I am currently typing the records of the Mount Pleasant Church, which will be printed in combination with those of the Bennington Church in my new book, “Opened with Prayer”. This glimpse into the lives of church members from the early 1840s to 1900s is at once amusing and heartbreaking.
While it may entertain us to know that someone actually confessed to playing marbles on the Sabbath, it is also heartbreaking to read the request of someone to be restored to the church after being excommunicated for ten years. Many people might have given up and just gone about their sinful life forever. In fact, at one time George did just that- refused to comply with the request of the church to behave himself. That is what got him excommunicated in 1860.
August 7, 1860
The session met and was opened with prayer. Present, Al Wright, minister, Elders Joseph Frazier, Sam McGee.
George Hall and Anumpochubi, members of this church, having grossly neglected their religious duties, appeared according to the previous summons. After counseling and exhorting them with brotherly kindness and fidelity to return to their Christian duties, they each positively refused to live a pious life and each declared that they have no interest in Christ or his Gospel; therefore, resolved that they be excommunicated from the privileges of the Church as unworthy members of the Church of Christ.
The church records refer to some early (1852) problems with his wife, and comments “the legal authorities of the county, having adjudicated their case”. While never naming his sins, the records do say “known to be by common fame living in habitual neglect of Christian duties”. George was suspended, admonished, exhorted, and counseled to no avail, until something happened to change his mind. Perhaps it was his divorce, recorded in 1866. Whatever happened, this is the result:
February 12, 1871
The Session met and was opened with prayer. Present Allen Wright, minister, D. Perkins, James Tobbi, elders.
Milton Brown, a backsliding member and George Hall, who was excommunicated by the Church Session held Aug. 7, 1860, but authorized by the Indian Presbytery held at Lenox Sept. 1870 to be restored, appeared before the Session and requested to be restored to the privileges of the Church. They each expressed deep sorrow for offending the Savior, for neglecting their duties of love and obedience to Him. After a full and careful examination, resolved, that they be restored.
Two things have occupied my thoughts throughout this project:
- With the exception of a few denominations, people don’t confess their sins much anymore, especially not to any authority of the church. And even in those few congregations the confessions are usually in secret and I suspect they are far from “complete”. The minutes I’m typing not only record confessions to the session of elders, but in many cases, a demand for a public confession and apology to the church members. Is it our mistrust of ministers, our secretive natures, or our general acceptance of so many sinful deeds and activities that has prompted our shift from admission to concealment?
- The term “common fame” is used many times in both the Mt. Pleasant and Bennington records. This indicates to me that people knew their neighbors, knew what they were doing, and sometimes felt the need to complain about their behavior. In fact, there are also numerous recordings of men and women falsely accusing their neighbors of something. So it’s pretty clear that at least some church members were watching and judging what the others were doing. We love to say that we are far more connected to each other now than in the past because of the advances in technology! We have phones and computers and social networks and twitter. We can communicate with anyone, anytime. But do we really know what they are doing? Or do we perhaps only know what they want us to know? It is far easier to lie, cheat, and steal these days than it was in the days of our ancestors. It is far easier to be anonymous or even lead a “double life”. And I’m not certain that many people really care what their neighbors are doing anyway. We have developed a very strong “live and let live- mind our own business” attitude. Even in a small town like Caddo, I do not know half of the residents or what they are doing behind closed doors. When someone is on the news because of a drug bust or domestic violence or some other crime, I am shocked and dismayed to think they live here…here in little Caddo, America.
However much our society has changed, it is clear that our sinful natures have not. Some of the actual sins recorded in these documents are minor by our standards- failing to pray or attend services, hitting a neighbor, arguing with a husband- but adultery and drunkenness were also problems and continue to plague our society, as evidenced by this week’s shameful court case. My hope is that we will all learn from the actions of our ancestors and be restored by faith and repentance to a better life. I haven’t found much mention of George beyond 1870- just a few listings of jury duty in the court records. Perhaps he finally settled down to a life of faith and responsibility. I’ll let you know if I learn more about him.