Sweet Harmony Chapel, transcribed by Shirley D. Macemon, as told by Thomas A Langford,
pastor in the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church, (mountains of Western N C and
Eastern Tennessee.) on October 4, 1993 at conference in at Cave City, Kentucky. He, in turn, found it in a book that has been out of print for over 75 years.
John said to him, "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us." But Jesus said, "Do not stop him; for no one
who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.
Whoever is not against us is for us.
The waters of the Powderhorn River
flow down off Thunderhead Mountain into the roomy valley of Galax Cove.
As the river runs through the valley of Galax Cove,
the valley's road crosses it twelve times.
Four of the crossings are by log bridges. The other crossings are easy fords.
There are some 40 homes in Galax Cove,
and most of people living there are decent, hard-working folk,
You won't find Galax Cove on your map of Tennessee
but for the folk who live there, Galax Cove is the very center of the universe.
At the time our story takes place, there were two meeting houses in Galax Cove,
the Lower Meeting House of the Hard-Shell Baptists
and the Upper Meeting House of the Methodists.
which stood over against one another
like menacing forts, bristling with guns.
And it is truly said that when Preacher Ike Gallagher,
the Hard-shell preacher, came to preach,
he came with no easy gospel of compromise.
"For," he was fond of saying, "them Methodists might be sincere.
They might be well-meaning folk. But they preach what ain't in this here Bible."
And when Brother Wesley Shelton,
the gray-haired circuit rider from Dry Valley came to preach to his flock
he came as Elijah came to Mount Carmel,
ready to route the enemies of The Lord.
But all that was back before the year of the Big Tide.
Spring had come early that year to Galax Cove.
As the sun warmed the earth, the farmers
were able to get their tobacco and corn in the fields early.
So that by mid April they time on their hands
Therefore, Preacher Ike Gallagher of the Hard-shell Church,
an ever vigilant watchman in the vineyard of the Lord,
who took as gospel that idle hands were the devil's business,
ascertained that the times were auspicious for a protracted meeting.
Word went out up and down the valley
Now, picture if you will,
that there would be preaching every evening
at early candlelighting in the Baptist meeting house.
a small mountain congregation - perhaps some 60 folk
men on one side, women on the other,
sitting huddled on rough log benches
in a plain, unadorned house of worship.
Smoking kerosene lanterns hung along the walls on tiny hooks,
and the doors were shut to keep out the damp of the night.
There, for two weeks, night after night, the preaching went on.
Preacher Ike Gallagher was not one
to call his flock together night after night,
o ffer them a little message and then send them home.
No, when Preacher Ike Gallagher preached, he preached
and when his flock left, they went home mightily sobered by his preaching.
Every night Preacher Ike railed out
against sin in general and sin in particular
and after a time even some of the Methodists
swelled the crowd,
having come to hear what Preacher Ike
was bound to get around to sayin' agin the Methodists.
Well, they came seeking and they went away having found.
"Them Methodists might be sincere. They might be well-meaning folk. But they's a
For no matter what sin Preacher Ike started with,
he ended up with sin right in their midst,
and more than once and in more than one way,
he came back to the theme:
preachin' what ain't in this here Bible."
And then he would go on, holding his Bible in his hand
like a mighty sword:
It tells you in this here Bible that God aims to save you.
And it tells you in this Bible how God aims to save you.
It tells you right here - and he would give the text - that to be saved you must
`Repent and be baptized'
And then it tells you plain how to be baptized.
It says: John the Baptist took the Son of Man down into the water to baptize him,
and when he had finished baptizing Him, he brought him back up out of the water.'
Now if that there baptism was good enough for the Son of Man,
then it's good enough for you and me.
But these here Methodists are a-preaching what ain't in this here book
and they's leadin'people into hell. "
Well, a message like that spread like wild-fire
and word soon reached Brother Wesley Shelton
over at his larger charge in Dry Valley
that the Methodists over in Galax Cove
was being sorely beset by Preacher Ike Gallagher of the Hard-Shell Baptist Meeting
People even said that some of Wesley Shelton's flock had joined up with them
Baptists and that others was straddlin the fence.
When these words reached the ears of Wesley Shelton,
he had no alternative but to answer the clarion call to duty.
Taking up his Bible, he saddled his horse to ride over the mountain
and come to the rescue of his small flock.
Word went out up and down the cove that on Sunday Morning
Brother Wesley Shelton was going to light into them Baptists,
Interest was high, because Brother Wesley, too,
was known as one who made no compromise with sin.
So, in the Upper Meeting House in Galax Cove
that Sunday morning, not only was the entire flock present (and some heathen folk as well.)
But even Grandad Peterson, the Senior Deacon
of the Hardshell Church was in the congregation.
It seems, as he told it, that when he woke up
he ascertained that the rheumatiz in his knees
was so bad that they couldn't possibly get him
all the way down to his own church
Not wanting to miss worship altogether, he allowed as how,
So's he wouldn't set a bad example for the youngens,
he'd just stop and worship with them Methodists --
Those who remembered Wesley Shelton as a young man
talked about his almost legendary ability to wrestle and run and jump,
and swim in his youth.
But now after 70 years in service to the Lord,
his body was bent over and subject to aches and pains,
and his vision was not as clear as it had been in his youth.
Despite this, however, there was still strength in his body
and a look in his eye
that could be summoned upon in time of need.
On this day, the iron was deep in his soul.
The church of his fathers and mothers had been attacked.
The little flock he had been trying to lead into green pastures
was being led into strange by-ways.
On this day everyone in the congregation
knew that Preacher Wesley Shelton had come to preach.
And preach he did.
There was a hush in the congregation
As, standing behind the pulpit, ready to do battle
Wesley Shelton looked piercingly out
over the crowded meeting house
and began to speak deliberately and to the point.
Now God says to Noah in this book `Noah, there is evil and violence in this here world
and I am gonna send a great flood and wash away all that evil and violence. And I want
you to build you an ark of gopher wood and gather all my creatures together - two of
each - and then you and your family get into that ark and I'll seal you in so's you will be
safe before I bring a flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh.'
And you know, God did just what he said he'd do.
God caused it to rain and a great food came upon the earth.
It rained for 40 days and it rained for 40 nights
and the water prevailed upon the earth
and the tide washed away all that evil and violence
and the tide washed away all them sinners.
And only Noah and his family was safe.
And I tell you, brothers and sisters, there is still evil and violence in this world and some
of you is putting your trust in getting washed by water instead of getting washed by the
blood of the Lamb. Some of you has been putting the trust of your filthy souls in the
waters of the Powderhorn River, rather in the blood of the Lamb. And I tell you, that God
is gonna send another food of judgment and wash away everyone who has not been
washed by the blood of the Lamb.
On that day after meeting
there was a nodding of heads among the Methodists
who were clearly pleased at the consternation of their Baptist brethren.
Now that very afternoon,
Preacher Ike was walkin' to his youngest son Luke's house,
his fiery denunciations at the Hard-shell Church
having been all the more scathing
because he had a smaller flock than usual,
and he knew right well where his wandering sheep
had wandered to.
As he walked up the road to Luke's house,
he heard the sound of a horse's hoofs approaching him,
Looking up, he saw,
coming toward him, swaying in the saddle,
the very man that had been hard on his mind,
that circuit-riding Wesley Shelton.
It had been months since these two old prophets of the Lord
had passed one another on this road
And even longer since they had spoken
And on this day, as they did, neither said a word,
but their eyes met, and the look in each one's eyes
was one of bitter, implacable hatred.
About that time, there was along low rumble of thunder across Thunderhead Mountain.
Now, the folks in Galax Cove
tended to take their weather the way it came.
They knew the signs, of course, but they didn't have a radio or TV
to tell them about the hurricane
that had been gaining strength in the Caribbean
and had now for days been coming land-ward.
All they knew was that on that very Sunday evening
there rose an incredible spring storm.
The wind roared up the mountain side and down the mountain side.
It cracked branches
It lifted up whole trees by their roots
and laid them criss-crossed along the road and in the forest.
Accompanying the wind were lighting and thunder
and sheets of rain that turned the small creeks of the valley
into frothing cascades.
It rained all that Sunday night.
and all day Monday and Monday night.
and all day Tuesday and all Tuesday night,
washing out the newly planted patches of corn and tobacco.
But still the rains came.
By early dawn Wednesday,
the bridges had been washed out
and the fords were long-since impassable,
leaving the little town of Galax Cove cut in half by the Powderhorn River.
By mid-morning Nate Walker had lost his mill to the flood
About noon, Preacher Ike was sitting and rocking
and many of the families had moved to higher ground.
on the front porch of his son Luke's house,
watching the waters of the gray and yellow and brown tide
down below the front gate.
Sitting on his lap,
her arms entwined around her grandfather's neck,
was Luke's five year old baby girl, little Beulah.
She had been quiet for a long time,
her head resting on her grandpa's shoulder,
and then, finally, as she looked up at him,
her big blue eyes wide with fright, she whispered to him:
"Granddaddy, why did God send such a big tide?
Was it because Brother Wesley Shelton asked him to?"
Her grandaddy rocked a bit and thought a bit
and then, holding her close, patted her little back
and answered her gently,
"No, no, little one," he said,
"Wesley Shelton didn't have no more to do with this flood
than your pa or me did.
You just be a good girl and trust in the Lord,
and it'll be all right."
The little girl looked up at him with complete trust
and nestled down in his arms as he continued to rock
and to watch the waters rise,
not so sure in his heart as his words had implied.
Wednesday night the rain continued
By dawn on Thursday both the house and barn had been hopelessly cut off
Luke studied a while about what to do,
and then went to the kitchen-building, pulled off its log door and fashioned a crude raft.
He and his daddy would put his wife Seely
and their precious little Beulah on the raft
And then push it across the stream to higher ground and safety.
The two men took the door, pushed it into the water.
and called Seeley who came with a little bundle
of her most precious things in her hand,
and they put Seeley and Beulah on the make-shift raft,
reassuring them, telling them to hold tightly to one another
and to the raft
promising to get them safely to the other side.
Then they waded out into the tide.
The water was up to their knees, and then to their waists,
and then above their waists.
Although the surface had looked calm
soon they were struggling against a current
they had not expected.
What happened next, no one could really say for sure.
Somehow, using all their strength, they got the raft to the other side
And somehow Luke got Seely safely off,
But Little Beulah was still clinging to the raft
As the old man tried valiantly to control it.
Realizing that his old arms were not equal to the task., he let go of the raft and
grabbed for his granddaughter
and missed her by the breadth of a hand.
Luke and Seely just managed to pull the old man out of the water,
before he was swept away
And helplessly watched as their screaming child
was carried downstream on the raft.
Weeping, Preacher Ike lifted a terrible cry to heaven,
"God almighty, save our little Beulah.
Send one of your angels to save our little Beulah."
As his cry rang out, there in the distance
they saw a figure dive into the water from the other side
They couldn't see who it was or where it had come from.
But they knew that no human could successfully fight that tide.
But as they ran along the side of the bank,
they saw the swimmer slowly make progress against the current:
"Look there, Luke," Preacher Ike cried out:
"God sent an angel to save little Beulah."
And that angel saved her
His strong arms made slow progress
against the treacherous, swiftly-moving current
But he reached the raft and pushed it toward an overhanging ledge.
Luke threw himself down on the ledge
grasped his little daughter up off the raft,
and with a shout of joy handed her to Seely,
Then he threw himself down again
and stretched out long arms for the raft and swimmer,
But he could not reach them and watched in horror,
as the arms that had been so strong to save his precious child
unsuccessfully sought to save himself.
Momentarily the face of the swimmer turned toward the bank,
and Luke and Seely and Ike saw who it was.
In wonderment, Ike cried out,
"It's that preacher man, Wesley Shelton and he's drowning,
God help him!"
And even as he spoke raft and swimmer whirled around the point,
and into the midst of the flood.
The rain stopped that day, but the waters were so high
and the banks so treacherous that it was a full two days
before they found Wesley Shelton's broken body,
wedged in a pile of lumber three miles downstream.
Two members of his flock
took that precious body back to Galax Cove
Another who was a carpenter
fashioned a fine coffin of walnut boards.
Still others carried him to lay at rest
in the Upper Meeting House of the Methodists.
Wesley Shelton had no near kin to notify
and the members of his flock realized
it would be weeks before the waters receded sufficiently
for someone of his own faith to come
this far back into the mountains to preach his funeral,
So, with one accord the whole community
turned to Preacher Ike to preach Wesley Shelton's funeral.
And preach he did. They say in Galax Cove
that there never has been such a gathering
as there was for the funeral of Wesley Shelton
And they say in Galax Cove
that there never has been such preaching
as Preacher Ike preached that day.
No one remembered the whole of the message
And they all remembered it began with Preacher Ike
but they agreed that it stirred them to repentance
and that some who had been saved for nigh on all their lives
came to the front to be saved again.
standing behind the rough pine pulpit
of the Methodist Meeting House at Galax Cove
looking steadily and intently with his piercing blue eyes
at the congregation of Methodists and Hard-shell Baptists
and heathen folk.
"Friends and neighbors, " he said, "I never thought that I would be standin' in this here
place sayin' something good about the man whose body is here. Him and me, we was
travelin' far far apart on the road to the better land And the more the years went by the
farther apart we was.
But this last Thursday as my little Beulah-girl was nigh to drownin , I prayed to God
almighty to send an angel to save her, and in his mercy ,God did.. and my little Beulah-
girl is setting right there on her mama's lap today. And the angel he sent was this here
preacher man, Wesley Shelton. And brothers and sisters, I promise you this today, that
when that day comes - when God opens up for me those pearly gates (and I pray its a
coming soon) I'm a gonna walk up and down them golden streets until I find Wesley
Shelton, and when I do, I'm gonna go right up to him and take him by the hand and ask
him to introduce me to God almighty.
The Baptist meeting house,
along with almost half the little houses in Galax Cove, was swept away in the flood.
It was never rebuilt.
The Upper Meeting House, the Methodist Meeting house
has been remodeled and is still standing.
It is on a charge in the Holston Conference
of the United Methodist Church.
They call it Sweet Harmony Chapel.
Amen and Amen
And they say it is the only meetinghouse
in the Southern Appalachian Mountains
that has a Methodist chancel rail before the table
and a baptismal pool behind the pulpit.