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CORRESPONDENCE

Brethren Editors: – We have just been having a rather special meeting here in Wilmington, one object of which was to call attention to the travel and experience of this church during the forty years past, throughout which time I have served continuously as pastor. We had a two days, Saturday and Sunday meeting, (the first Sunday in April,) and had Elders Durand and Meredith with me. In addition to two discourses from each of them, we had a brief sketch of the travel of the church during the above mentioned forty years. The travel of gospel churches is always more or less eventful, but it seldom falls to the lot of any church to pass through as many and as sore conflicts as this one has. I have been requested to write a sketch of this travel for the Signs. If it is done at all it will devolve upon me, as the generation of forty years ago have mostly passed away. As I was raised and grew up seventy-five miles away, I knew nothing of this church, not even of its location. Shortly after my ordination, which was in 1856, I received a letter from two of the sisters in this church, urging me to make them a visit. As soon as I could I arranged to do so. They had for some years been a divided house, and were now in considerable distress. A preacher by the name of Earle had been employed by them at a fixed salary. He was not an Old School Baptist, but was connected with one of the New School or Missionary churches of this city. This church had withdrawn from the Delaware Association some years before, and was not connected with any association, nor in condition to be connected with any. Mr. Earle had gathered several in, I think about fourteen, whom I found to be not in sympathy with the others. They all knew what I was, and they not only gave me a unanimous call, but they told me that they had not been as well united on any one man in thirty years. The Earle party took no part in this action, nor with the action that was understood to be connected with it, viz: to go back to the Delaware Association. The Earle party at once withdrew, and we never saw or heard any more of them. Their preaching had cost them much more than it was worth to them, and they were still owing what they were not well able to pay. They had been in disorder and confusion long enough, we might suppose, to learn the value of good order and peace. I accepted their call, and it looked to me then like an open door to us to go on in the enjoyment of spiritual health and prosperity. The association was invited to how her next session with this, Wilmington church, and the invitation was accepted, and the association kindly entertained. So far all was going well. But now, and on for some years, I shall have a different story to tell. We had four male members, and they every one proved to be unstable. They did not have any idea of order. If we had had one sound, reliable man, we should have fared much better, but we did not have even one. There was no trouble with the sisters; it was to them that trouble came. One of the men was deacon, and another was clerk, and both these were trustees at the time when I consented to serve them. If they were not suitable men we had no others. We had to go outside the church, and outside the city of Wilmington, to fill out a board of trustees. We had gone on but a few months when we learned that a schism or division had taken place in one of the New School churches, and that the minority party intended applying for admission with us. They had never been to a single appointment at our place – had never seen me or others of our preachers, and were not acquainted at all with our members, or with the different order maintained among us. But they need not care what we were; they were not coming to our order, but to set up their own over our heads. There was said to be sixteen of them, so there would be enough of them to have control. When this word came to the sisters, they were all apprehensive of trouble. I told them we need not receive them if they did not give satisfaction, but they knew what we had to deal with better than I did. At the first church meeting but four came. I suppose they thought for so many to come at once would look like taking the place by storm. They failed to convince us that they were Old School Baptists, or that they even knew anything about us. When it became apparent what would follow, the male members all showed their sympathies were with the new comers. To show patience and forbearance, we laid the matter over to another meeting. I would see them, and give them some further opportunity. It amounted to nothing; the vote was as before. There was not even honesty in their pretensions, and nothing but what candid men of the world might have seen through. There was nothing else to do but to reject them. But those voting for their reception were not in good humor. Entire satisfaction with the preaching so far with all our preachers was manifest, so far as showed outwardly. Now we come to an act of treachery, and of utter disregard of church authority, of which we had no suspicion, and the like of which I have not known even among unprincipled men of the world. An arrangement was gone into with not only those who had applied for admission with us, but with any and all others who were willing to share in the plot, to meet with these dissenting members, and they would vote them in, and put their names down in the book. This meeting was not only not published, but it was arranged with the most profound secrecy, and so close was it kept from myself and the other members, that to this day not one of us ever knew when or where it took place. Then they published a church meeting, being now in condition to defy us. That meeting was appointed to be held when I could not be there. Our people were apprehensive of mischief, and came out to see me and insist on my attending. I consented to it, although it was on a Saturday night, and my Sunday appointment was forty miles away, and it kept me out all night. As those two men had the keys and the church books, they had it in their power to act the part they did. I never felt to charge this to those new comers. I think overtures were made to them. They did not come in by the door, but climbed up some other way. I did not recognize them in any way, and as they were in possession of the house for the time, we held our meetings at another place. They took all our men (four) and eighteen of themselves, and applied to the Philadelphia Association, and our church name appears on their list, in 1862, with twenty-two members. I do not think they ever reported afterward, and in about two years the name was dropped. So soon did all this disorder overtake us. In a few weeks those two men came back to our meeting, and reported that they were all scattered away, and the house unoccupied, and begged of us to come back. As might be expected, they wanted to be taken back as members, and probably some will fault me for consenting to it. But it seemed a necessity of the case. A valuable property was at stake, and we were still destitute of other men. They were still trustees. We admitted them as members, but not as officers. For some years we were without deacon or clerk. Sometimes a deacon of one of the other churches served us. Through all this one colored man was a faithful, consistent member. He was diffident, extremely modest and retiring, but spiritual minded, and always on the right side. Another colored man was baptized, and he, too, proved to be an excellent man. But we were not out of the woods yet. Another of the New School churches got into a quarrel, and the minority party played the same upon us that the others had done before. This time they did not go through the form of applying to the church, or even attending a church meeting, but they were put in possession of the place, and of all the books, as the others had been. Some of them were men of business and of means, but they found public sentiment against them. Their business was injured, and they could make no progress. This time, although the house was virtually in their possession, they did not attempt to disturb us. We kept up a full board of trustees, kept our record straight, and our appointments regular and invariable. Some families moved into the city, from Welsh Tract and London Tract, and though they did not bring letters they were substantial material, and added to the congregation, and we could have trustees who could be relied upon, and to whom the cause was dear enough that the responsibilities were cheerfully and promptly met. One family having several members brought letters, and a brother and his wife from Southampton moved into the neighborhood, and brought letters of dismission to us. They all found such a home as they wanted, and as they had left behind, and it brought us the help and the encouragement that we so much needed. It was a turning point with us. We not only increased in number, but we met and worshiped together in love and fellowship. For some years we did not have singing that was worth anything; it was rather an annoyance than otherwise. From the time I now speak of we had good singing, and it has been improving. But what about the party that had crept in unawares, to get possession of the house? Why they dwindled. A blight seemed to rest upon them, and eventually they surrendered the books and keys, and sought quarters elsewhere, leaving a heavy debt for us to pay, and the carpets soiled or worn out, the house requiring a new roof, new stoves and a thorough cleaning up. They had even collected what they could from the cemetery, and carried that away. But all fear of further molestation went away with them. We had now good, sound brethren for officers, a board of trustees that knew their rights, and would maintain them. Having nothing further to fear, we set our house in order with zeal and diligence.

I have not told you yet what became of those first invaders. I do not know. We never saw or heard what became of them, but suspect that they all went to nothing. It seemed like a special providence that preserved that property for an inheritance to be enjoyed for generations to come. The Book says that he that soweth to the Spirit, shall of the Spirit reap. The Lord said to his disciples, that he sent them to reap, and that they not only should receive wages, but they should gather fruit unto life eternal. The one day which commenced the forty-first year of my serving, as I saw the house filled with brethren, sisters and friends, from Trenton, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Newark, London Tract, Bryn Zion, Petersburg and Delmar, gathered together to show the interest they felt, and to share in the general joy, I felt that I had full reward for all the toil, and labor, and sacrifices, that had attended me for forty years. A kind Providence had prolonged my life to see the day.

Now I have but little more to say. “The work of righteousness shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever.” For a quarter of a century we have gone on in the enjoyment of the goodness of the Lord’s house. I know of no more enjoyable meetings anywhere. Traveling brethren, and gospel preachers, can always find a home and welcome here. The old members warred a good warfare, and it should be recorded as a testimony to them, that through much tribulation and discouragement they stood steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the word and work of the Lord. All honor to their memory, they have gone to their reward. I have seen them in their distress turn back from their meals to weep, but the cause of weeping with them, and also with us, has passed away.

“In Christ, the Rock, let those who dwell,
Prepare a song to raise.”

In gospel bonds,
E. RITTENHOUSE.

Signs Of The Times
Volume 66., No. 11.
JUNE 1, 1898.