Saturday, August 28, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist HIstory August 29

Thomas Summers Crashes Camp Meeting and Shows Horned Frogs, September 1843

Thomas O. Summers, the preacher at Galveston and Houston toured the United States in 1841 to raise money for church construction in Texas. In June 1843 the first service was held at Ryland’s Chapel in Galveston. Unfortunately the building was not paid for. Summers embarked on another trip in the late summer of 1843. September found him in Alabama where he invited himself to a camp meeting. His arrival caused a stir, not because of the eloquence of his preaching, but because he brought some Texan exotica –horned frogs preserved in alcohol.

His appearance at the camp meeting is described in Anson West’s History of Methodism in Alabama (1893). An excerpt from that work follows. DeYampert was Lucius Q. C. De Yampert. Pierce was Lovick Pierce, then stationed at Mobile.

The Rev. Thomas O. Summers was . . . from the Republic of Texas. He was making a tour of Alabama and other states soliciting funds to pay debts incurred in the erection of houses of worship for the use of the Methodist Episcopal Church at Galveston and Houston, Texas. He was a native of England, at the time herein mentioned he was about thirty-one years old, had been in the United States about thirteen years, had been preaching nine years, and was unmarried, and was in search of a good wife. In his manners in the social circle he was brusque; in the pulpit he was stormy and fidgety. He exhibited at that Camp-meeting at DeYampert's Camp-ground some horned frogs in alcohol preserved, which he had brought with him from Texas. It is quite easy to imagine the impression which he made on the minds of the Camp-meeting folks of Alabama concerning himself by the exhibition of his frogs, and the interest which he created thereby in the peculiar product of the then neighboring Republic of Texas. Tradition says that about the second day of that Camp-meeting the Rev. Mr. Summers was put up to preach, and that the effort of that hour was unacceptable to the congregation, and to Brother DeYampert it was quite offensive. He was offended by the matter of the sermon and the manner of the preacher. The other preachers filled the pulpit at the different hours from that on, leaving Summers to himself, his horned frogs, and his Agency for funds for erecting Churches in the land from which he had brought his exhibits. Summers, true to his business, solicited a contribution from DeYampert to assist his Churches in Texas. DeYampert gruffly refused to make a contribution. The meeting went on, Sunday approached, Dr. Pierce continued sick. Hopes were entertained, so tradition says, that Dr. Pierce, the great preacher, would recover sufficiently by Sunday to preach on that day; but on the arrival of Saturday evening the physician who had charge of the sick man pronounced against his preaching. There was an emergency. The presiding elder called a Council, constituted of the home preachers. The business of the Council was to improvise and provide for the services of Sunday, the great day. The Council met in the capacious tent of DeYampert. The perplexing question was: Who shall preach at 11 o'clock A.M. Sunday? It was first suggested that, of course, the presiding elder was the preacher for that hour, but he humbly declined in favor of any one who could and would meet the emergency. The home preachers were suggested, one after another, until all had declined. Not one was willing to attempt to preach at that hour in the face of the expectation created by the trumpeted fame of Dr. Pierce. At last one in the Council moved that the Rev. Thomas O. Summers be appointed to preach at 11 o'clock A.M. Sunday. That proposition stirred the indignation of Brother DeYampert, who railed out, " He cannot preach the gospel! The poorest preacher here can preach better." The council adjourned and dispersed without making any appointment for the great hour, and the presiding elder had the responsibility and the prospect of occupying the hour himself. While the preachers were engaged in the consultation about the appointments for Sunday the Rev. Mr. Summers, who was being entertained at Brother DeYampert's tent, was in his room in the tent adjoining the one in which the preachers were assembled, and in such proximity that he could not avoid hearing what was said.

The gathering of that multitude was impressive. As the dusty crowds from the hills and woods swelled the throng, and as the numerous groups of the rich, with the roar and clatter of wheels and hoofs, the glare and glitter of trappings and fixtures, approached the outskirts and rolled through the encampment the interest became intense. The scene was really impressive.

The presiding elder looked upon the vast throng, and beheld the array of wealth and elegance, and at the very last moment his courage failed, and instead of preaching himself, as till that very moment he had really expected to do, he, upon his own responsibility, and at the risk of incurring the lasting displeasure of Brother DeYambert, led the Rev. Thomas O. Summers on the stand, and informed him that he must preach. Mr. Summers knew the situation, but he was not in the least abashed. He at once proceeded with the services. He read a hymn after the manner peculiar to himself, and then prayed. The prayer was seldom equaled. It was characterized by devotion, unction, propriety of utterance, variety of petition, and heartiness of thanksgiving. To use one of Mr. Summers's own phrases it was "good to the use of edifying." When through with the introductory part of the services, and ready to proceed with his sermon, Mr. Summers took his position at the bookboard, and looking Brother DeYampert, who was near the stand, and in full view, squarely in the face, said: "I heard it declared last night I could not preach the gospel. May the Holy Ghost enable me to preach this day to this dying people, ' not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.'" He then read his text: " But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.". . ., and he was that day at his best, and he drew, the Holy Spirit assisting, the audience to the theme, and before he was through with the exposition of the text the assembly gave demonstrations of great enthusiasm. At the close of the sermon the spacious altar was crowded with penitent sinners. The meeting went on for some days longer with intense interest and with glorious results, the Rev. Mr. Summers working efficiently, and working till the conclusion of the last doxology. Brother DeYampert changed his mind, reversed his verdict, gave Mr. Summers a liberal contribution for his Churches in Texas, and he became one of Mr. Summers's greatest admirers and warmest friends.


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