Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 16: Events
Series 31: Religion



TAGS: Guide to Religion, Chapel & Vespers at PMSS ; Chapel ; Vespers ; religion ; worship services ; theology ; funerals ; weddings ; baptisms ; funeralizing ; preachers ; ministers ; Baptists ; Quakers ; Methodists ; Evangelicals ; Anglicans ; Church of England ; Holy Rollers ; Christ ; God ; WWII ;

Chapel Services at Pine Mountain

The Chapel at Pine Mountain Settlement School, c. 1940s

Prayer and worship services and preaching has always been part of the fabric of Pine Mountain Settlement School and the broader community. However, the School has never placed a denominational stamp on the religion served out at the School. The staff of PMSS came from a variety of backgrounds, but almost all were Christian in their religious focus. Many of the directors and the staff served on international missions across a variety of denominations and brought that experience to bear on their perspectives and their work at the School. Rarely, however, was one denomination favored above another. As the School grew and particularly following the Second World War, religion in the region began to reflect denominations outside the Christian circle and many of the other world religions entered the communities surrounding the School. PMSS, however, remained isolated from broad exposure to other world religions, but slowly the educational programs introduced extensive educational experience of the world’s religions for its students in visiting guests, readings, and later, media.

An endeavor that helped to move the community away from a narrow ecumenical perspective was Vespers and chapel services that were planned from the broader international religions’ points of view. In the Boarding School years, the Chapel services were integrated into the educational program and were mandatory for all students and sought to present the broadest exposure possible to world religions.

It is difficult to know just what Katherine Pettit‘s views on religion were, but she and Ethel de Long, the co-founders, were adamant that the School not be tied to any one denomination. In Pettit’s Common Place Book she scribbled the note, “Pearl Buck said she found among Buddhists saintly people but they lived apart from men and she remembered how Jesus went about among his fellow men.” And more, “She [Buck] found among Confucians admirable people of high moral character, but they felt no obligations to their fellow men. She remembered how Jesus told us to never be one another’s burdens.” Later in her notebook, she lists “6 Men who should really be called great.”

  1. Jesus
  2. Buddha
  3. Asoka
  4. Aristotle
  5. Roger Bacon
  6. A. Lincoln

They are followed by a quote:

“What I am trying to say is: Live beautifully. Put first things first. Let the great reverences be at the center of your life. Count sacred the things that really are sacred. Do not let life push, pull and hand you here and there until inwardly you yourself become a mob.”
Henry Emerson Fosdick

These and many more observations by Pettit and also by de Long suggest that they had a very broad reach when it came to religious ideas. Their ideas were not always readily accepted, as Pettit wrote in her Common Place book,

“Uncle Calvin said, ‘Hit’s giv out that Miss Pettit is a pure infidel because she has been around the world and came back saying the sun stood still when thar is the book of Joshua saying that the sun hit wuz & is sot.” She didn’t even know what became of the book of Ashur.”

The services in the Pine Mountain Chapel were formalized by 1928 when the Chapel was completed and provided a central location for religious services. The Director Glyn Morris, an ordained minister in the Presbyterian faith from Yale’s Union Theological Seminary, brought his own liberal Presbyterian religious stamp to the campus, but he still attempted to be true to the non-denominational observance of religious practice.

Students entering Chapel during Boarding School years, c. 1940s

By the time Morris arrived, the Vespers program was well established. The person responsible for this program is not known, but Vespers was spread throughout the staff to prepare and present. “Vespers” is a term used to describe a sunset or evening prayer service familiar to the Orthodox, Western and Eastern Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran liturgies of the canonical hours. The word comes from the Greek ἑσπέρα (“hespera”) and the Latin vesper, meaning “evening”. It is also referred to in the Anglican tradition as evening prayer or evensong. [Wikipedia] Vespers can also be observed earlier in the day and need not be confined to the evening. However, another term for “Vespers” is “Evensong,” particularly in the canonical hours of the English Anglicans.

Formal programs were prepared and many of these have been preserved and reflect a variety of interests and views on religion.

Evelyn K. Wells attempted to define RELIGIOUS LIFE at Pine Mountain Settlement School in her “Record of Pine Mountain Settlement School, 1913-1928,” and Glyn Morris also attempted to give the religious life at the School some definition, yet the many religious paths the School has taken always seemed to follow the initial directive of the founders that the School be “Christian, but non-sectarian,” with an emphasis on the “non-sectarian” aspects of that directive, as described in the first subscription cards issued in 1913.

Index of Printed Meditative Services 





1926- 1930


1931- 1935


1936- 1940


1941- 1945


Vespers, Wiliam Hayes’ Service

1946- 1950


1951- 1955


1956- 1960


1960- 1965


1966- 1970








Many weddings have been performed at the Settlement School and also in the community. The ceremonies vary in scale but most still remain simple and intimate. It is not unusual to find many generations who have been married in the Chapel at the School. It is also not unusual for those couples to return time and again to remember their nuptials in the small chapel. During the Boarding School years it was not unusual to find the groom running to escape the toss into the swimming pool following the ceremony. There have been many beautiful and unusual weddings performed by staff who were also ministers.  Glyn Morris, a graduate of Union Theological School may hold the record for the number of ceremonies.  Among the staff at the school, there were other ministers including the Rev. Robert Stapleton and the Rev. Baker who were staff at the Line Fork satellite settlement near the School.

Uncle William and Aunt Sal in re-enactment of their wedding. [melv_II_album_081_mod.jpg]

In the Pine Mountain community, one of the most noted weddings was that of Uncle Henry Creech and Aunt Sally Dixon Creech.  In this photograph, they re-enact their wedding with Aunt Sal in her original wedding gown, an organza gown which still fits her slim body.  They stand before their first home, the Creech Cabin [Aunt Sal’s Cabin] that was moved to the School campus.

In the second photograph, a young couple in the  community, members of the Scearce family, are photographed in the early twentieth century in their wedding attire. The “frolicks” and “chivarees” associated with the local weddings generated many stories. One memorable tale is found in Jean Ritchie’s Singing Family of the Cumberlands, where she describes a family wedding at Viper, Kentucky, the home of the Ritchie family. 

The wedding of May Ritchie and Leon Deschamp, a Belgian forester who came to Pine Mountain to work and the quietly beautiful May Ritchie, who was a student and later a worker at the School, was not at Pine Mountain, but the location in the family home in Viper, was well attended by Pine Mountain staff. The staff included Ethel de Long Zande who, on the way to the wedding fell from her horse and broke her ankle but persisted in celebrating with the family. The Deschamps wedding as described by May’s youngest sibling, Jean Ritchie, is reminiscent of the wedding seen in the photograph, below.

Friends & Neighbors : “Rob Short, Mary Mann, Renee Scearse, Mary Ann Begley,” wedding. Vl_34_1108_mod.jpg

May Ritchie, a Pine Mountain Settlement School student describes her wedding at her family home in Viper, Kentucky as recorded in Jean Ritchie’s Singing Family of the Cumberlands, (1952), p.224:

We got married here in Viper, in our front yard, in the spring. It was a white wedding., and many folks in the country round had never seen such a one. The women at Pine Mountain, Mrs. Zande and the others , they thought the world of both of us [Leon and May], and we of them. They got together and made all my wedding clothes, sewed every stitch of them by hand. My dress was white, made in tiers down to my ankles, and they made the prettiest little veil “for your pretty hair,” as they said. A traveling dress they made, and such beautiful underclothes! I have never before nor since owned such pretty things. Embroidered and tucked and trimmed and with dainty handmade lace. 



“A Funeralizing on Robber’s Creek”