Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Thing in the Churchyard

Continuing on in the subject of my previous blog entry, "A Haunted Church" I would have to relate that sometimes I get some flak from other Christian Ministers for even suggesting a church that is right with God can be haunted. Many offhandedly cast aside even the remotest possibility that such an occurrence could happen.

While I will not give an extensive history of such here, (and if one were to make a scholarly search in historical documents published records from around the world the concept of a 'haunted church' is not only not an oxymoron, it seems to be quite a common occurrence) I would like to highlight in this article one of the most disturbing occurrences of a church haunting I have ever encountered.

This encounter with a dubious entity also was published on the front page of a leading Western Pennsylvania Newspaper over a century ago. Yet today it has been long lost in the mists of time, and all but this historian know of what happened in that ancient churchyard in Shenango Township in Lawrence County Pennsylvania so many years ago.

It was November 1869, David Barge came trudging through the dark woods that surrounded the outskirts of New Castle Pennsylvania one late dark Thursday evening. He came through the mostly unexplored back woods to open the doors of the small Savannah Methodist Episcopal church for the weekly prayer meeting. It was not an uncommon thing for him to do, for since he had come back from his duties as an officer in the American Civil War he had began to seek solace within the church, and it was his quickly becoming his only brief bit of peace from memories of the bitter conflict that had ripped not only his country apart but his local community as well.

But all the horrors he had beheld in this conflict of brother between brother within the past decade did not prepare him for the horrors that awaited him in the churchyard that late November night.

The New Castle News of Monday February 26th 1917 tells of the encounter of that dark Thursday night. Reporter David P. Jackson related the tale told to him by the eyewitnesses:

"As it sometimes happened that nobody came to the prayer meetings, he waited in front of the church to see whether it would be necessary to light up or not. No one came and as he turned around to start home, there stood a mysterious thing beside him. David Barge was a veteran soldier...He had courage to contend with flesh and blood but this thing seemed to be a fallen spirit untimely released from the vastly deep, where, since the flood, they had been confined in chains of darkness awaiting judgment day. "There is something about the mysterious and uncanny that is more terrifying than real danger and this ghostly figure did something which Confederate guns had failed to do. He was so panic stricken and fled wildly from the churchyard, so anxious to put space between him and the apparition that he did not take time to open the gate but leaped the fence. His agitation was so great that when he reached home, nearly a mile away, his folks noticed something was wrong and with some difficulty induced him to relate what had happened, as he knew he would be laughed at."

Barge's 18 year old nephew, Eli Gaston was there at the time. The next evening Gaston and his brother went to their friends farm on which land the tiny church stood. They had great sport at the expense of Eli's Uncle and his great scare from the 'ghost' by the church. After a few hours of joking about they decided that they would investigate the churchyard themselves. So they walked through the cornfields and made their way to the tiny church. They stood there where David Barge had stood the night before and they saw nothing. Having proved their point they turned to walk home.

It was then that the apparition 'glided' from behind the church and came to a halt right in front of them.

Once again it is best to hear what happened next in David Jackson's own words from the 1917 New Castle News,
"At this sight all their philosophy vanished and they became as panic stricken as David Barge had been and fled as precipitately as he did. They were ashamed to tell anyone about it that night, but the next day they took a fourth young man into the secret and that evening the four repaired to the churchyard with their nerves firmly braced, determined to investigate the phenomenon. "At the usual time the unearthly figure appeared and glided toward then, but this time there was no panic-they stood their ground. The ghost remained a few moments and then glided away to the rear of the church where they could see it standing beside a small tree and they heard a scratching sound such as a cat makes when trying its claws on the bark. It would disappear while their eyes were upon it and then reappear at some other spot. Once when it came near them and stood motionless one of the boys asked, 'What do you want?' Whereupon 'it made a groaning sound as if trying to speak but could not.' To quote the language of my informant. It disappeared in the graveyard and was next seen visible outside, in the meadow, but they could not see it crossing the fence as a material thing would have been obliged to do. The party seperated, two taking their station in the meadow and two remaining in the graveyard. Sometimes, the ghost would be seen in the meadows, but they could never observe its progress from one to the other. It just disappeared and reappeared.

"The night was cold, there had been no snow and the long grass was crisp with frost and crackled under their feet whenever they moved. The ghost had been invisible for a while and the two in the graveyard were watching intently in every direction for its reappearance, with every sense at high tension from nervous strain, but they neither saw nor heard anything till suddenly they found it standing closely behind them. If they retreated it would follow but it would retire if they advanced toward it. It was a white object with a resemblance to a human figure but the form was so vague and indefinite that they declared that they could not see it move when it changed its place but, as Eli Gaston said, 'It seemed to glide over the ground as if it were on wheels'."

After that night the boys spread the story of what happened to them all over the small farming community. Farmers and towns people gathered at the church every night to try to have their own encounter with the entity. A century and a half before it became vogue they were 'Ghost Hunters', in their own way. They wanted an encounter, and they brought guns and pitchforks just in case.

But it never came back.

Soon after this story was published in the New Castle News, Reverend Charles Merill the old church was torn down and a new building was erected in 1910. It no longer stands near the cemetery where the strange apparition appeared those nights long ago.

At the current church building there has been no reported encounters with the paranormal. In fact correspondence with the current Pastor shows that the congregation did not even bother to keep old photographs of the church.

It makes you wonder why.

Of course the apparition was considered an 'Nephelim' escaped from Sheol when interpreting the dated language of the story. So the witnesses and community considered this a demonic entity that appeared at the church.

But why the church?

And why would a 'Nephalim' appear in a graveyard just to scoot around a bit and not really bother anything except to scratch the bark of an old tree?

Perhaps more congregants should have shown up at that Thursday night prayer meeting in that late November night.

Until Next Time,

Pastor Swope


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Bruce Duensing said...

My experience with ghost phenomenon, while not attuned to a specific set of theological strictures, indicates to me that some, not all, ghosts have a very strong affinity in associating themselves with what gives them security and comfort in a difficult situation. The two spinster sisters who viewed their room in a residential hotel as a sanctuary from the world or the kitchen cook whose sense of self was largely what she did in life and defended her kitchen against all intruders. The church seems to be no exception. Your post was only further confirmation of this.

MercuryCrest said...

Again, another interesting story, Pastor Swope.
What strikes me as interesting is that no one dug beneath the tree...or perhaps someone did, found something disturbing, and that is why the congregation kept no photos of the old church....

cryptidsrus said...

Great story, Swope.

One question---

I thought the "Nephilim" were the children resulting from intermarriage between angels and mortals as per the Book of Enoch. The famous "Giants in the earth."

Did not know there were considred ghosts. Hmmm...
One learns something new every day.

Supposedly their descendants still live today. Undetected.
Anyway, thanks for the tale. :)

Kooljanik said...

I think it's ignorant to deny that a church can be haunted. I believe that Satan's workers concentrate most on disrupting Christian churches. My dad is a Methodist minister and growing up I couldn't believe that "Christian" people could behave so horribly. A woman in the church was a curandera, a Mexican healer/witch and she's was very creepy. My father's church was over a hundred years old and we would regularly hear footsteps walking up the aisles up to the altar and into the unused side office. When he worked late at night, he said he would hear voices in conversation. Anyway, I believe it's ignorant and unprepared for Christians to believe that the Church is immune from satanic attack.

Pastor Swope said...

Thanks for the comment MercyCrest,

I wondered about the absence of a photo as well, every old church I know of keeps such records. And even the archived newspaper had a photo of the building.

Certainly makes you wonder.

Pastor Swope said...

Thanks for the comment Cryptidsrus,

There is a Theological tradition that was prevalent in those days that the 'Nephalim' are demonic or fallen angels who are bound in hell until the end of days and sometimes one of them can escape- thus accounting for a spirit that was not necessarily evil but unexplained.

This belief is still in vogue with many Fundamentalist or Charismatic Christians to this day.

Pastor Swope said...

Thanks for the comment Kooljanik,

A hearty Amen is in order!

Catherine said...

Most likely this "ghost" was a demonic entity trying to discourage people from coming back to what sounds like a congregation that was already lacking faith and devotion. Satan does some of his best work in churches. Just look at all the pastors getting in trouble for having affairs or misappropriating tithes, etc. Not to speak ill of all pastors/churches, but this problem has been around since the birth of Christianity.

Dan said...

Pastor Swope,

The church I attended while growing up was a small non-demoninational church (with strong Baptist roots) that was located in a residential area in a small village. It had no attached cemetery; heck, it barely had a parking lot. At the time I didn't think too much of the existance of otherworldly entities, but I do know that there was a section of the church that I absolutely would not enter, regardless of whether the church was empty or full. Perhaps this sounds flaky, but it just "felt" very, very wrong. Was it something sinister or simply an irrational fear? I have no idea, but I lean toward the former. I see no reason why a church couldn't be, for lack of a better term, haunted. Satan's goal for us is to convince us to stop believing in Christ; it matters not to him how that is achieved, as long as it is achieved.

Anyway, just my two cents. I've not been a longtime reader of your blog, but I've enjoyed it since discovering it; thanks for sharing your stories and experiences with us.

oldnwiser said...

I agree about a "church not being haunted" there is a church in my town that a person who lives directly aside of the church ocassionally hears the church organ playing late at night when no-one is in the church. Just thought i would add this to the conversation MW
PS: She has asked the church pastor about it and was told that no one plays or practices that late at night

Sam said...

Great post,

Im realatively new to the term "nephalim" but from my understanding it could also (in some beliefs) relate to the extra terrestrial?
And I'm sorry, I know you put the term as not wanting to mix your cake and icecream, but would it be likely that it could be reasonable theory to say that if a church had evidence of extra terrestrials that it would be brushed under the rug?
Im not trying to take a stab at the Church, just a theory that I had.

Doubting Thomas said...

Boy, am I in the wrong place. Saw your link at Coleman's site and wanted to inquire why you thought a "new Dark Ages" would be bad. I tried to do it there, but evidently Loren doesn't approve of fraternizing amongst his audience.

It does seems that superstitious credulity and religion seems to flourish in "Dark Ages."

Also, certain Christians, like the Dominionists, appear to be aching for a collapse of Western Civilization so they can fill the void with a "Biblical theocracy."
Pastor Wilkerson's view that these economic troubles are instances of "God's Wrath," seem to be directly in line with the theology of Dominionists like Jerry Falwell.

Personally, I'd have found his prophetic talents a bit more astounding if he'd have been walking up and down Wall Street, circa 2002, shouting:


Seeing trouble after the economic poop hits the fan just doesn't seem too astounding.

Truthfully, the whole monotheistic meme escapes me. But on the days when I do allow myself to picture a Supreme Deity, rather than a cranky vengeful guy, I see Him more as a harried and stressed out old man, wandering the unpopulated back alleys of Heaven, repeatedly THWACK-ing Himself in the head and muttering,
"My Me, how much simpler do I have to make My message for these dumbfounded dimwits? I tell them 'Love thy neighbor as yourself. Treat others as you would want to be treated. Turn the other cheek. Care for the least amongst you as if it were Me.'

"And what do these idiots do? They build nukes. They build IEDS. They strap dynamite to their kids and send them cavorting off to cafes and bus stops. They print 'Kill A Queer For Christ' bumper stickers and they do just about everything that is diametrically opposed to what I told them.

"I'm beginning to think the Holy Spirit's right.
I've created a species of feeble-minded ignoramuses.
Darn, I hate it when that Guy is right.
I'll never hear the end of it now."

Good day Pastor. I enjoyed my monologue masquerading as chat, but if I stay here I'll be unable to resist offending your regular clientele with my unrestrained giggling.


Pastor Swope said...

Thanks for the comment Doubting Thomas,

Righteous ponderings good friend!

I tremble to think of a Biblical Theocracy in the hands of man.

But truly if Rome is to burn I pray we have a few good violinists to conjure up some background music for the event.

Anonymous said...

Have a question and a comment, although i am curious to see if this site is still up and running - don't really want to post something out there to oblivion for no reason - Pastor, (I am one too) if you could acknowledge this post, i would like to contact you - i live near erie pa, serve a congregation, and believe that there are more levels of existence than can be understood from out mear reflecton existence.

Pastor Swope said...

Hello Anonymous,

Yes, it is up and running. I only have time for one post a week and perhaps two. I also publish on the Examiner as well. I am writing a book as well and my writing time is limited. Feel free to contact me via the narthex

kvl6681 said...

What if the tree was used to hang a person and, the person needs help to cross over maybe they were innocent many were innocent who were hanged.