Called the “Cuban Thaw,” agreements between President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro has led to a “warming” of US/Cuba relations. While this may seem good for the Cuban people, it’s only after years of persecution and restrictions on the church in Cuba. During the Revolution, many churches and their properties were seized and taken over by the government. I spent three days visiting the Methodist seminary in Havana last year. See my blog posts “Reflections from Cuba – Part 1 and Part 2. That seminary, started in 1920, was seized during the Revolution, and finally given back to the church in 2004 in a dilapidated condition, and has been undergoing reconstruction to get it functioning again as an institute of higher Christian education.
EPC Pastor Tom Masterson (Hope EPC, San Antonio), who visits Cuba on a regular basis, is sensitive to the attack of the Cuban government on the church in Cuba, and knows the “warming” is for pure political posturing and ignores many past offenses. Tom doesn’t pull punches, “The normalizing of US relations with the Castro regime is a heinous insult to the millions of Christians who have been persecuted by these criminals over the past 6 decades. We need to adopt a policy that will hold evil accountable, not ignore offenses and reward hatred.”
Despite the persecution and oppression the church did manage to grow during these dark years of Communism. Then as the Cuban government was forced to back off from its previous tactics because it no longer had the financial backing of the Soviet Union, the church began to explode with growth. The Cuban constitution was changed in 1992 to prohibit any discrimination against Christians. With the lifting of some of the more harsh restrictions, we have seen some unparalleled growth in evangelical churches in Cuba. Tom Masterson wrote, “The growth of the Cuban church in recent decades is explosive! The miracle is that evangelical churches actually doubled in size during the 30 years of active persecution. They have more than doubled again since 1992. It would be hard to find a place in the world where the church is growing faster than it is in Cuba.”
In their April, 2015 newsletter Overseas Council (OC), who has an active ministry in multiple seminaries in Cuba, cited three statements from an Operations World report: the church has multiplied at impressive rates since the 1990’s; Cuba’s challenging environment has refined the church; and church leadership remains an urgent need.
OC goes on to state, “as the government tried to stifle Christian growth by making it nearly impossible to build new churches, the resulting house church movement has proved even more fruitful.” OC also reports that many church leaders fled the country or were expelled following the Revolution and the church is in great need of rebuilding leadership.
Seminaries and seminary students are now playing a great part in church planting and church expansion in Cuba. In many of the seminaries, students are becoming home church pastors even before they graduate. When they do graduate, they are shepherding churches, planting new churches and training protégé pastors. OC reported that, “The Methodist denomination has experienced renewal. Its 125 congregations meet in church buildings built before the revolution, but since building permits for new churches are not obtainable, congregations start in homes, now numbering 300. Add in 800 smaller home meetings (less than 25 in size), and you’ll see how the Church has grown by 10% annually in 10 years.”
It’s not just the Methodists that are making strides. When I was in Cuba, I also visited the reformed campus of New Pines Evangelical Seminary in Placetas which has had similar success in its graduating students’ planting churches and growing the Cuban evangelical church. Founded in 1924 the school was also ravished during the Revolution by having school property seized. But since 1992, the school has regained some of the lost property. A new property purchased has given room for a farm to produce the school’s need for food, making it more self-sustaining. With over 800 graduates, the seminary has planted several other seminaries in Cuba. I was able to spend a day and night at one of these seminaries in Matanzas and had the privilege of meeting some great people at their home on Sunday morning. Planted and run by K and E (names withheld for security), both graduates of New Pines, this couple has great plans. They have purchased a large section of land in the center of town where they have started to build a new and much larger home that will accommodate a number of guests.
Category Archives: Travels
Called the “Cuban Thaw,” agreements between President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro has led to a “warming” of US/Cuba relations. While this may seem good for the Cuban people, it’s only after years of persecution and restrictions on the church in Cuba. During the Revolution, many churches and their properties were seized and taken over by the government. I spent three days visiting the Methodist seminary in Havana last year. See my blog posts “Reflections from Cuba – Part 1 and Part 2. That seminary, started in 1920, was seized during the Revolution, and finally given back to the church in 2004 in a dilapidated condition, and has been undergoing reconstruction to get it functioning again as an institute of higher Christian education.
Part 2 of 2: Continuation of July 2, 2015 blog of First Presbyterian Church in Vicksburg, MS. To read Part 1, please click here before picking up the story below.
A DISTANT STORM HITS HOME
The Civil War consisted of nearly 10,500 battles, engagements, and other military actions including nearly 50 major battles and about 100 others that had major significance. The remaining minor battles were skirmishes, reconnaissance, naval engagements, sieges, bombardments, etc. The engagements were fought in 23 different states and resulted in a total of over 650,000 casualties. The battles are divided amongst designated theaters including the Eastern Theater, Western Theater, Trans-Mississippi Theater, Gulf Coast and Sioux (Dakota) Uprising. (from www.history.net)
After Fort Sumter was fired upon in April of 1861 to start the war, the first major battle to take place was in (West) Virginia. Other 1861 battles like Manassas, Bull Run, Port Royal, and Wilson’s Creek were in far-away places like Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri and in the Indian Territories.
In the beginning of 1862 the war moved closer to Vicksburg with battles in North Carolina and Georgia but a great deal of the fighting was still in far-away Virginia and Maryland. But in April of 1862 the war was suddenly closer with major battles along the Mississippi River, Shiloh, TN (only 250 miles away) and finally in their home state in Corinth, MS in the Battle of Corinth (see June 2, 2015 blog on Corinth).
Strategists from both sides knew that the key to the South remaining viable was the control of the Mississippi River. Vicksburg knew that they were the lynch-pin in retaining the advantage of the river and so knew that war in the old Walnut Hills region of Mississippi was inevitable. With the fall of New Orleans to Admiral Farragut, quickly followed by the fall of Baton Rouge, then Natchez in May of 1862, and then Memphis in June, it was clear that the war was soon to come to Vicksburg with a major confrontation.
From the City of Vicksburg’s website, www.vicksburg.org, we learn of the first assault on the city.
The first advance Union units arrived off the coast of Vicksburg on May 18, whereby Commander Samuel P. Lee of the USS Oneida delivered an order for the surrender of the city. The city’s reply, delivered five hours later, was “No!” According to Colonel James L. Autry, Military commander of Vicksburg, “Mississippians don’t know how and refuse to learn how to surrender to an enemy.”
After a period of intermittent bombardment from the river, Farragut conceded that he could not run his fleet past the “Gibraltar of the Mississippi.” As he was not equipped for river combat, his guns could not be elevated high enough to strike the city, and 1,400 troops would be hard pressed to scale the hills to overtake the garrison. Farragut withdrew his ships and returned to New Orleans.
Farragut arrived off Vicksburg again on June 25, with a force including 3,200 troops on transports and several mortar schooners designed to bombard the elevated shore batteries. The following two days of bombardment marked the city’s first concentrated assault and provided her first casualties.
According to the FPC Church History’s telling, the bombing started at 3 a.m. and it was concentrated. “It was a night of terror and many went screaming through the streets, some dressed and some almost nude, seeking whatever shelter was available.” But after a clash with the Confederate warship Arkansas, which wreaked havoc among the Union fleet, Farragut decided it was futile to try to take the city from the river and withdrew his fleet.
The city was battered. It was reported by an eyewitness, “the principal part of the town has been much damaged scarcely a house has escaped.” The Methodist and Catholic Church buildings were struck by shells, but seemingly the Presbyterian Church building remained undamaged.
General William T. Sherman landed his Union troops near Vicksburg on Christmas Day. On December 29 he attempted an assault of Walnut Hills but the strong Confederate position beat him off and Sherman withdrew to await the coming of General Ulysses Grant’s army. The failed offensive resulted in heavy Union losses and about 200 Confederate casualties. So, 1862 came to a close with many wounded and in need of care, a battered town, and an expectation that the worst was yet to come.
THE BEGINNING OF THE END
To make a long story short I will summarize from Wikepedia.
The Siege of Vicksburg (May 18 – July 4, 1863) was the final major military action in the Vicksburg Campaign of the American Civil War. In a series of maneuvers, Union Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and his Army of the Tennessee crossed the Mississippi River and drove the Confederate Army of Vicksburg led by Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton into the defensive lines surrounding the fortress city of Vicksburg, Mississippi.
The city finally had to surrender during the Siege of Vicksburg, after which the Union Army gained control of the entire Mississippi River. The 47-day siege was intended to starve the city into submission. Otherwise its location atop a high bluff overlooking the Mississippi River proved impregnable to assault by federal troops. The surrender of Vicksburg by Confederate General John C. Pemberton on July 4, 1863, together with the defeat of General Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg the day before, has historically marked the turning point in the Civil War in the Union’s favor.
Union casualties for the battle and siege of Vicksburg were 4,835; Confederate were 32,697 (29,495 surrendered). The full campaign, since March 29, claimed 10,142 Union and 9,091 Confederate killed and wounded. In addition to his surrendered men, Pemberton turned over to Grant 172 cannons and 50,000 rifles.
The FPC Church History describes that during the final siege, the townspeople were forced to flee their homes and live in caves to escape the bombardment. Miss Savilla Shafer, a 20-year old Presbyterian reported:
“As is well-known, caves were the chief places of safety during these times; and during the lull in the shelling, frequent visits were paid from cave to cave. The basement of the Presbyterian Church at Clay and Walnut Streets was also utilized as a place of safety during the siege.”
Another young woman said of the times:
“The churches are a great resort for those who have no caves. People fancy that they are not shelled so much, and they are substantial and the pews good to sleep in. We had to leave this house last night, they were shelling our quarter so heavily. The night before, Martha (the maid) forsook the cellar for a church.”
The FPC Church History goes on to give an account of the fierce bombardment:
“A total of 22,000 shells were exploded into Vicksburg continuously day and night. This destructive force averaged 524 blasts per day, 22 per hour, and one every two and one-half minutes. This, of course, was added to the extensive destruction from the summer of 1862.”
As noted, it was reported that the sturdy Presbyterian Church was struck by shells and fragments without major damage.
AFTER THE FALL OF VICKSBURG
The FPC Church History indicates that there was no record of the Presbyterian Church’s activity from the fall of Vicksburg until after the war ended when General Lee surrendered to General Grant in Appomattox on April 9, 1865. The first few skimpy recordings were of a few baptisms and a few deaths, two recorded to have died “during the siege.” And as he history book records:
“On Sunday November 12, 1865 Daniel Swett, Clerk of the Session, got out his old minute book for the first time in almost two and a half years, dusted it and turned to page 108 where the last entry had been made on April 17, 1863, immediately preceding the Siege. At the top of the next page 109 without any intervening notation or explanation he precisely recorded the Session meeting as if nothing had happened during the interval.”
A few months later the meeting on June 10, 1866 was the last to be attended by Rev. E. H. Rutherford as pastor. His reasons for leaving Vicksburg are not known. He had served the Presbyterian Church for eight years and two months.
“Certainly he had endured great hardships through the war and siege but he had steadily and faithfully carried out his effective and notable work of service. He had ministered to his people and others in the community regardless of denomination. He had kept the church building open during heavy bombardment as a shelter and refuge.”
The church would see membership sway up and down and several new pastors over the next few years. They also added a Board of Deacons on May 12, 1867. Noted as well, that in 1871 the Presbyterian Church deeded a portion of their property for the building of a church edifice, using the east wall of the church as a common-use wall, which was built for the use of a “Negro” church.
The years 1871 and 1872 were difficult. The population of Vicksburg grew but that was not necessarily reflected in the church growth. The reconstruction government was irresponsible, taxes were unfairly imposed and the officials were corrupt. During the last month of 1874, an incident occurred that would result in what is known as the Vicksburg Riots in which twenty-nine black and two whites were killed.
During the latter half of the decade, life in Vicksburg became a bit more constructive. The church membership increased again to 133 although Sunday school attendance declined. No Presbytery reports were files from 1874 to 1877.
And then in 1876, another natural disaster struck Vicksburg that changed the city when the Mississippi River’s course was altered, severing Vicksburg from the river. For the next 25 years, the waterfront would be a stagnant mass of mud and dry bottom.
For the church, the years brought more pulpit changes, church building repairs, a General Assembly at the Vicksburg Presbyterian Church, a choir director, a parsonage, and a determined effort to reach out to members that had “habitually neglected worship and communion.” The out-reach effort bore good results bringing the total communicant count to an all-time high of 207 and by the spring of 1891 had grown to 243 communicants. In April of 1892 the congregation had reached 282 and they church called an organist to serve at a salary of $15/month. Before the end of the century, the church would have several more pastors and would see membership rise and fall several times. It should also be noted that in 1886, the Yokena Presbyterian Church was established about 15 miles south of Vicksburg Presbyterian. Yokena Presbyterian today is also an EPC church.
In 1899, the Vicksburg National Military Park was created. Today it is a beautiful and very informative site that includes a museum, a drive-through tour of the battlegrounds and a national memorial that is the burial-place for 17,000 Union soldiers, many unknown. Also on the grounds is the restoration of The U.S.S. Cairo, an ironclad gunboat recovered from the Mississippi river between 1959 and 1977. On display in the Cairo museum are artifacts from the Cairo including weapons, munitions, naval stores and personal gear of the men who served on the Cairo at the time of her sinking. The gunboat and its artifacts can be found along the park tour road. The park is well worth the visit if you enjoy learning history!
As mentioned, the Church History of First Presbyterian Church of Vicksburg ends at the turn of the century. The last page of the book has a photo of the current church building completed in 1908 on Cherry Street. But obviously the story does not end; just a lot of the detail.
THE RISE OF A DENOMINATION
After the Civil War Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America changed its name to the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) of which Vicksburg Presbyterian was a part. A first attempt to restore relations between the north and south Presbyterians was made right after the war at the General Assembly of the northern church in Pittsburgh. The Southern Presbyterians went to the Assembly only to find that the Northern Presbyterians were not interested in unity. In fact, they considered the South a mission field.
Another attempt was made almost a hundred years later in 1950 but again failed because the Southern Presbyterians were unwilling to submit to the idea of centralized power on a national level rather than a local level. Then in 1964, the Southern Presbyterians, as already done in the Northern Presbyterian church, approved the ordination of women. In addition they accepted the same book of confession adopted by the Northern church in 1967. So now, along with other changes, there was nothing standing in the way of total reunion of the two churches. Many of the conservatives left both denominations, and formed other denominations: The Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) in 1973; and later the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in 1981. Eventually, in 1983, the “Plan of Union” came up to a vote, with 53 of the southern, PCUS presbyteries voting in favor of union, and 8 opposed. On June 10, 1983, the reunion between the northern and southern Presbyterians was celebrated in Atlanta with the new denomination taking the name of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) or PC(USA). The reunion was reported in the New York Times by Charles Austin on June 11, 1983:
ATLANTA, June 10— A new church for the nation’s more than three million Presbyterians was created here today, ending a North-South split that dated from the Civil War.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) came into being as 12,000 people gathered for a holy communion service that was transmitted by satellite to 24 places around the country.
Earlier today, 1,000 delegates to the General Assemblies of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., the Northern wing, with 2.4 million members, and the Presbyterian Church in the United States, the Southern group, with 815,000, voted their denominations out of existence and celebrated the creation of the new church with a parade down Peachtree Street.
The merger, which Presbyterians here speak of carefully as a ”reunion,” heals a split that occurred in 1861, when Presbyterians in the Confederate States severed ties with churches in the North.
There was some talk of reuniting Presbyterians immediately after the Civil War, but serious negotiations did not begin until 1937. By 1954 a plan had been approved, but the widening debate in the churches and the nation over civil rights and concern over theological liberalism in the Northern church led to defeat of the proposal by the Southern church. There were no signs of old animosities in the convention halls today.
The Vicksburg Presbyterian Church was incorporated in 1830 making it the oldest incorporated church in Mississippi. In 1961 the corporate name was changed to First Presbyterian Church of Vicksburg, MS. One of the major policies that came from the north/south reunion was a declaration that the denomination (Presbytery) owned all individual church property. I learned from a story in The Layman online (written by Jason Reagan, May 23, 2012) that in 2006, Mississippi became one of the first PCUSA Presbyteries to renounce the denomination’s property-trust clause. Its policy states the Presbytery will not fight a member congregation that “would ask the courts of the State of Mississippi to clear its property of any claims made by higher governing bodies against that property.”
Consequently, First Presbyterian of Vicksburg, along with two other churches, filed suit to test the policy in 2007. The presbytery voted to instruct its attorney to resolve the suits amicably. But the property issue was not the only concern. Five churches in the Presbytery claimed that the PCUSA no longer supported the authority of Scripture when making denominational decisions on issues like same-sex marriage, ordination standards and the Lordship of Jesus Christ. So in 2012 all five of the churches: First Presbyterian of Vicksburg; First, Pascagoula; First, Ocean Springs; First, Port Gibson; and Yokena Presbyterian Church of Vicksburg requested to be dismissed from the denomination to unite with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. On 5/17/12 presbytery voted without dissent to approve the request of the congregations to leave the PCUSA and join the EPC.
Today, the membership of The First Presbyterian Church of Vicksburg is around 360. In recent years, the session and the congregation initiated a complete renovation of its church buildings named “Project 175” at a cost in excess of $655,000. They have a dynamic pastor, Rev. Tim Brown. I love to visit First, Vicksburg and I consider Tim a great friend with a lovely wife, Le, and three children. The church lives by their mission statement, “To know Christ and make Him known” by being involved in a lot of local mission work including Meals on Wheels, Salvation Army projects, Habitat for Humanity, food pantry and meal ministries. Internationally they participate with Rivers of the World targeting the Dominican Republic, World Outreach of the EPC, mission support in Mexico, Brazil and Samahil, and they partner with Living Waters of the World. Their campus also hosts a Preschool and Kindergarten as well as a Boy Scout troop.
If you find yourself in the Vicksburg area to explore the history and battlegrounds or just to enjoy the city, be sure to plan a Sunday with First Presbyterian. You will be warmly welcomed!
PART 1 of 2
One of my favorite churches to visit when I travel through the South is First Presbyterian Church in Vicksburg, MS. Not only because Vicksburg is so full of history, but also because the people of FPCV and the Pastor, Rev. Tim Brown, are some great folks. Their church dates back to a beginning in 1800 and is recorded in the church’s history publication, “The History of the First Presbyterian Church of Vicksburg, MS in the Nineteenth Century” by Frank E. Everett, Jr. Published in 1980, it is a mesmerizing story of the history of the church and the Vicksburg area. The FPC Church History is a great read but unfortunately ends at 1900. The book goes into way too much detail to relate in this summary but I want to share some highlights. After 1900, details become hard to obtain so the last portion of the tale is a little vague. So unless I give credit elsewhere, the various quotes used in this piece can be credited to Frank Everett’s church history book. Relying on FPC Church History and a little research of the rich history of Vicksburg, this blog grew long. So instead of cutting out some interesting and fascinating historical particulars, I post this blog in two segments. I hope you will take the time to read and discover some events of the past.
The area of Vicksburg where the church is located is called Walnut Hills. The FPC Church History begins with Walnut Hills and the telling of DeSoto’s expedition in 1541 and LaSalle’s undertaking in 1683 venturing into the area. After their initial explorations, France established a fort in the area, along with some Catholic missionaries which were wiped out by the Indians, fort and all, in 1729. With the fighting of and eventual end of (1756 to 1763) the French and Indian War Britain extended its boundaries through the Mississippi Valley, including the Walnut Hills area, and issued land grants in the area for the next twenty years. “Settlement was sparse. There was little, if any, organized religion.”
After the American Revolution, Spain took advantage of England’s loss and moved into the area for the next seven years. Eventually they withdrew leaving a small fort of which Americans became the occupants. In 1799 the first church was organized in the Territory by a young Methodist preacher, Tobias Gibson. One year after Gibson arrived in Walnut Hills, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA sent Rev. James Hall, along with two other ministers to assist him and to explore the area. By horseback, they made their way to the Southwest via the Natchez Trace through Indian Territory and harsh wilderness. They established a “preaching station” in Warren County which may have been the site of the first Presbyterian service in the Mississippi Territory.
The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 opened vast lands west of the Mississippi to American settlement. Settlers poured into the area by land and from up and down the Mississippi River. In 1805 another Methodist parson named Newitt Vick acquired the lands near Walnut Hills. He built a small frame chapel and mapped the beginning of a town in 1819. Upon Vick’s sudden death from malaria, his son-in-law, Rev. John Lane, continued the work of establishing the town of Vicksburg. On January 29, 1825, Vicksburg was officially chartered. The town grew quickly and in the summer of 1826 “several ‘citizens of Vicksburg’ concluded that the fast growing worldly town should have the ‘ministrations of the gospel by a Presbyterian minister.’” So by invitation from the citizens, Zebulon Butler made his way via the Natchez Trace to Vicksburg to become the first Presbyterian preacher in the town. Butler made very little headway in establishing a church in Vicksburg and after twelve frustrating months departed Vicksburg after accepting an invitation from the Port Gibson Church where he was installed as pastor in 1828. “He faithfully preached there ‘with burning zeal’ until his death on Christmas day 1860.” (Note: Port Gibson Presbyterian Church is now an EPC church as well, but that’s another story!)
FIRST CHURCH BUILDING AND ORGANIZATION
Despite being rejected by their first pastor, the Presbyterians continued to meet together with a series of interim pastors and pulpit supply. A legal entity of First Presbyterian was established and the trustees eventually purchased a section of land at Monroe and East First Streets for $350 cash on June 8, 1831. Construction plans were begun despite the fact “there was no organized congregation and no preacher, only a Board of Trustees.” The church building was completed in probably late 1833. It was the first church building in Vicksburg and a “very creditable structure for its time.” At Christmas of that year, public notice was given of a meeting with the intention to organize a church. Interestingly, Zebulon Butler, now a full-time pastor in Post Gibson, presided over the organizational meeting. “He must have had mixed feelings about the progress made after his departure indicating that his earlier work had not been entirely in vain.” Almost ten years after Zebulon Butler’s first sermon, the church called and installed its first full-time pastor, Rev. John B. Hutchinson, in January 1837.
TROUBLES AND SETBACKS
The church grew during the next decades although there were troubling times in Vicksburg. Two blocks from the church was the notorious Kangaroo Saloon. Author Clay Blount records in his fictional, yet by other accounts historically accurate, novel Birthright:
“The original Kangaroo had been located then, as now, near Glass Bayou just north of town. It had been established in the 1820s – shortly after Vicksburg’s emergence as a city of commerce – first as a whorehouse, then as a saloon, and finally a gambler’s refuge.
Vicksburg’s reputable citizens tolerated the Kangaroo until it encroached on their lives, as in 1835 when, during a Fourth of July picnic, a drunken Kangaroo rowdy interrupted the town’s celebration with outrageous and lewd behavior. He was promptly arrested, but just as promptly released on bail, whereby he returned to the picnic brandishing a gun and a knife. The picnickers subdued him, and he was publicly tarred and feathered. The incident might have been forgotten, but the man’s cohorts from the Kangaroo, ‘the gamblers,’ mistakenly vowed revenge. Public outrage, first at the picnic disruption, and later at the veiled threat from the gamblers, reached a critical level. Two days passed before an ad hoc group calling themselves the Anti-Gambling Society descended on the Kangaroo. Their intent was to roust the gamblers; the gamblers were just as determined to stay. A bloody riot left six people dead, including the Society leader, a prominent city doctor.”
That prominent citizen was Dr. Hugh Bodley. Dr. Bodley, an Episcopalian (although The Saturday Evening Post in the January 12, 1907 issue says he was Presbyterian), was honored with a memorial in front of the Presbyterian Church. The memorial declares Dr. Bodley was, “Murdered by the gamblers, July 5, 1835, while defending the morals of Vicksburg.”
The same Saturday Evening Post reported, “Vicksburg’s people wrecked the Kangaroo. Gamblers were shot, hanged or otherwise disposed of with neatness and dispatch. A few of the less guilty ones were permitted to leave without baggage or sidearms. These were stripped, tarred and feathered, and each man put straddlewise of his own log. The river had brought them, the river took them away. They were cast loose upon the Mississippi and warned that driftwood must not float back.”
In 1837 there was a financial crash which forced the church to sell some of their property in two transactions for a combined total of $2000. Remember the original property was bought for $300…so there was a nice return! The economic trouble reached its peak in 1837 and continued unabated through 1838. “Many residents left for Texas or other places.” But as a result of the economic depression, many people turned to faith and the membership of the church grew. The membership grew to 82 communicants by 1841 when a Yellow Fever epidemic hit the city. “Hundreds died, including many, many Presbyterians. The entire session of three Elders was wiped out.” There was a footnote in the FPCV account at this point that said, “More than 200 deaths in two months meant an average of three funerals every day continuously for sixty days. On twenty of these days, there would be no less than four burials.”
Rev. Hutchinson was dismissed from the pulpit in October of 1842 to answer a call from Oakland College. “The first full-time pastor served the church well. He increased the membership and faithfully led his congregation during troublous times.” After a few more pulpit supply callings, Rev. Samuel M. Montgomery was called as the pastor in April of 1865. Montgomery was the eighth minister to serve the Vicksburg church from 1826 to 1845. The next few years saw growth in the church while they hosted a few special occasions including a speaking engagement by Jefferson Davis for the memorial service to honor the passing of Andrew Jackson.
Rev. Montgomery resigned in April of 1849 and the pulpit remained empty for a year before a pulpit supply could be arranged. In June, 1851 Harry M. Painter was called as pastor. At the end of 1852 the session approved a pastoral letter addressing the condition of the church. In addition to having 81 members in 46 families, the church added two more Elders to the Session making a total of five. Also commented, “Sunday school was unusually active with 150 scholars and 30 teachers maintaining an average attendance of 115. The library contained 300 volumes and 200 papers. Prayer meeting was well attended and a monthly concert was held in support of missions. Many members were added to the church. On the other hand, the pastor noted that family religion was not faithfully observed and the members in general were afflicted by the ‘cold breath of worldly conformity.’ Also, temperance was much needed.”
The report ended with a belief that a new church building would soon be needed. Plans for a new church building began and moved forward. In April of 1854, property was deeded to the Trustees of Vicksburg Presbyterian Church at the corner of Walnut and Clay Streets for a sum of $2000. Two weeks later, Rev. Painter resigned for an unknown reason. Four months later, Rev. B. H. Williams was called as pastor.
In March of 1855, the old church building was sold for $1590. (It was then resold later in 1866 to the African Methodist Episcopal for $6000.) Three months later in June of 1855, the new church on Walnut Street was dedicated. In September of that same year, Rev. Williams died of Yellow Fever leaving the church again pastor-less and led by pulpit supply. Two years would lapse before Rev. E. H. Rutherford would be received as the full-time church pastor. He would serve the church through many troubled years until 1866.
An interesting part of this era notes that the first black was received into the membership of the church in January of 1855. In March of 1856, “the Session resolved to open Divine service for blacks on each Sabbath afternoon in the basement of the church.” In 1856, the total communicants was reported to be 109. There were eight “colored” members, fifty-three families and one hundred enrolled in Sunday school.
THE QUIET BEFORE THE STORM
By 1859 the church membership was reported to be 158 members (32 “colored”) from 68 families with Sunday school attendance at 85.
Vicksburg reached a period of stability and sound growth. Homes and public buildings reflected the trend. Elegant and fine homes were built, and a new courthouse was built in 1858 at a price of $100,000. The census of 1860 showed a population of 4,500 for the city.
The FPC Church History stated, “These were good days in Vicksburg. It had reached a position of economic and political leadership in the state. A news article appeared in one of the local papers on December 2, 1859, proclaiming that ‘Happy Days are here!’ A glowing and optimistic report was given for the future. All was well on the Mississippi.”
Yet all was not well for the country. The national political weather was changing rapidly but the church continued to steadily grow. Abraham Lincoln was elected president in November of 1860. Secession of the Southern states was being discussed and indications of storms ahead were becoming apparent. On December 20, 1860 delegates were elected in the new courthouse that would represent Vicksburg in the state convention to consider secession from the Union. One of those elected was a lawyer, a former U.S. Senator and a Presbyterian, Walker Brooks. Brooks and the other representative to the convention, Thomas Marshall, were instructed to vote against secession, but accepted the overwhelming convention majority’s decision to secede. Brooks also served on the Governor’s Commission to other Southern states seeking a solution to the impending crisis. He would later serve in the Confederate Congress.
The same day that Brooks was selected as a delegate to the Mississippi convention, South Carolina seceded. On January 7, 1861 the convention met in Jackson to consider secession. Two days later an ordinance of secession of Mississippi was adopted. Later that same month, six volunteer military companies were raised in Vicksburg. The following month Jefferson Davis passed through Vicksburg from his home nearby on his way to Montgomery, AL to be inaugurated as the President of the Confederate States of America on February 18, 1861. Mississippi ratified the Confederate Constitution and entered the Confederacy on March 29, 1861. The following month, Vicksburg Presbyterian Church reported a membership of 182 members, (41 “colored”) from 76 families and 120 Sunday school attendees. Receipts for the past year came to $2,664.
DIVISION OF THE NATION AND THE CHURCH
On April 13, 1861 news flashed of the attack on Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Actual hostilities had started…the war had begun.
An assembly of Confederate States’ churches met in Atlanta on August 8, 1861 to establish plans to form the Presbyterian Church for the Confederated States of America. The Atlanta meeting was attended by delegates from eleven southern Presbyteries. Vicksburg Presbyterian Church chose two delegates to attend the Presbytery meeting in Richmond, LA and the Synod at Oakland College in MS. Rev. Rutherford also attended the Synod. At the Synod meeting it was reported that its Presbyteries had, or were soon going to, dissolve their relationships with the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA. The Synod also severed their relationship. Five days later, the Presbytery voted to dissolve relations with the Old-School Assembly of the PCUSA and appointed commissioners to the Assembly to be held in Augusta, GA to form a new Southern Presbyterian church body. The Augusta Assembly met on December 4, 1861 and the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America was born. “All forty-seven Presbyteries in the Confederacy severed their connections with former Assemblies and sent commissioners to Augusta. The Permanent Clerk chosen was Rev. Joseph Wilson, DD of Augusta, GA, the father of President Woodrow Wilson.” The result of all of this was that Vicksburg Presbyterian Church became a member of the Presbytery of Central Mississippi of the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America in 1861.
END OF PART 1 – COME BACK SOON FOR PART 2
Whenever I am traveling through the South, I always try to get Corinth, MS on the travel schedule. The folks at First Presbyterian Church in Corinth are great people and I always enjoy being with them. I am particularly fond of Pastor Don Elliott. Don has been Pastor at First Presbyterian Church, Corinth, since August, 1985. His heart for missions has kept a bright flame burning within the congregation for outreach and Kingdom building, both locally and especially internationally. Whenever I am in town for a visit, church Elder Dr. Pat provides great overnight accommodations in his garage apartment. But not just for me. He and his wife, Suzanne, have dedicated themselves to mission work and are excellent hosts to any visiting missionaries at First Presbyterian, Corinth. The refrigerator in the apartment is covered with photos and greetings from around the world from people that they have hosted.
The city of Corinth, Miss., was founded in 1853 as Cross City because it was located at the junction of the Mobile & Ohio and Memphis & Charleston railroads. The early town’s newspaper editor, W.E. Gibson, suggested the name of Corinth, taken from Corinth, Greece that also served as a crossroads. Of course for those of us that are Biblically inclined, we know Corinth as a mission field for Paul.
By 1860, the community had grown to a population of more than 2,500. It is located in the northeast corner of Mississippi near the Tennessee border, 22 miles southwest of Pittsburg Landing, on the Tennessee River. Because of being in the junction of the two railroads, Corinth became of strategic importance to the Confederacy during the Civil War. It also became an objective to the Union forces.
After the battle of Corinth (see below) the Union occupied Corinth for the next 15 months, using it as a base for raiding northern Mississippi, Alabama and southern Tennessee. The Union troops left Corinth on January 25, 1864. The Confederates returned, but it was too late. The South had not built a locomotive since 1861 and could not use what had once been a critically important rail line. The only cars moving on the patched-together tracks were pulled by mules.
Just on the outskirts of Corinth is the Corinth Interpretive Center. In this museum and history center you can discover the history of Corinth with all the details of the nearby battles and the repercussions of the war on Corinth. The 15,000 square foot facility features interactive exhibits, a multi-media presentation of the Battle of Shiloh and the Battle of Corinth.
In the years since the Civil War, Corinth has grown into a small city of almost 15,000, but the general landscape has changed little. There are numerous historical markers peppered throughout the city which makes driving and walking tours very enjoyable and informative. In 2014 Corinth, Mississippi was ranked as the top 16th Main Street and in 2015 Best Choice Reviews gave Corinth the designation of being one of the 50 Best Towns in America.
THE BIRTH OF TWO CHURCHES
As related on the church website by Janet Krohn, FPC Church Historian, the history of the First Presbyterian Church, Corinth, began with the settling of Cross City. Before the city was three years old, two separate Presbyterian Churches were formed. The Cumberland Presbyterian Church was founded in 1857, and a building was erected on Cruise Street just east of Madison Street. The First Presbyterian Church, founded in 1858, first had a building on the southwest corner of Franklin and Linden Streets.
Neither church had much time to grow or even record much history before the Civil War made its way into Southern Tennessee and Northern Mississippi. After Fort Sumter was fired upon in April of 1861 to start the war, the first major battle to take place was in (West) Virginia. Other 1861 battles like Manassas, Bull Run, Port Royal, and Wilson’s Creek were in far-away places like Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri and in the Indian Territories.
The war began to come closer to Mississippi in February 1862, when a Union army under Ulysses S. Grant won impressive victories at Forts Henry and Donelson in northwestern Tennessee. But still a great deal of the fighting was being done in far-away Virginia and Maryland. Then the news became much worse as multiple Union armies were moving south toward Mississippi, intent on capturing the vital Confederate railroad crossing at Corinth. The war was about to explode in Mississippi itself. And in April of 1862 the war was suddenly upon them with the Battle of Shiloh (only 22 miles north of Corinth) and then the battles in and around Corinth itself.
THE WAR WAS UPON THEM
The war first came to the proximity of Corinth at the Battle of Shiloh, also known as the Battle of Pittsburg Landing. The two-day battle of Shiloh, the costliest in American history up to that time, resulted in the defeat of the Confederate army and frustration of Johnston’s plans to prevent the two Union armies in Tennessee from joining together. Union casualties were 13,047 (1,754 killed, 8,408 wounded, and 2,885 missing); Grant’s army bore the brunt of the fighting over the two days, with casualties of 1,513 killed, 6,601 wounded, and 2,830 missing or captured. Confederate casualties were 10,699 (1,728 killed, 8,012 wounded, and 959 missing or captured). The dead included the Confederate army’s commander, Albert Sidney Johnston. (stats from Wikipedia) Tragically the two days of fighting at Shiloh alone produced more casualties than all the combined previous wars of the United States.
The battle of Shiloh was, as noted, a very bloody and costly battle for both sides. There are many accounts of the battle, some conflicting as to the surprise of the Confederate attack, details about the Hornet’s Nest, the legend of a drummer boy, and the tale of the Bloody Pond. Nevertheless, there is no question that the battle was a turning point in the war. Interestingly, when Johnston began his march north from Corinth to engage the Union forces, he was held up two days because of rain and muddy roads. It is curious to imagine if he had not been delayed in his approach, Grant’s army would have been even more unprepared and the battle might have been over before the reinforcements arrived. Considering that among the commanding generals for the Union forces were Grant and Sherman, the rest of the war might have gone differently if either or both of these two men had been killed or captured. Well, that’s all conjecture I know but an interesting thought!
The following section was obtained from http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/shiloh.htm. For an interesting account of the battle visit the website and read the story from Henry Morgan Stanley. Henry Morton Stanley earned fame in 1872 for his discovery of Dr. David Livingstone in the interior of Africa. Ten years earlier, the 21-year-old Stanley had enlisted in the Confederate Army and on April 6, 1862 he found himself preparing for battle at Shiloh.
In April 1862 General Ulysses S. Grant’s army was encamped along the Tennessee River just north of the Mississippi border; poised to strike a blow into the heartland of the South. Grant had been at this location for about a month, awaiting the arrival of additional troops under General Buell before he began his march southward. Twenty miles to the south, in Corinth, Mississippi, Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston ordered his troops northward with the plan of attacking Grant before Buell arrived. The stage was set for one of the Civil War’s bloodiest battles.
On the morning of April 6, Johnston’s force surprised Grant in an attack that slowly pushed the Union troops back from the high ground they occupied towards the Tennessee River. Fighting was fierce. Many of the Union troops fled to the rear upon the initial Confederate assault and by afternoon General Johnston was confident that victory was within his grasp. However, Union resistance stiffened. Fighting around the white-washed Shiloh Church was particularly vicious. In a wooded thicket the Confederates labeled “the Hornets’ Nest” the Northern troops struggled for nearly six hours before finally surrendering. The Union soldiers stalled the Confederate onslaught by exchanging their precious lives for time in which reinforcements could arrive. With nightfall, fighting subsided. Grant’s forces were pinned against the Tennessee River but the exhausted Confederates were short of their goal of complete victory.
One casualty of the afternoon’s combat was General Johnston who lost his life while directing his troops from the front lines. His death severely affected the Confederate’s morale and their belief in victory.
Buell’s reinforcements finally arrived during the night as did forces under General William H. Wallace, strengthening the Union lines with 22,500 fresh troops. With the break of dawn, Grant attacked, pushing the exhausted Confederates steadily back until they finally began a retreat in the early afternoon that left the field to the Union forces.
For another excellent analysis of the battle from historian Timothy B. Smith, go to http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/shiloh/shiloh-history-articles/battle-of-shiloh-shattering.html. Dr. Timothy B. Smith, a former NPS ranger at Shiloh, teaches history at the University of Tennessee at Martin. He is the author of numerous books on the battles of Corinth and Shiloh.
A visit to the battlegrounds of Shiloh is worth the trip. Congress established Shiloh National Military Park in 1894, making it the third oldest battlefield in the National Park system. Originally under the War Department, Shiloh predated the National Park Service by 22 years. The park is beautifully maintained and the two-day battle is well-marked with event markers often next to each other, one telling the tale of the Confederate advancement on day one and the other telling the tale of the Union counter-advance on day two.
Among the many ironies of the battle is that its name was taken from a small chink-and-mortar Methodist chapel on the battlefield that had been christened after the Hebrew expression for “Place of Peace.” The building itself was hardly better than a respectable Tennessee corncrib, but it was a house of God and gave its name to the first of the great battles of the Civil War. The original church building did not survive the battle. The present-day structure (see photo) is a reconstruction erected in 2003 on the historical site by the Tennessee Sons of Confederate Veterans organization.
THE WAR CAME TO THE STREETS OF CORINTH
From Wikipedia we learn that the Siege of Corinth (also known as the First Battle of Corinth) was a Civil War battle fought from April 29 to May 30, 1862, in Corinth. The town was a strategic point at the junction of two vital railroad lines, the Mobile and Ohio Railroad and the Memphis and Charleston Railroad. The siege ended as the Confederates withdrew. The Union forces under Ulysses Grant took control and made it the base for his operations to seize control of the Mississippi River Valley, and especially the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg.
The Second Battle of Corinth was fought October 3–4, 1862, in Corinth. For the second time in the Iuka-Corinth Campaign, Union Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans defeated a Confederate army, this time one under Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn.
After the Battle of Iuka, Maj. Gen. Sterling Price marched his army to meet with Van Dorn’s. The combined force, under the command of the more senior Van Dorn, moved in the direction of Corinth, a critical rail junction in northern Mississippi, hoping to disrupt Union lines of communications and then sweep into Middle Tennessee. The fighting began on October 3 as the Confederates pushed the Federal army from the rifle pits originally constructed by the Confederates for the Siege of Corinth. The Confederates exploited a gap in the Union line and continued to press the Union troops until they fell back to an inner line of fortifications.
On the second day of battle, the Confederates moved forward to meet heavy Union artillery fire, storming Battery Powell and Battery Robinett, where desperate hand-to-hand fighting occurred. A brief incursion into the town of Corinth was repulsed. After a Federal counterattack recaptured Battery Powell, Van Dorn ordered a general retreat. Rosecrans did not pursue immediately and the Confederates escaped destruction.
Another important feature of Corinth is what is known as the Corinth Contraband Camp. Early in the war, Gen. Benjamin Butler had to decide what to do with three slaves in Virginia that had fled their slavery and sought refuge with the Union forces. The general refused to return them to their “owner,” instead labeling them as “contrabands of war.” After the Union had secured Corinth, many African-Americans who fled Southern plantations and farms seeking freedom and protection, found the Union-occupied Corinth to be a secure location. They gathered in the Corinth Contraband Camp. Initially housed in army tents no longer considered serviceable for Union troops, the freedmen were soon set to work downing trees and clearing land on which to build cabins and lay out streets, which were named for Union generals. Eventually the freedmen also built a four-room school, a commissary, a hospital, a church and an office. The entire camp was divided into wards, complete with ward masters and a police force. Union General Granville Dodge began to enlist these freedmen as teamsters, cooks and laborers. He actively recruited male refugees, armed them and placed them in charge of security. Dodge’s administrative efforts led to the formation of the 1st Alabama Regiment of African Descent, consisting of approximately 1,000 men. The camp was short-lived as plans for the Union army winter campaign moved away from Corinth. Although considered by many as a “model” for post-slavery reconstruction, the camp was ordered to relocate to Memphis and the progress was decimated in the transition.
THE CHURCH LIVES ON…WELL, ONE OF THEM
Continuing the church history related by Janet Krohn, most records of both the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and First Presbyterian Church were lost during the Civil War, but each church reorganized as soon as possible following the war. The Cumberland Church sold their building to the City of Corinth for a public school and built a new building on Fillmore Street and changed its name to “Fillmore Street Presbyterian Church.” In 1894 First Church built a modern church building on the northeast corner of Franklin and Foote Streets, which was occupied by that fellowship for about sixty-five years.
The membership of First Presbyterian continued to grow, and the building near the courthouse was in need of major repairs. In 1949 the church purchased, for $11,500, land on Shiloh Road for a future building.
Through the years the two Presbyterian churches of Corinth had worked in harmony, sharing summer services, revivals, Bible Schools, and local missions. In 1950 a proposal was made to unite the two churches. However, the presbytery of the Presbyterian Church, United States of America under which the Fillmore Street church operated, refused the merger. Nevertheless, about three-fourths of the membership of that church moved their letters to First Presbyterian Church in 1951. The beautiful little church on Fillmore Street continued to lose members until it was finally dissolved and the property was sold to the First United Methodist Church in 1976.
Immediately following the merger of the two church bodies, Dr. Bernard Munger was called as pastor for First Presbyterian, and a monumental building program was undertaken. In 1952 the education building and fellowship hall were completed. The entire $60,000 was paid in a few short years, and the sanctuary portion of the building was completed in 1957, costing $170,000. In 1996 the education wing was enlarged to accommodate more classrooms to be used by both the Sunday school and the day school.
Grievances arose with the Presbyterian Church USA including their policy of ordination of homosexuals in some local churches and presbyteries and issues of Trinitarian theology expressed in a 2006 document titled “The Trinity: God’s Love Overflowing,” known widely as “the Trinity Paper.” First Presbyterian, Corinth formally requested dismissal from the PC(USA).
A special, seven-member administrative commission for the Presbytery determined that “reconciliation was not possible, and therefore began the work of negotiating a settlement …” The settlement agreement was “approved by voice vote without vocal opposition or objection.”
Following eighteen months of prayer and discernment, the congregation of First Presbyterian voted overwhelmingly in favor of dissolving their association with the Presbyterian Church USA, on December 23, 2007. In February 2008 the Presbytery of St. Andrew (PCUSA) dismissed them with their property and they came to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. As part of the settlement, the church paid $150,000 to the Presbytery.
Pastor Don Elliott said that he and his congregation were “relieved to be reaching the end of a 20-month time of crisis and struggle.” He added that he’s “thankful to the presbytery for their peaceful conclusion,” and that the church was “eager to move forward, proclaiming the Gospel and being involved in mission.”
A CHURCH FOR THE KINGDOM
Today the church’s mission is “To glorify and worship God by seeking and following His will through prayer, love, faithfulness, and witnessing; radiating from the individual, to the family, to the church, to the community, and to the world.” They really live-up to that mission statement being involved in community efforts with a food pantry, meals for the needy, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, crisis pregnancy, Habitat for humanity and care for troubled and orphaned children…just to name a few. Of course what I am thrilled about is their incredible involvement in international mission work in both financial support and direct participation. Their website lists 28 missionary teams that they support and encourage in all parts of the world. Many of those missionaries are EPC World Outreach associates, including me. Their recent congregational mission trips include Guatemala and Mexico with plans for another trip to Guatemala this month where they will be building houses and helping with a feeding program for poor children.
Their worship service is at 10:45 on Sunday morning. If you are in Corinth to visit the city or the historical battlegrounds at Shiloh, be sure to plan to worship with them. Their church is located at 919 Shiloh Road. You will find their congregation inviting, the sermon inspirational and the fellowship warm.
Another stop during our historical church tour was a quick stop in Huntsville, AL which brought my wife and me to Central Evangelical Presbyterian Church for lunch with Pastor Dr. Randall Jenkins. Randy was born near Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. He attended colleges in Indiana and Pennsylvania, and received his undergraduate degree from Washington and Jefferson College. After working with Youth for Christ for several years he attended Pittsburgh Theological Seminary where he received his Master of Divinity degree. He received his Doctor of Ministry degree from Reformed Theological Seminary at the Charlotte, North Carolina campus in May 2004. Randy was the Pastor at the Bethany Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, North Carolina for several years before coming to Central Presbyterian Church. He and his wife, Judy, have three daughters, Leah, Grace, and Abby.
Unfortunately we did not have much time to spend with Randy but we did manage to get in a quick tour of his church after lunch. A block from the downtown square, Central is one of two downtown Presbyterian churches, being not more than a block from each other. It is a fascinating church building with an unusual sanctuary and beautiful stained glass windows. While we did not have much time to visit, our time together prompted me to study their website where I learned much about this pastor, this congregation and this church that has a colorful past, a dynamic present community involvement and a future vision for their church and for the city where they serve.
Huntsville became the first incorporated town in Alabama in 1811. However, the recognized “birth” year of the city is 1805, the year of John Hunt’s arrival. In 1819, Huntsville hosted a constitutional convention in Walker Allen’s large cabinet making shop. The 44 delegates meeting there wrote a constitution for the new state of Alabama. But even before that constitution was penned, the foundation for Central Presbyterian Church had already been laid as the First Cumberland Presbyterian Church, organized on February 4, 1810.
In 1828, the first church building, a white frame structure, was erected on the east side of Greene Street between Holmes and Walker Streets. In 1845 the congregation moved to a new church building, believed to have been designed by George Steele, on the corner of Lincoln and Randolph Streets and after 9 years completed a one room square Sanctuary. The building was completed in 1854 and dedicated by the Rev. Robert K. Donnell, the man to whom the Presbyterian Church owes her success in North Alabama.
It was a handsome, one room Doric structure which included a slave balcony and had no basement. The brick building included four immense Corinthian columns on the front, supporting a heavy porch top. A large cupola on the roof housed the church bell.
THEN CAME THE WAR
On the morning of April 11, 1862, Union troops led by General Ormsby M. Mitchel seized Huntsville to sever the Confederacy’s rail communications. The Union troops were forced to retreat some months later, but returned to Huntsville in the fall of 1863 and thereafter used the city as a base of operations for the remainder of the war. While many homes and villages in the surrounding countryside were burned in retaliation for the active guerrilla warfare in the area, Huntsville itself was spared because it housed elements of the Union Army. (Wikipedia)
THE CHURCH MOVED ON
Despite the war, the 1845 building was in good condition when it was razed in 1899 to make room for a larger building. When the razing began on April 30, 1899, the plan was to purchase the adjacent property on Lincoln Street. Since the owners would not sell, the church was designed to fit the property already owned. For that reason, the building was designed high rather than wide and flat. The same architect who designed the building designed the Jewish Synagogue farther down Lincoln Street. The Rev. Joseph W. Caldwell laid the cornerstone and later dedicated the Sanctuary.
Bricks from the old building were used to build the lower wall of the present church. The Romanesque Revival Sanctuary is octagon in shape. The beautiful stained glass windows are irreplaceable and have been a source of beauty and inspiration for many. They were created by a Bavarian artist that was seeking a church to demonstrate his artistic ability at the same time the church was being built.
In 1957, the Education Wing was constructed to accommodate the influx of new people in Huntsville. Adjacent properties were finally purchased and a courtyard, playground and parking lot were built.
AND CONTINUES TO MOVE
In 1991, the Freeman House at 205 Lincoln Street was purchased for offices and more parking. In 1996, the congregation fulfilled its vision of restoring the house and using it for the glory of God. This historic and gracious house provides the setting for the Hawthorne Conservatory of Music (see below).
In January of 2001 the church purchased the Cooper House, across the street from the church building. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places on January 4, 1973, Cooper House is one of the oldest homes in the Twickenham Historical District. The Cooper House, said to be one of the few antebellum structures of frame construction to survive the Civil War, suited Central’s need for expanded parking, office space and storage. The building needed extensive renovations, which required approval of the Huntsville/Madison County Historical Society. The Historical Society would not allow the church to demolish the home and build a new, larger structure, but they did allow the back porch to be built into additional space. Now called the Family Life Center, the renovated Cooper House fits the church’s vision for additional outreach and new ministry, while preserving the integrity of the historical structure. The beautiful old home was completely restored to accommodate a new Fellowship Hall and kitchen facilities. It is not only used by the church but is available for many community and private events as well.
DENOMINATION AFFILIATIONS and DISAFFILIATIONS
Originating in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, the church and denomination reunited in May 1906 with the Presbyterian Church, USA, to become the United Presbyterian Church of North America. In 1958 the Presbyterian Church, USA, united with the United Presbyterian Church of North America, forming the United Presbyterian Church in the USA. And on June 10, 1983, the United Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Presbyterian Church, US, reunited to form the Presbyterian Church (USA), and they were affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA) until 2007, when Central left this affiliation.
The church disaffiliation started by first filing a lawsuit asking that the church, not the PC(USA), be declared owner of the congregation’s property. They later followed-up with a congregational meeting to bring the issue to disaffiliate with the denomination to the church members.
The telling of the PC(USA) departure (in part) was related by The Layman Online:
“Central Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, Ala., which recently filed a lawsuit seeking to be declared owner of its property, has voted to disaffiliate from the Presbyterian Church (USA) and align with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
North Alabama Presbytery, however, said the congregational meeting where the vote took place was “improperly called” and has authorized an administrative commission to assume “original jurisdiction” of the church by dismissing the pastor and session.
Central Presbyterian’s pastor, the Rev. Dr. Randy Jenkins, said 142 people voted for disaffiliation at a congregational meeting following worship services March 11. There also were nine “letters of intent,” he said, signed by congregation members who could not be present. The church has about 265 members by Jenkins’ estimation.”
There were some peculiar charges and moves by the Presbytery in regards to a supposedly “improperly called” meeting, to the point of threatening Pastor Jenkins with removal and intent to dissolve the Session. Indeed, the Presbytery did declare the Session dissolved and ordered the trustees of the church to dismiss the property lawsuit. But Jenkins avoided the presbytery action by renouncing his PC(USA) ordination before they could act and the trustees ignored the threatened takeover of the administration of the church. The Presbytery seemed primarily concerned about property issues while the church was concerned about that AND theological issues. The church declared the split with the PC(USA) was because of longstanding doctrinal difference, disagreement with the direction (theologically and structurally) the denomination was taking, and because the PC(USA) believed that it was the owner of their property rather than the corporation made up of the members of the church. Eventually the lawsuit was settled letting Central leave PC(USA) with property for $250,000 in various payments. In exchange for the payments, the agreement stated, “The presbytery shall quit claim all its right, title and interest in and to any real or personal property, and any present or future interest therein, now or hereafter claimed by Central Presbyterian.” The presbytery also agrees to dismiss the church “to a presbytery of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, or another Reformed body, with any and all real and personal property.”
A COMMUNITY CHURCH
Central Evangelical Presbyterian Church has a long history of being a church that presents the Word of God, cares for one another, puts its money where its priorities are (they have a very high percentage of their budget devoted to missions), and impacts the community through outreach, including an unusual outreach of the Hawthorne Music Conservatory.
The Hawthorne Conservatory is a unique music ministry of Central EPC. Located in the historic Freeman House in downtown Huntsville, the school offers quality music instruction in a safe and inspiring atmosphere to students of any age, especially those who cannot afford music lessons or instruments. In addition to private lessons, they offer enrichment programming, which consists of specialty group classes and seasonal camps. They also take music into the community, particularly places where music education & enrichment is not easily accessible or affordable. (From the website)
MOVING INTO THE FUTURE
Central Presbyterian Church continues to reach outside of their walls to those men and women who are unchurched and offer a venue and ministry that will touch their hearts with the love of Christ. Their impact on and for the community, and for the kingdom of God, is a great testimony. The church and members generously offer their hearts and their facilities to fulfill community needs so they can utilize their physical assets seven days a week.
Today the church reports just over 300 members. I am glad that the Lord led Central Presbyterian Church leadership and congregation to the EPC. We are blessed to have them among our family of churches. I look forward to a future Sunday when I can visit Central EPC again and worship with the congregation and get to know the church and her people a bit better. If you find yourself in the Huntsville area some weekend, I encourage you to visit them at 406 Randolph Avenue, Huntsville, AL 35801.
*Much of the church history is from the Central EPC website
Continuing my trail of Evangelical Presbyterian Churches introduced in Discoveries of the Past on March 11, I come to a church just outside of Charlotte, NC. This stop along the way during that “EPC church tour” was Siler Presbyterian Church (EPC) in Wesley Chapel, NC. My wife and I had a nice Italian dinner with Pastor Bruce Powell and his wife, Carrie, on Saturday night, and then worshipped with the congregation on Sunday morning. Bruce has been serving SPC for almost 23 years as their shepherd and pastor. It was obvious during our visit that he is well-loved by the congregation. It was indeed a pleasure to worship in this historic church which has an active membership of around 450 members. On Sunday morning, Bruce gave me a few minutes to bring greetings to the congregation and give a brief explanation about our new ministry. I received a lot of encouragement from members after the service. Pastor Bruce shared a message from Genesis 50:15-26 entitled “God Meant Good.” This sermon was the first of a series of characters in the Bible, first pointing to Moses. Bruce preached with conviction, not shying away from naming sin as sin, but also giving God the praise to be able to use evil for good in His Kingdom work. He is a real gift, not only to his church but also to the EPC. Before worship service we attended a Sunday school class and after worship we were invited to a church lunch to celebrate the new members of the church. Altogether, we had a wonderful visit with Bruce, Carrie and all of the SPC congregation.
The church is committed to reaching the local community as they send and support many community activities. Achievement of this is measured by their ability to 1) reach the community, 2) provide hands-on experience to the members of the congregation including families and youth, and 3) provide board members to local organizations when appropriate. The church is involved in a range of activities from food and clothing collections, the Angel Tree Ministry, blood drives, Habitat for Humanity, Scouts …the list goes on!
I was also happy to learn that the Siler congregation is active in world missions, supporting several families who serve the Lord internationally, with both prayer and monetary support. Among the missionaries they support is one of our EPC World Outreach missionary teams that is serving in Central Asia. They also regularly send church mission teams to Guatemala and the Philippines.
A LONG HISTORY
Siler EPC was organized in Sandy Ridge Township, Union County, North Carolina, on October 29, 1895. Rev. J. W. Siler, Pastor of Providence Church, had been holding regular preaching services under an improvised arbor for two years prior to the organization.
By the request of Rev. Siler and several families in the community, the Presbytery gave permission for the organization of a church and appointed Rev. Siler, Rev. H. M. Dixon and Rev. M. C. Arrowood as organizing ministers. The church began with twenty-nine members. Land for the church building and grounds was donated by M. E. Plyler and his wife. A building was started near the present cemetery. Rev. Siler remained pastor until 1897.
In 1915 the church enjoyed a period of growth and began to outgrow the building. The decision was made to move the building a quarter of a mile down the road and erect a new building. Horse power was used to move the building on logs placed one after another in front of the building. This task took longer than expected and was not completed by the next Sunday. That did not deter the congregation. They simply worshiped in their sanctuary where it sat along the road. The land was donated by J. N. Price and the Belk family donated the bricks for the new building which was completed and dedicated in 1919. Within the year, the front wall of the church cracked. It was decided to remove the bell from the tower as it was determined to be unsafe. The bell was moved out into the yard, and only rung for important occasions.
CONTINUED CHURCH GROWTH
In 1964, the first educational building was added, named in honor of Dr. Q. N. Huneycutt who served as pastor from 1932-1938 and 1951-1964 when he retired. This building houses the current nursery. A Fellowship Hall was completed in 1974 which is the current church office. The manse was also completed in 1974 and a call was extended to Rev. Vernon H. Dodd who became the first full-time minister and served until 1990.
The current two-story educational building was completed in 1988 which was named in honor of Rev. Dodd. In 1992 a call was extended to Rev. Bruce M. Powell who serves as the pastor today. A new Fellowship Hall, with kitchen and large classrooms, was completed in 2002. (History from the Siler website.)
STANDING FOR THE TRUTH IN TODAY’S TIME
On September 30, 2012, Siler Presbyterian voted to dismiss from the PCUSA denomination with a 99% vote and join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church denomination with a 98% vote. Decisions for these types of changes are never easy but the session of Siler Presbyterian was more interested in aligning their church with the truth of the Gospel then staying in a long traditional comfort zone. In a 11/8/11 letter to their congregation, the session wrote, “With a great sense of sadness, the Session has concluded that our denomination, the PCUSA, has departed from Scripture, from our Reformed (Presbyterian) heritage, from the holy will of God, and from us at Siler, a congregation of Christians seeking to be faithful to our Lord.” They went on to express, “We believe the PCUSA’s departure is not just an innocent edging away from our Lord’s revealed will in Scripture on minor issues, but they have willfully and knowingly broken with Truth on substantial issues of faith and life.”
Of course, the EPC is excited and blessed to have Siler Presbyterian as part of the family of churches of the EPC. If you are in south Charlotte on any given Sunday, it is well worth the 15 minute drive to visit with the fine folks at Siler EPC. The church is located at 6301 Weddington-Monroe Rd, Wesley Chapel, NC. As mentioned, my wife and I immensely enjoyed our visit to Siler and look forward to a future visit when next in the area.
In my “Discoveries of the Past” series, one of my stops along my journey through the southern states was near Charleston, SC. I had a visit with a great guy and obvious dynamic, but laid-back pastor, Rev. Mark Hunt. Mark shepherds Rockville Presbyterian Church, a member church of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church denomination. He has pastored the church for over 12 years. Mark is the husband of Megan and the father of three children, Andrew, Benjamin and Rebecca. He and his family live a few walking minutes from the church and are very much a part of the community. We immediately struck a friendship at lunch and continued getting to know one another at dinner that same night. Between meals he gave my wife and me a tour of his church which sits in lush, swamp like scenery on Wadmalaw Island, just south of Charleston. Wadmalaw Island is about 10 miles long by 6 miles wide with a population of just over 2600 people. The island is just a couple of miles from the Atlantic Ocean, easily accessible by waterway. The church building is only a few steps to Bohicket Creek. Indeed, their property has a small section of waterfront that they use occasionally for sunrise services. As we walked to the water, we passed between a couple of homes that displayed the characteristics of homes built for hot summer heat. The church is also designed for such with high ceilings and large windows. The church is lacking a steeple because the one that was originally built was blown off during a storm sometime in the past. The church property hosts several large Live Oak trees which are obviously very old by their trunk sizes and the wide spread of their massive limbs. Mark pointed out an unusual sight of a cactus growing out of a limb, some 20 feet off the ground, of the giant oak which is in front of the church. The more recent Fellowship Hall and church offices are in a separate building behind the original 1850 church building.
Rockville Presbyterian Church, sprang from the Johns Island Church formed in 1710. Johns Island is another island adjacent to, and half encircling, Wadmalaw Island. Johns Island Presbyterian Church began as part of Reverend Archibald Stobo’s plan to create five Presbyterian churches in the rural areas of South Carolina. Notably, it is one of the oldest churches in the United States built from a wood frame. Johns Island Presbyterian underwent expansions in 1792 and 1823.
Rockville Presbyterian Church is one of only two churches in the Rockville Historic District. The Church is listed on the National Register which says the following about the Rockville historical district.
“Rockville, one of Charleston County’s oldest surviving summer resorts (ca 1824) is important architecturally, agriculturally, militarily and in the area of transportation and recreation. This summer community’s serene, slow-moving, lifestyle is reflected in its architecture and landscape. Although houses vary in sizes and degree of architectural importance, nearly all have spacious porches, raised foundations, and large central hallways designed for summer comfort and relaxation.
The buildings within Rockville’s Historic District have obvious visual unity. All are well ventilated to take full advantage of sea breezes. Several houses appear to have been year-round residences with architecture adapted for cold weather but still well-ventilated for summer use. The district also includes two churches. Live Oaks draped with Spanish moss and palmettos dominate the landscape and add to the quaint atmosphere of the community.”
A FLASH FROM THE PAST
Wadmalaw Island was landed upon by Captain Robert Sandford and the crew of the Berkeley Bay in mid-June 1666 after an excursion up the Bohicket Creek. It is believed that Sandford landed where Rockville, South Carolina now sits. On June 23, 1666, Captain and crew carried out the ritual of turf and twig, claiming the land for England and the Lords Proprietors.
In 1670, 148 colonists arrived and settled on the west bank of the Ashley (Kiawah) River. They survived the first four years of poor crop production through the generosity of natives who shared beans and corn. They later moved to what is now Charleston.
In more recent times, The Lipton Tea Company operated an experimental tea farm on Wadmalaw Island from 1960 until 1987, when it was sold to Mack Fleming and Bill Hall. These gentlemen converted the experimental farm into a working tea plantation. The Charleston Tea Plantation utilized a converted cotton picker and tobacco harvester to mechanically harvest the tea. The Charleston Tea Plantation sold tea mail order known as American Classic Tea and also produced Sam’s Choice Instant Tea, sold through Sam’s Clubs. American Classic Tea has been the official tea of the White House since 1987. In 2003, Bigelow Tea Company purchased the Charleston Tea Plantation and temporarily closed the plantation in order to renovate it. The plantation reopened in January 2006. Tours are now offered of this last remaining working tea farm in America. Wadmalaw now produces Firefly, a sweet tea flavored vodka. It is popular throughout the Southern United States because of its recognizable flavor and cultural significance.
TIMES OF WAR
The American Revolutionary War arrived on Johns Island in May of 1779 as a body of British troops under the command of General Augustine Prevost. General Prevost established a small force to remain on the island, headed by Lieutenant Colonel John Maitland. Under the command of Sir Henry Clinton, more troops landed on Seabrook Island, beginning February 11, 1780. Clinton’s goal was to cross Johns Island and James Island and lay siege to Charleston. Clinton’s army crossed the Stono River and set up temporary headquarters at Fenwick Hall. Moving to James Island, marching up the west bank of the Ashley River to Old Town Landing then marching south to Charleston, Clinton besieged the city. Charleston surrendered to British forces on May 12, 1780; the occupation lasted until December 1782.
During the Civil War, The Battle of Bloody Bridge, also known as Burden’s Causeway, occurred on Johns Island in July 1864. This battle was the largest battle on Johns Island during the Civil War. In July of 1864, the Confederates still defending Charleston had control of James Island and Johns Island. On July 2, 1864, Brigadier General John Hatch’s Union troops landed in Legareville and Rockville of Johns Island. Hatch wanted to cross Johns Island, then cross the Stono River and lay siege to James Island. Hatch’s idea was to march up and take Johns Island, then move across the Stono River and take James Island. The Union troops marched about 4 miles across Seabrook to Haulover Cut, which separated Seabrook Island from Johns Island, only to find out the bridge had been burned. After a new bridge was completed, they crossed the bridge and camp for the night. The march up Johns Island continued on July 3rd. The intense heat caused the troops to move only a few miles per day. The Union troops met the Confederate troops where the creek turns into swamp. On July 6th, the Confederates opened fire on the Union camps from James Island in the morning. The Union troops were just opposite Confederate Battery Pringle on James Island, and had occupied a strong position on Burdens Causeway at a small bridge oh the main road that crossed the marsh. In front of them the Confederates holding the high ground at Waterloo Plantation. That small bridge would be forever known as “Bloody Bridge.” Through the three-day battle, involving brave attacks, fierce defense and counter-attacks, around 2,000 South Carolina soldiers held off a Union force of roughly 8,000 men. On July 10th, Confederate scouts discovered that the Union had evacuated the island overnight, going aboard their transports and burning a large quantity of commissary stores. Reported losses were 11 killed and 71 wounded for the Union forces and the Confederates suffered 37 killed and 91 wounded. (from Wikipedia and www.battleofchas.com)
One legend has it that the Confederates used the steeple of Rockville Church as a watch tower, looking for Union ships on the waterway.
A WAR OF A DIFFERENT TYPE – TAKING A STAND FOR THE TRUTH
Rockville was the first church to seek dismissal from Charleston Atlantic Presbytery and had to overcome a drawn-out process and accusations made against Pastor Mark Hunt, but the congregation’s resolve was rewarded. Rockville Presbyterian Church, was eventually released from the Presbyterian Church (USA) and has affiliated with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC).
As reported by the Presbyterian Layman:
Rockville’s decision to seek a new denominational home more in line with its theological position was two-fold. It centered around the authority of Scripture and its interpretation, and the Lordship of Jesus Christ. “It was real simple,” Hunt declared. “Those were the two issues we found to be compelling and important to us. We felt a line had been crossed by the larger church in regard to those issues.” Hunt said joining the EPC was a matter of properly aligning Rockville’s beliefs with those of like-minded Christians. “We felt misaligned. Our values and the vision of our congregation were not in line with those of the national denomination, and we couldn’t be as effective with what we wanted to do and be as a church,” he explained. “The EPC resonated well with us. When we looked in the mirror, what we saw doctrinally was the EPC and felt it was a pretty good reflection of who we are.”
I am glad to say that Rockville is now counted among our EPC churches. The EPC denomination is a family of churches, reformed and Presbyterian, defined by shared core values and bonded by the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. The EPC is a church family centered upon the good news of what God has done for the world through His Son, Jesus Christ. With about 125 members, Rockville Presbyterian Church, her pastor and her congregation are great additions to the EPC family. It was truly a pleasure to meet and visit with Mark and Rockville EPC. I love making new friendships, especially those that have the flavor of lasting a lifetime.
If you ever in the area of Charleston on a Sunday morning, make time drive out into the low country and worship at Rockville EPC. They are located at 2479 Sea Island Yacht Club Road Wadmalaw Island, SC 29487.
Check back later as I continue to relate some more stories from other churches I have visited.