Late summer is a traditional time for revivals and a good revival needs a good preacher. Our subject for September will be local preachers, revivals and camp meetings.
“Men of the cloth,” as preachers are sometimes called, have been a part of our town’s history from the very beginning. We know that “circuit riders” visited here and our town had a “Union Church” by 1800. A “Union Church” was a church building shared by several different faiths.
One of the earliest preachers in our area was the Rev. John Carr. We know a lot about the Rev. Carr because he wrote a book, “Early Times in Middle Tennessee” and the “early times” he wrote about were before 1850!
In his book he states, “I will now give you a sketch of the first Meeting-house that was ever built upon Goose Creek. In fact, there was none in all that section of the country for many miles around, when the great religious excitement took place in 1800. Our dwelling houses were too small to hold the large multitude of people that flocked out to meeting. At that time the Methodists and Presbyterians were almost a unit; they could not tell which shouted the loudest!
“We determined to build us a house to worship the God of our fathers in…we had a meeting, purchased a piece of ground on a beautiful eminence, convenient to a fine spring. We appointed a day to get the timbers to build…When the day arrived, it was wonderful to behold the multitude of people that came out – wagons and teams, choppers and hewers. (the church would be build of logs)
“By evening we had collected timber to build a large house; and, in the evening, laid the foundation…
“It was proposed we should have prayer…we knelt down around the foundation, and prayer was offered up to God in a most solemn manner…”
That early church was also a “Union church” and stood, as well as can be determined, about where the Willow Grove Methodist Church stands today in the Willow Grove community of Trousdale County.
In the early days of the ministry in Middle Tennessee people would gather for revivals or for “camp meetings.” A “camp meeting” was a large meeting usually set in a grove of trees by a spring or creek and people would camp there for several days, enjoying each other’s company and attending services morning, noon and night.
Carr wrote this about one such camp meeting, “On the first day of the meeting, the people arriving in crowds, in wagons, on horseback, and on foot…and the great work commenced immediately, and progressed night and day without intermission…”
The call to be saved was given and people responded, “…one saw many men, women, and children, from the aged father down to the youngest son, now stretched upon the ground and pleading for mercy; then rising, and with shouts giving glory to God.”
Having gone for long periods of time away from a church, this sudden immersion in faith caused some people to react in a manner we might consider peculiar today…and one which drew the attention of their fellow worshipers back then.
The Rev. Carr wrote about these people who “felt the spirit,” “The jerks cannot be so easily described. Sometimes the subject of the jerks would be affected in some one member of the body, and sometimes in the whole system. When the head alone was affected, it would be jerked backward and forward, or from side to side, so quickly that the features of the face could not be distinguished.
“When the whole system was affected, I have seen the person stand in one place, and jerk backward and forward in quick succession, the head nearly touching the floor behind and before.”
The Rev. Carr also describes people dancing about with the spirit, “The subject…began to dance…such dancing was indeed heavenly to the spectators…sometimes the motion was quick, and sometimes slow…they continued to move forward and backward by the same track…till nature seemed exhausted…and they would fall prostrate on the earth…”
More from John Carr next week!