N THE fall of 1885 I was appointed by the authorities of the M. E. Church as pastor of the Seward Street M. E. Church. During my three years' ministry at this church my determination became fixed and my will began to assert itself, that by God's grace I would make the people hear me and, therefore, I took popular subjects for my theme and spoke with all my might.
In the morning I spoke to the people on some doctrinal theme, and in the evening I would turn loose on some subject that really interested the people, and I would apply the Gospel the best I could.
I preached in such a way that hundreds came to hear me; in fact, the church was full, every seat being occupied. I lashed the people about their sins and told them what God said about their practices.
I interested the people and worked in what Gospel I could. Omaha papers printed quite extensive extracts of my sermons, and I took those extracts, especially those printed in The Bee, and with very little change I printed them in book form.
This book was entitled "Shots From the Pulpit." It had a ready sale and a wide circulation, and I have understood it accomplished a great deal of good.
The church building was enlarged during my pastorate and I was blessed in the work.
In the next chapter I will tell my readers of the most important event in my life, except the salvation of my soul and my call to the ministry.
HEN I was a little boy, perhaps 12 years old, I met a little girl that had a very remarkable influence over me. I don't know hardly what to think of that experience yet. It was probably what other children have, but I was very wonderfully drawn to this young girl and thought for a time, though a mere child, that I couldn't exist without her.
But this wore off and the incident was forgotten. I became intensely interested in my preparation for life. My studies and other things consumed my whole thought and time, and I gave no heed to anything like love and the establishment of a home.
When I was in the university I had a young lady friend who was very dear to me. She was very attractive indeed; but when I came to consider her with my mature judgment, I thought her not adapted to my life and work. I know I had a place in her good esteem and affections, and I remember the day I graduated she gave me a boquet (sic), the remnants of which I still have, put away in a box of sacred mementoes (sic). My name, which she had written, is still found with the faded flowers.
But I saw no true reason that I should marry until I was a little more than 36 years of age, when I had such reflections as these: "If I am ever going to marry, I ought to consider that matter soon."
I felt that my choice ought to be one not of fancy or for money, but I ought to choose a lady who would
be approved by my judgment and really be a helpmate to me in my life and ministry.
I was at that time, while the subject of these reflections, the pastor of the Seward Street Methodist Church of this city, and there was a young lady, a member of my own church and a teacher in the Omaha schools, that I felt was the one I ought to choose.
In the summer of 1886, when she had gone to her home at Mansfield, Ohio, I thought a great deal about her and prayed to God to be directed in so important a step.
I took a blank piece of paper and wrote her name across the top and drew a line down the center, dividing it into two parts. On the left-hand I wrote "For," and on the right-hand side, "Against." Under the first head I put, "She has good sense; she is neat in appearance and dress; she is domestic; she loves little children; she is a good teacher; she is a fine instructor in Sunday School; she knows her Bible; she has a good character; she supports the church with her money; she is a member of the church; she has good principles."
Against I wrote, "She is not my ideal; she is little; she is not as attractively dressed as I could desire. I don't believe she takes a real interest in dress. She doesn't come of remarkable family; she hasn't as high ambition in the way of aiming at great things as some; she isn't rich; she isn't sought for in society."
But after I had thought over the matter, for and against, and prayed over it, I felt impressed that she, of all others, was the one for me. And when she came back she had evidently had such thoughts herself and was very much surprised to see I didn't meet her at the depot. Now what caused her to think I ought to have met her puzzled me!
But I hitched up my two black horses and took her to ride and told her how bad I felt. She never said aye, yes or no for some minutes, but sat in silence and, indeed, she never did answer me directly; but the first thing she said was, "Where do you think the marriage
should occur?" I said, "At your father's house, of course!"
We were married on the twelfth day of the following January, and since then we have done well. That is my idea of the motives that should prompt us in matters of this kind.
Mary A. Livermore says, "I would no more fall in love than I would fall down a cellar." I would never advise anyone to marry if their judgment did not approve of the choice. A mere fancy may turn out to be a temporary whim.
If one marries for money, riches frequently take wings and fly away. If one forms an alliance on account of a noble family, some member of that ancient and noble house may do something most disgraceful. Respect and fitness and approval of the judgment are the trio which can always be trusted.
The longer we have lived together, the better we found we were adapted to each other. I thought very well of my wife when I married. My judgment approved of her character; but her self-sacrifice, her indefatigable toil, her loving service rendered to me and others challenged my admiration a thousand times and won my love. And the qualities which have endeared her to her household have reached out through this city and, indeed, wherever she is known, binding to her ten thousand friends.
True principles and correct judgment can never be beaten. These are as lasting as God, and for lack of these we have homes dismembered, hearts broken and souls ruined.
We have three sons--Robert, 26; Mark, 24; and John, 16; and our baby girl, Catherine, 10 years old. We do not claim perfection for our children by any means; they are much like other children, but they are very precious to us.
One of the things that has astonished me and caused me to wonder is, that parents are compelled to stand by and see their children make their own choices. Whether
those choices be good or ill, whether they result in life or death, the parents at a certain period of their children's lives must keep their hands off. I never saw that till lately.
She has read character for me just as I could read the pages of an open book; she never missed it but once--that was when she chose her husband. She was also a wise instructor and teacher of everybody in her home, including her children. She is also the financier of the household; she is the treasurer of her own house and also of all the works in which I have a part. In her case, Prov., 14:1, "Every wise woman buildeth her house, but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands," is literally true.
I am grateful to be able to say that we live in comfort by the blessing of God. But my dear wife has been the great factor in taking care of what her husband has put in her hands.
PREACHING AT GRAND ISLAND.
N THE fall of 1888 I was sent to preach for a year at Grand Island, Neb. Mrs. Savidge's health was not good and our first baby, Robert, was only 9 months old, and at this time he had a severe case of whooping cough. We soon found that change of air and scene was working wonders for the betterment of both the mother and baby.
The Methodist Church building in that city was small. When I saw it it looked so diminutive and so inferior that I named it the "Sheep Pen."
My congregation soon filled the building and I took the opera house, which seated several hundred. That soon filled and much good was accomplished.
The topics on which I spoke were of great interest to the people. I preached with all my might and with all my heart. The Word took immediate effect and many turned to God.
Now, after twenty-five years, men meet me on the streets in this city and say, "You preached me under conviction at Grand Island!" or "I accepted Christ under such a sermon!" I would not be at all surprised that when we get home to heaven we shall find many a sheaf that until then we knew nothing of.
From the far west I am now receiving letters from such successful merchants as Carl Behn, who look back on my work in this field with gratitude to God and tender affection for myself.
I can see now where I could have done better work, but I did the best I knew and leave it all with God.
BACK TO OMAHA.
DON'T think I can ever tell people of my conviction that my work was not done in Omaha. God seemed to pull on me and put a message from Himself in my very soul, that He had plans for me in this city, and the past twenty-four years have proved that my convictions at that time were from God.
Consequently, when I went to the conference in the. fall of 1889, I told Bishop John H. Vincent to tie me loose with a long rope and send me to Omaha to found my own church. I told him I would call it the People's Church. He did as I requested him.
I moved my family at once, selected a house for our residence and hired Boyd's Opera House on Fifteenth and Farnam Streets for twenty-five dollars every Sunday. I engaged a singer at a salary of fifty dollars per month to train for me a chorus of one hundred voices. Frank Smith, my choir leader, was then in his prime.
The singing rendered at that time by this choir is the talk of the past generation. They sang such hymns as "God Calling Yet; Shall I Not Hear!" and others equally inspiring and beautiful, which left a permanent impression on the audiences.
The congregation was made up of the unchurched masses. Men and women who never went to any regular church went there. Harlots, drunkards and gamblers came to see and to hear. Many of these were benefited.
I started a Sunday School in the lower part of the city and we instructed children of all nationalities and colors. Prof. J. A. Gillespie was my superintendent and did most excellent work with his devoted wife.
I suffered a good deal in those years before I was
well adjusted to the new situation. I missed the cooperation and advice of bishops and elders of the organized church. Instead of helping me they criticised (sic) me and gave no sympathy.
Many people think if any good is accomplished it must be done in the church to which they belong.
As I read the Bible and prayed to God, I saw more and more, so far as my work was concerned, that the whole matter was up to God and me.
When the hot weather came on, I was compelled to give up the opera house and transfer my services to the Newman M. E. Church. At this church I had the greatest revival of Holy Ghost religion that up to that time I had ever had any part in.
At this church I stirred the people; I accused the Methodists of breaking the discipline. I read the rules to them and accused them of not even making any attempt to keep them. They looked at me in silence and some of them in anger.
I laid off my gold watch, my diamond stud and gold ring, and I declared I did not think there was so much sin in wearing those things, but it certainly was a sin to lie. And I had promised God and the bishop that I would not do these things. And I declared I would keep my word, and I did keep it. Oh, how I suffered in these days! The Methodist people wanted me to call my work by their name, and I saw the inconsistence and impossibility of this. Little by little I saw that it meant separation. I saw that I must be true to the Voice that was calling me and to the Hand that was leading me.
I LEAVE THE METHODIST CHURCH.
N THE fall of 1891 I was much in prayer about my future. I saw plainly that God wanted me to be in a position where He could talk with me and manage me. I was offered the pastorate in the First M. E. Church at El Paso, Tex., at a salary of $3,000 per year, but by a supernatural sign given me of the Lord I refused the call. The winter was coming on; I had no means on which to support my family, but I acted on what I believed God wanted me to do. I stepped out.
My call was to the neglected in this city. A number of my brethren in the ministry at this time sympathized with me and prayed for me; they even gave me a purse of money, believing that my health was affected and that travel might benefit me; but the further I went the worse I felt. I was in debt about $5,000, having bought some land at the advice of my bishop with the expectation of making some money. Instead of that the bottom seemed to go out of the town and I lost $5,000, and now, as I became an independent preacher, I understood very clearly that I would have no salary and that I would become responsible for all expenses of my new movement.
While I had a good deal of fear, I had great confidence in the word of God, and the spirit of God gave me assurance and encouragement. I read passages like this: Deu., 33:25, "Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and, as thy days, so shall thy strength be."
I here state my reasons very briefly for this important step. I believed that God wanted me to step out where He could speak to me and I could obey Him without asking somebody's consent. Again, the needs of the field made a direct and powerful appeal to me and, moreover, I found myself out of harmony and out of sympa-
thy with the machinery of the modern denominational church.
And after all these years have passed, I do not regret my step. There is a living God today who deals with men and hears their prayer.
"A sbort time after this I handed in my ordination papers to my bishop, and at that time I wrote a letter to the conference, stating my kindly feeling, but also my determination to step out independently."
© 2003 for the NEGenWeb Project by Pam Rietsch, Ted & Carole Miller.