn brown later in the Advent season, today’s church members replace it with fresh vines of pine – the way Annie did until she was in her 90s.

“If we were lucky, one of us grandkids would get to help her,” says Dianne.

Located west of Clinton, Dutch Valley United Methodist Church was first formed in 1856 as “Dail Chapel” in a log building on the current property.

The log building burned in 1896, and the church was rebuilt in 1906. The two-story, white clapboard building still stands today on Sulphur Springs Road.
Dutch Valley UMC in Clinton, Tenn.

Dianne wrote a short history of the church’s Advent celebrations and decorations, based on her childhood memories from the 1950s and ‘60s. It reads like an Appalachian storybook:

“Handmade wreaths were placed on the doors, again using ground pine and holly bough with bright red berries. These most frequently were cut by Thelma Denny Dail and her sister, Dororthy Denny Shanlever, from the hollies planted by the Dail ancestors along the cemetery boundaries and tied with the traditional red ribbon.”

The piano top also was decorated with ground pine, holly berries that grew next to the church cemetery, “and a large, fat candle.” For years, Annie Hackworth used melted wax to attach the Advent candles to a large slab of coal.

But in 1962, something changed. Dianne remembers it well:

“We arrived on the first Advent Sunday to find the altar table had a new decoration,” she said. “Instead of the candles stuck onto the slab of coal, the candles were lined up straight on a long, shiny log.”

Dianne’s father, Kenneth Hackworth, had taken a two-foot log from the property, carving and shaping it until it was smooth. He flattened one side so it would lay stable and drilled holes in the other side for the candles. Another church member, Jerry Brantley, “varnished the log until it shone.”

The new Advent log was much admired and instantly accepted into Dutch Valley’s collection of beloved traditional decorations.
The Advent log created in 1962

"Though occasionally we have had a new pastor or member attempt to bring us up to date with a round Advent wreath on our altar table, we stick to our traditions and adamantly insist on using our ‘new’ 1960s Advent log,” Dianne says.

Other decorations have remained much the same at Dutch Valley UMC, with a few modifications and additions. The church is currently led by the Rev. Kathy LaFollette.

Limbs cut from a yew bush are now incorporated into the greenery because they dry out less quickly than the ground pine. Handmade sconces dress up the sanctuary walls, even more so when greenery and berries are added the week before Christmas. The tall, live cedar tree of yesteryear – cut from one of the church member’s farms – has been replaced with an artificial tree.

“We simply cannot take the chance of fire,” Dianne says.

On December 15, the third Sunday of Advent, several church members were absent due to illness or funeral. Yet 15 or so worshippers gathered to sing Christmas carols, hear the story of Mary and Joseph from Pastor Kathy, and see Dianne and her seven-year-old great niece light the Advent candles.

They were surrounded by a garland of memories and a cloud of witnesses.

Please visit the photo album link below.


Annette Spence

Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.

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