A Short Chapter in Itinerant Life
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The Rev. John Smythe, of the Arkansas conference, was appointed to the Dry Run mission. It was a new field of labor in the interior, or rather verging toward the south-western corner of the state.
He was an active, zealous, and earnest preacher, whose labors were crowned with abundant success. Before the close of the conference year he had organized a flourishing society at Brown’s Bend, and had built a church, which was appropriately christened “Cottonwood.” Brother Brown was one of the converts, a leading and influential man in the community; and Mr. Smythe appointed him class-leader. The leader did his work promptly and faithfully; and the society continued to flourish in short, there was uniform and increasing prosperity till the year closed and the preacher set out for conference. The old preacher was not returned to Dry Run circuit, but was succeeded by the Rev. Mr. Jones, who received a plan of his work from the hands of his predecessor, and went directly to Brown’s Bend to commence the labors of the year. Cottonwood meeting-house was filled with attentive and apparently devout worshipers. When Mr. Jones had concluded his sermon he published his appointments, requested the members of the Church to remain for class, and pronounced the benediction. But to his astonishment not one remained; and on reaching the door of the church all were gone, and none had invited him to dinner or even spoken to him. As he knew not where to go, and not feeling disposed to thrust himself into the bosom of a strange family to partake of unwelcome hospitalities, he concluded to rest himself in the shade; and as he was not suffering for food, he would dispense with dinner, and at the proper time proceed to his afternoon appointment for preaching. He carried his plan into execution, and so passed on around his circuit.
In due time he came again to Brown’s Bend, and was gratified to find Cottonwood church filled to its utmost capacity. By the way, it always makes a preacher feel comfortable to see the church filled, and the second time better than the first visit. The people looked pleasant and manifested an interest singing at the very opening of the services. The singing was animated and lusty, filling the church, with its volume, to the “ridge pole” of its shake roof. The responses were audible and earnest, and the attention undivided to the close of the sermon. Again, before pronouncing; the benediction, the preacher requested the members of the Church to remain for class meeting, but not one accepted the invitation all left. Mr. Jones hastened to the door and hailed the leader before he was out of sight. “Brother Brown, wait a moment; I wish to go with you and have some dinner!” “In course, passon,” said Brown, “you’re welcome, that’s sartain. The Ole ‘oman ‘lowed as how I mout ax you home with me, but I reckoned, as we haint nuthin much nice in the cabin, we’d wait a spell fust till we larned what sort of a feller you mout be!”
Having reached the shanty, built of round poles, with its ” cat and stick” chimney, the ” Ole ‘oman” hastened to prepare the dinner, which consisted of jerked-beef and potatoes, while the preacher and leader entered into conversation.
“Brother Brown,” said Mr. Jones, “you have a comfortable church and good congregation, and you seem to take pleasure in hearing the word preached. How many of you are religious?”
“I reckon, passon,” said he, “we numbers more nor thirty, an all on us sarvin the Lord as well as we know.”
“I am rejoiced to hear you say so,” said Jones, “but why do you not remain in church for class meeting? Do you not love class and prayer meetings?”
“Yes, passon, we do love ’em awful well, an we often gets shoutin happy in ’em; but you see we was all convarted and tuck into the meetin by passon Smythe. We haint jined your meetin; we belong to passon Smythe.”
“But, brother Brown, brother Smythe is sent to another circuit; he will not preach to you any more; I have been sent in his place.”
“Yes,” said the leader, “we’ve hearn so; Squire Johnson telled us that our Ole parson aint cumin to preach to us no more, an we felt mighty bad ’bout it. And we liked your tuther sarmint ‘strornary well, an we ‘low all on us to jine your meetin, but not this time. When come agin we ‘re gwine to take that thar step.”
It is scarcely necessary to record that Rev. Mr. Jones succeeded in explaining to the leader that the Church was a unit, and that Mr. Smythe and himself were ministers of the same Church; and that the members of the class did not belong to either Smythe or Jones, but to the Methodist Episcopal Church. Brother Brown was delighted with the information; he was in ecstasies a burden was removed from his conscience. He could now be a member of parson Jones’s Church without seceding from parson Smythe’s meetin. He could be loyal to both ministers and not be charged with instability or wavering.
Before brother Jones returned to Brown’s Bend the information had been communicated to all the members, and all were alike rejoiced to be relieved from the painful embarrassment. On the next preaching day and henceforth the members all remained for class meeting, and each gave the preacher a cordial greeting, and regarded him as their own parson.