Wednesday, November 04, 2015

O Joy! Being a pastor in Laurens County, SC

Clinton, SC, Presbyterian Church organized 1855
Our series on Laurens County, SC, during Reconstruction continues with the fun that W.P. Jacobs had pastoring his Clinton, SC, Presbyterian flock.
Being a pastor in Reconstruction-era Laurens County, SC, must have been quite an experience. Alas, similar attitudes are around today. The more things change, the more they stay the same! 
        The new pastor of the Presbyterian church in Clinton, SC, Dr. William Plumer Jacobs, discovered to his surprise that the Presbyterian Church was no longer popular in the Clinton, SC, area of his time, so he asked people why. His number one answer: All the members were hypocrites. Number two: There was continuing resentment that the 1855 organization of the Clinton church had about broken up Duncan's Creek Presbyterian Church as they had lost thirteen members to the new Clinton church. Dr. Jacobs noted, “"It would seem to indicate that the Duncan's Creek Church was almost broken up already."[1]

Dr. Jacobs provides a number of examples of the joys of pastoring in Laurens County, SC. For example, when Dr. Jacobs offered to preach to the young people at night providing they buy the candles and oil, the session complained that the teenagers would not pay the bills and the church would go into debt over candles and oil. Mr. Phinney volunteered to buy the items and light them himself so that the church would not be in danger of fire.
            Prayer meeting did not go over well either. The very idea was considered absurd.
Only three attended the first one, including Dr. Jacobs, and a joker on the Clinton streets enjoyed saying the three must have been the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Dr. Jacobs quipped, "Prayer meetings are not Clinton's strong point even yet."[2]
      Money was another touchy subject. In Dr. Jacobs' first attempt at a Sabbath school collection, the young treasurer passed the plate and proudly stated: "I have seventeen cents." Everyone was impressed. The session revolted when Jacobs urged regular Sunday collections, complaining that it would drive away the congregation. Therefore they compromised by placing a collection box at the church door.  "On a certain day, the treasurer having forgotten for several Sabbaths to open the contribution boxes, the box was discovered to have been broken open and whatever was in it to be gone. This created quite a sensation among the people, though from my experience of that box, I am sure the thief was very sorely disappointed," Dr. Jacobs wrote.
            A Presbyterian elder asked a man of another denomination in Clinton, "'How much do you pay your preacher?' The man dropped his face with some shame and stammered that his pastor’s subscription was only $50 a month. The Presbyterian elder boldly declared, 'I'd see my preacher in the bad place and the church along with him before I would pay that much money.'"[3] In those days when cash was scarce, local churches mainly paid their preachers in barter: a squealing pig, cackling hens, peach brandy. Once Jacobs was paid with a five gallon jug of good corn whiskey. "Whatever became of that whiskey, I am not able to say even to this day,” wrote Jacobs. “In some way it disappeared. My impression is it leaked out."[4]
      By 1872, the Clinton Presbyterian Church had advanced from sixty members (white and colored) in 1864 to one hundred fifty (white and colored), and from eight to seventy‑six baptized infants, from $100 to an $800 salary, from no benevolent contributions to $3 to $4 a week, from no Sunday School to seventy‑six members, twelve teachers, four officers for nine years, from no library to one of 800 volumes, from services twice a month to twice a Sunday with weekly contributions, a "great improvement in behaviour, congregational singing," buildings, and grounds.[5] Church going had become very popular in Clinton by 1872. Even the lone Jewish family who  had moved into Clinton had to attend church. They chose the Presbyterian one, pastored by Dr. Jacobs, since it was most like synagogue.[6]

[1]           Jacobs, Literary, 37.
[2]           Jacobs, Literary, 31.
[3]           Jacobs, Literary, 30‑31, 32.
[4]           Jacobs, Literary, 52.
[5]           Jacobs, Life, 109.
[6]           Jacobs, Literary, 46.