Thursday, May 2, 2013

Turner on Preaching: Preaching Bishop Brown's Sermon

*Forthcoming: The Literary Archive of Henry Mcneal Turner, Vol. 3

          A few Thursday nights since, I notified my congregation that we would have a sermon from Bishop Brown on Sabbath morning at 11 o’clock. Accordingly, a rumor went forth that Bishop Brown was coming to the city &c. but to crown that matter, rumor had it, that he arrived Saturday evening at 6 o’clock, by way of the Central Rail Road, that he was seen getting off the cars, and that he went to the residence of the writer, and would surely preach Sabbath morning. The specified time arrived, but it was raining, and the streets were very disagreeable. Nevertheless, a great house of eager expectants were out, and every eye sought the person of the distinguished Bishop. The writer finally took the stand and gave out a hymn, and a powerful prayer was offered by a brother; and other hymn was sung, and the Bishop not despaired of, was still anxiously looked for, till lo, and behold, the writer broke the spell, and contradicted the false rumor, by arising and reading a masterly sermon that the Bishop preached before the last session of the Louisiana Conference. When they were informed that the Bishop would preach through me acting as his proxy, it did not seem to set well on their moral and intellectual stomachs, consequently some sucked their teeth, others looked out the windows, and others tried to go to sleep.
            But as soon as we could dispose of the Bishop’s Greek and Latin quotations, and glide through his very nice and logical exordium, and struck the grand artery of his discourse, a change was soon visible. About midway of the sermon, we fancied we were the actual Bishop Brown, and such a set of gesticulations we put on for the Bishop, has not been executed since the dawn of the nineteenth century. Had he heard our gestures and the inimitable emphasis we were giving him, he might have declined the idea of ever allowing another sermon to go to the press, or brought a charge against us for caricaturing his reverence. But at all events we strode through, without omitting a single sentence or word; and before we finished, the Amens and other approving utterances that came up from the congregations, were absolutely remarkable.  The sequel was, all were well pleased and edified, and we were complimented by being asked if we didn’t think our pulpit would be more attractive if that course was followed every Sabbath.
            The Louisiana Conference has done honor to itself and the literature of the entire church, by publishing a small volume of sermons, and we are at a loss for language to express our high appreciation for their leading off in this matter. The time has certainly arrived, when we should begin to make a living literature for our great connexion. Our young preachers as well as our growing youths demand it at our hands. Our rank and reputation through the civilized world also require it. This is the first volume that has come under our notice, and for literary chasteness and deep piety combined, these sermons will not be excelled in a long time. I know it is customary to crouch before power, and pay empty compliments to distinguished rank; but when we say that the sermons of this volume are an able and masterly production, we utter our most unequivocal convictions, to which all will agree who have read it. This is followed by sermons from Rev. James H. Harper, Rev. J.R.V. Thomas, Rev. James A. Handy, and Rev. M. R. Johnson A. M., all of which do credit to their distinguished authors, and make a rare contribution to the religious, moral and intellectual literature of our church. We have before us also, a sermon of great eloquence and logical force, delivered before the New Jersey Conference at its last session, by the Rev. Dr. John Stephenson. The Dr. seems to have out done himself, for the sermon would do honor to the Arch Bishop of Canterbury. Still another rare production from Rev. W.J. Gaines of the Georgia Conference, which will hand his name to posterity. Now I am not referring to these brethren and their sermons in any spirit of sycophancy, nor to seek their smiles and favorable considerations. We have no favors to seek at their hands, but the underlying privilege, the act per se is so praiseworthy and commendable, that some public recognition should go out, as a stimulus to the coming ministry of our church.
            For several years we have been thinking of sending out a circular, asking the leading ministers of our church, to give us a well-prepared sermon, so that we could get fifty or seventy five, and publish them in one volume, to be known as, The Pulpit of the A.M.E. Church. But our financial embarrassments have been so grievous, that we saw no hope of getting them through the press, if we succeeded in collecting the sermons and thus the request was deferred from time to time, till the Louisiana conference broke the monotony on a small scale. Such a work we believe would find rapid sale; for if there is one thing that our southern ministers want, it is a church literature peculiarly our own, and there is no doubt about our ability to give them a book of sermons if we had the will, for whatever we may be deficient in, there is one thing sure, the ministers of the A.M.E. Church can preach. The ambition to be a big preacher permeates the whole connection. True, a large number believe that pulpit power and success consist in getting up shouts and vociferous responses, and some will say anything to ring it out of the people, yet it is an ambition and stripped of its whimsicalness is a laudable ambition. Such preaching I confess will seldom hear the test of scrutiny, but the great bulk of our people care nothing for chasteness any way , and it answers as an inventive to the ignorant, and frequently edifies those who higher culture. -October 21, 1875

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