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Tillie: A Mennonite Maid By Helen Reimensnyder Martin Characters: 9568

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

A crucial struggle with her father, to which both Tillie and Miss Margaret had fearfully looked forward, came about much sooner than Tillie had anticipated. The occasion of it, too, was not at all what she had expected and even planned it to be.

It was her conversion, just a year after she had been taken out of school, to the ascetic faith of the New Mennonites that precipitated the crisis, this conversion being wrought by a sermon which she heard at the funeral of a neighboring farmer.

A funeral among the farmers of Lancaster County is a festive occasion, the most popular form of dissipation known, bringing the whole population forth as in some regions they turn out to a circus.

Adam Schank's death, having been caused by his own hand in a fit of despair over the loss of some money he had unsuccessfully invested, was so sudden and shocking that the effect produced on Canaan Township was profound, not to say awful.

As for Tillie, it was the first event of the kind that had ever come within her experience, and the religious sentiments in which she had been reared aroused in her, in common with the rest of the community, a superstitious fear before this sudden and solemn calling to judgment of one whom they had all known so familiarly, and who had so wickedly taken his own life.

During the funeral at the farm-house, she sat in the crowded parlor where the coffin stood, and though surrounded by people, she felt strangely alone with this weird mystery of Death which for the first time she was realizing.

Her mother was in the kitchen with the other farmers' wives of the neighborhood who were helping to prepare the immense quantity of food necessary to feed the large crowd that always attended a funeral, every one of whom, by the etiquette of the county, remained to supper after the services.

Her father, being among the hired hostlers of the occasion, was outside in the barn. Mr. Getz was head hostler at every funeral of the district, being detailed to assist and superintend the work of the other half dozen men employed to take charge of the "teams" that belonged to the funeral guests, who came in families, companies, and crowds. That so well-to-do a farmer as Jake Getz, one who owned his farm "clear," should make a practice of hiring out as a funeral hostler, with the humbler farmers who only rented the land they tilled, was one of the facts which gave him his reputation for being "keen on the penny."

Adam Schunk, deceased, had been an "Evangelical," but his wife being a New Mennonite, a sect largely prevailing in southeastern Pennsylvania, the funeral services were conducted by two ministers, one of them a New Mennonite and the other an Evangelical. It was the sermon of the New Mennonite that led to Tillie's conversion.

The New Mennonites being the most puritanic and exclusive of all sects, earnestly regarding themselves as the custodians of the only absolutely true light, their ministers insist on certain prerogatives as the condition of giving their services at a funeral. A New Mennonite preacher will not consent to preach after a "World's preacher"-he must have first voice. It was therefore the somber doctrine of fear preached by the Reverend Brother Abram Underwocht which did its work upon Tillie's conscience so completely that the gentler Gospel set forth afterward by the Evangelical brother was scarcely heeded.

The Reverend Brother Abram Underwocht, in the "plain" garb of the Mennonite sect, took his place at the foot of the stairway opening out of the sitting-room, and gave expression to his own profound sense of the solemnity of the occasion by a question introductory to his sermon, and asked in a tone of heavy import: "If this ain't a blow, what is it?"

Handkerchiefs were promptly produced and agitated faces hidden therein.

Why this was a "blow" of more than usual force, Brother Underwocht proceeded to explain in a blood-curdling talk of more than an hour's length, in which he set forth the New Mennonite doctrine that none outside of the only true faith of Christ, as held and taught by the New Mennonites, could be saved from the fire which cannot be quenched. With the heroism born of deep conviction, he stoically disregarded the feelings of the bereaved family, and affirmed that the deceased having belonged to one of "the World's churches," no hope could be entertained for him, nor could his grieving widow look forward to meeting him again in the heavenly home to which she, a saved New Mennonite, was destined.

Taking advantage of the fact that at least one third of those present were non-Mennonites, Brother Underwoeht followed the usual course of the preachers of his sect on such an occasion, and made of his funeral sermon an exposition of the whole fie

ld of New Mennonite faith and practice. Beginning in the Garden of Eden, he graphically described that renowned locality as a type of the Paradise from which Adam Schunk and others who did not "give themselves up" were excluded.

"It must have been a magnificent scenery to Almighty Gawd," he said, referring to the beauties of man's first Paradise. "But how soon to be snatched by sin from man's mortal vision, when Eve started that conversation with the enemy of her soul! Beloved, that was an unfortunate circumstance! And you that are still out of Christ and in the world, have need to pray fur Gawd's help, his aid, and his assistance, to enable you to overcome the enemy who that day was turned loose upon the world-that Gawd may see fit to have you when you're done here a'ready. Heed the solemn warning of this poor soul now laying before you cold in death!

"'Know that you're a transient creature,

Soon to fade and pass away."

"Even Lazarus, where [who] was raised to life, was not raised fur never to die no more!"

The only comfort he could offer to this stricken household was that HE knew how bad they felt, having had a brother who had died with equal suddenness and also without hope, as he "had suosode hisself with a gun."

This lengthy sermon was followed by a hymn, sung a line at a time at the preacher's dictation:

"The body we now to the grave will commit,

To there see corruption till Jesus sees fit

A spirit'al body for it to prepare,

Which henceforth then shall immortality wear."

The New Mennonites being forbidden by the "Rules of the Meeting" ever to hear a prayer or sermon by one who is not "a member," it was necessary, at the end of the Reverend Abram Underwocht's sermon, for all the Mennonites present to retire to a room apart and sit behind closed doors, while the Evangelical brother put forth his false doctrine.

So religiously stirred was Tillie by the occasion that she was strongly tempted to rise and follow into the kitchen those who were thus retiring from the sound of the false teacher's voice. But her conversion not yet being complete, she kept her place.

No doubt it was not so much the character of Brother Underwocht's New Mennonite sermon which effected this state in Tillie as that the spiritual condition of the young girl, just awakening to her womanhood, with all its mysterious craving, its religious brooding, its emotional susceptibility, led her to respond with her whole soul to the first appeal to her feelings.

Absorbed in her mournful contemplation of her own deep "conviction of sin," she did not heed the singing, led by the Evangelical brother, of the hymn,

"Rock of Ages, clept for me,"

nor did she hear a word of his discourse.

At the conclusion of the house services, and before the journey to the graveyard, the supper was served, first to the mourners, and then to all those who expected to follow the body to the grave. The third table, for those who had prepared the meal, and the fourth, for the hostlers, were set after the departure of the funeral procession.

Convention has prescribed that the funeral meal shall consist invariably of cold meat, cheese, all sorts of stewed dried fruits, pickles, "lemon rice" (a dish never omitted), and coffee.

As no one household possesses enough dishes for such an occasion, two chests of dishes owned by the Mennonite church are sent to the house of mourning whenever needed by a member of the Meeting.

The Mennonites present suffered a shock to their feelings upon the appearance of the widow of the deceased Adam Schunk, for-unprecedented circumstance!-she wore over her black Mennonite hood a crape veil! This was an innovation nothing short of revolutionary, and the brethren and sisters, to whom their prescribed form of dress was sacred, were bewildered to know how they ought to regard such a digression from their rigid customs.

"I guess Mandy's proud of herself with her weil," Tillie's stepmother whispered to her as she gave the girl a tray of coffee-cups to deliver about the table.

But Tillie's thoughts were inward bent, and she heeded not what went on about her. Fear of death and the judgment, a longing to find the peace which could come only with an assured sense of her salvation, darkness as to how that peace might be found, a sense of the weakness of her flesh and spirit before her father's undoubted opposition to her "turning plain," as well as his certain refusal to supply the wherewithal for her Mennonite garb, should she indeed be led of the Spirit to "give herself up,"-all these warring thoughts and emotions stamped their lines upon the girl's sweet, troubled countenance, as, blind and deaf to her surroundings, she lent her helping hand almost as one acting in a trance.

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